By Veronica Hotovy, FC 18 Costa Rica
In FrancisCorps, [obviously] St. Francis a pretty big deal.
His feast day is October 4th, and here in Costa Rica we celebrated it for four days straight. Saturday and Sunday our FC18 community went on a retreat here at el convento with JUFRA (literally = Franciscan Youth). We spent a lot of time learning about and contemplating the life of St. Francis and his teachings. We got to take Monday and Tuesday off of work, which was incredible. Monday we went to the St. Francis high school in Moravia – we went to Mass, saw the school, and met the friars. Tuesday we had Mass at el convento, ate breakfast with the friars and everyone who attended Mass, and had a special lunch with our dear brothers. We definitely made the most of the Franciscan celebration.
The kids in Moravia wrote a song and made these really cool t-shirts (which we were given, and I love) for Semana Franciscana (Franciscan Week). The theme behind it this year is ‘Somos una familia de puertas abiertas’ = ‘We’re a family of open doors.’
I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea since our trip to the school. That’s a hard thing to be. It’s something we should be. Open and accepting to everyone. Withhold judgment. Show kindness and concern for each person regardless of who they are or their situation. Because they’re a person, and they deserve to be treated as such. Whether you agree with them or not. Whether they’re easy to love or not. Whether they want it or not. They are people, created in God’s image with the same values and rights as everyone else.
I’ve encountered this a lot at Hogar. Some of the residents are easy to love, to let into my family. They’re kind to me, greet me with hugs and kisses, give me fruit, ask me how I’m doing, tell me I look nice even though I’m wearing scrubs. They thank me for my help, tell me that I’m patient, and ask me to never leave. It’s easy to open my heart to them. It’s easy to let them be a part of my family.
Some of the residents, however, are not so easy to let in. They complain. They refuse to do the exercises. They don’t put in effort with our exercises. They cry. They yell. They can even on occasion try to scratch, bite, pull my hair, or hit. [No one is allowed to become physical or hurtful, but some of the residents are hard to work with and non-compliant, and these things happen from time to time. The staff at Hogar is loving and protective, both of me and all of the residents.]
Sometimes these difficult residents know what they’re doing. It’s intentional and hurtful. Sometimes they don’t. They have dementia and can’t help it. Sometimes I understand what’s happening, and sometimes I don’t. They mumble and speak quickly. They don’t always make sense or speak in full sentences. It’s frustrating and difficult. But the fact that they’re challenging is no excuse for not doing my job. We do exercises regardless. We walk whether they hold themselves up or I support almost all of their weight. We stretch even if they yell at me.
They’re teaching me a lot. It’s simple to let the easy-to-love be a part of your family. But those who are more difficult to love are often the ones who need it most. That’s who we’re called to serve. The marginalized, the forgotten, the unwanted, the neglected. St. Francis’ biggest conversion moment was when he kissed the leper – the one person he never thought he could approach. It’s a hard thing to do. But it’s beautiful, and it’s what we’re called to.