Samaritans bring joy to sick, elderly

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LAREDO, Texas - Delfina Flores loves Tuesdays. On that day, she puts on a bright pink shirt and heads to her church, San Francisco Javier Mission in Laredo, and meets a group of 10 women in pink shirts.

They clean the church, they pray together and then they set off to fulfill the quote that is emblazoned on the backs of their shirts: "Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do unto me. Matthew 25:40."

They are called the Samaritans. The group began in 2014 when Oblate Father Bill Davis, their pastor, was struggling to assist all of his parishioners, especially the homebound, in this low-income community and asked the women to help. Their mission is to lend a hand to anyone who needs it - the elderly, the disabled, the sick, the lonely and the grieving. They clean houses, they visit, they provide food, they comfort in times of disaster, they pray the rosary. In short, they make life better - one person at a time.

To fund their small but mighty ministry, they each contribute one dollar a week to buy cleaning supplies, food and prizes for lottery games that they host in nursing homes. "The elderly love to play the lottery," Flores said, "especially when they have a chance to win something."

Their funds also help pay for medical bills and transportation costs when people go to the hospital. "We can't give much," she said, "but at that moment, 50 bucks can really help."

About 20 people are visited regularly by the Samaritans, but the women are always ready to respond in a crisis. "A family recently lost their house in a fire. We gathered clothes and household items from people in the community to give them."

One particular parishioner that Flores remembers fondly is a woman who was bedridden. Her husband worked all day and she was alone. When the Samaritans arrived, they saw that she was very poor, the house was dirty and there were no curtains on the windows. "We wanted her to look around and see her house as clean and beautiful," she said. They spruced up the place, made curtains and left her with food.

A fellow Samaritan continued each week to take the woman, who was in a wheelchair, to her own house to bathe her.

Slowly, the woman has gotten a little better and now walks with a walker. And the best part, Flores said, is that the woman is going to church now. When the Samaritans see her there, "it is so powerful. We cry, we pray, we sing together."

Others, too, have started attending Mass after being visited by the Samaritans. And for those who are unable to attend because of disabilities, the Samaritans say a rosary with them.

The Samaritan women are a diverse group. Flores is 72 and retired, but as long as she can move, she said, she wants to "continue to take joy to these people because it makes me so happy too."

The Samaritans have taken a big load off the shoulders of Father Davis, the octogenarian pastor who, rather than retire, agreed to take on the challenge of leading one of the poorest parishes in the Laredo Diocese. Chicago-based Catholic Extension, an organization that supports the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses, has subsidized Father Davis' salary since 2006.

"Lay ministry should be automatic," he said. "Once you are baptized, you belong to a family. And we all need to care for this family. The Samaritans put God's love into action."

In this Year of Mercy, the Catholic Church is celebrating all efforts - no matter how big or small - to reach out to the marginalized. And the Samaritans, who show love and tenderness to people who really need it, are embodying the kind of "revolution of tenderness" Pope Francis is trying to encourage throughout the jubilee year.

Flores summed it up: "We need to see poor people all the same - the same as us - just because they are not rich, we can still give them a smile."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016