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Origins of the Way
Born among the Poor

... I had an artist's studio near to the Plaza de Espaņa in Madrid. That Christmas, as was the norm, I returned to my parents house to celebrate the Christmas festivities with them. I entered the kitchen, and there was the cook crying. I asked her: "Berta, that was her name - what's wrong?" And she began telling me how her husband was a drunkard, that he wanted to kill their son, and that the boy had rebelled.... This story left me dumbstruck, and I felt called by God to help her.
I went to see where she lived: It was a horrible shack surrounded by many others. This poor woman got up at six in the morning in order to go to work. She had nine children and was married to a man who had lost an eye and was usually drunk. He would beat his children with a stick, shouting at them: "come and defend your father". Sometimes, in a drunken stupor, he would urinate over his daughters. This woman, who was no longer young yet still quite attractive, told me the most awful things.
I grabbed the husband and took him to do a "Cursillo de Cristiandad". The poor man was much struck at hearing me speak. He stopped drinking for a few months, however he soon returned to the drink and the follies of before. His wife began calling me: "Seņor Kiko, please come. He wants to kill everyone. Call the police!". She wouldn't leave me in peace. Finally, I thought: "What if God is telling me to leave everything and to go and live there?" And so I left everything and went to live with that family. I slept in a tiny kitchen that was full of cats.
I lived there, and I was left dumfounded - I tell you the truth - by the whole environment. It was full of people who were living in terrible situations. I don't know if you have read the book of Camus, "The Pest", which deals with the problem of the suffering of the innocent. This woman, Berta, told me how she was seen to be the best looking girl of the area, and that her husband, a lame man, in order to avenge himself of the many humiliations he had received, had told everyone that he would marry her. They at laughed at him. Do you know how he ended up marrying her? By pushing a knife against her throat and threatening her: "If you don't marry me, I will slit your father's throat". And he would have done so. Her father was a widow and she was alone and terribly timid and fearful.
I asked myself: "This poor woman, victim of a brute, what sins has she committed in order to merit such a life? Why not me?" And it wasn't only her. There was a woman who lived nearby who had Parkinson's disease. She had been abandoned by her husband and was forced to beg in order to live. And there was another. And yet another.
In the face of this reality, there are only two answers. Do you know the famous phrase of Nietzche?: "Or God is good and is unable to do anything to help these poor people, or God can help them and he doesn't, so he is bad". This is a venomous phrase. Can God help this woman or not? Why doesn't he do so?
In this situation, I had a surprise: Do you know what I saw there? I didn't see the phrase of Nietzche, that God can or cannot. I saw the Crucified Christ. I saw Christ in Berta, in that other woman with Parkinson's. I saw a mystery. The mystery of the Cross of Christ. I was left extremely surprised, I say this sincerely.
Then I was called to do military service and sent to Africa. When I returned I said to myself: "If Christ's Second Coming were tomorrow, I don't know what will happen in this world". But do you know where I desire Christ to find me? At the feet of Christ crucified. And where is this Christ crucified? In those who are carrying the greatest sufferings, the consequences of the sin of all. Sartre once said: "Woe to the man who is forced against the wall by the hand of God!" In that place I saw people who were crushed against the wall; many weak people crushed by the consequences of sin, weak people, anonymous masses.
When goes to live amongst the poor, or he losses the faith and becomes a guerrilla of "Che Guevara "or he places himself in contemplation before Christ and becomes a saint. I am grateful to the Lord for having had mercy on me. I saw Christ crucified the-re. After I had returned from Africa, and had met the sister of Carmen, I thought that it was necessary to go down into the social catacombs and preach the Gospel there, to these people, to help them, to give them a word of consolation. And there we formed groups dedicated to the homosexuals, to the prostitutes and other social outcasts.
The sister of Carmen belonged to an association called the "Villa Teresita" which was dedicated to saving prostitutes. They went around the different brothels and invited those who wanted to leave, to come with them. They offered them a job. it was a very good work. However, I came to realize that everything we were doing in that group had become a sort of hobby. And so I said to the group and the sister of Carmen: "I'm off to live amongst the poor".
Charles de Foucauld gave me the formula: To live in silence at the feet of Jesus Christ crucified. At the feet of Jesus Christ in amongst these people. I knew a social worker who showed me a place in Palomeras Altas where there was a wooden shack, a refuge for dogs. He said to me: "You stay here and don't worry about anything". There, in that place, began more or less everything. There, in amongst the shacks, I desired to live like Charles de Foucauld, in contemplation: just like when one is before the Eucharist, at the feet of the real presence of Christ. I want to be at the feet of the crucified Christ in the poorest of the poor, the most wretched of society.
The Lord took me there with this spirit: I was the last. They were Christ. Someone could easily have said to me: "But Kiko, I don't understand what you're doing. Why don't you help these people?" Here there is a very important point for those who know how to get down to the heart of things. 'Just look at you You place yourself in adoration, when these people are dying of hunger? Give them something to eat". I had nothing. I had brought nothing with me, apart from the Bible and my guitar. I slept on a kind of straw mattress on the bare ground. I had nothing else.
I had read in a book something that struck me greatly regarding the time of the Nazis. it told the true story of an event that took place in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. One of the heads of the Gestapo became aware of the atrocities that were being committed in the genocide of the Jews. One day, during his camp inspection, he saw a column of men and women headed towards the gas chambers. He felt a pain in his heart so great that he was unable to rude his feelings and he asked himself: "What must I do now to help them, in order to be at peace with myself?" Do you know what was the answer he heard within himself? (The Fathers of the Church speak of the Christ who speaks within us. It is something very profound). This book tells how this internal voice told him that he should strip naked and place himself in line with them. We may well ask ourselves: This voice that he heard within himself, where did it come from? Was it a suggestion? Was it real? Was it from God? Would it not have been better to stop the convoy and liberate those people? Maybe it was because he was unable to do so. Why was it, that the truth was to remove his clothing and place himself in line with them? Here is a possible answer: a person who finds himself in that line is placed before the drama of the possibility that there is no God; that there is no love in the world, and if there is no love in the world, God does not exist; life is nothing more than a monstrosity, we die in absurdity. But if someone comes with you, Christ himself becomes man and places himself in the queue with you, for love of you? Ah! Then love exists. God exists. You can live. You can die. Truth and death have a meaning.
ncw62.jpg (11127 bytes)Is this of any value? Or is it that one must do nothing other than social work? Is man nothing other than food? Or does man need to know whether or not God exists, whether or not love exists? I did not go into the shantytown to distribute food, or to teach them to read. (They were all illiterate with the exception of one or two: Jose Agudo, who had been in a correction centre, knew how to read, but his wife didn't. The gypsies, "tinkers", the boys who had been in prison, could read only just about). I went there and, if you want to know, I didn't even think about preaching. As you know, the Little Brothers of de Foucauld live "in silence". All I Wanted was to bear witness, living amongst them in silence, like Jesus in Nazareth.
What happened? What always happens. One day, it was freezing cold, it was winter and it was snowing - the dogs who lived with me in shack kept me warm -, one of my neighbors came bursting in unexpectedly and said to me: "I've brought you a blanket because you must be freezing to death!"
Bit by bit they come closer to me and began asking themselves: "Who is this guy here with the beard and the guitar?" According to some of them, I was someone who had made a vow. For others I was some kind of Protestant - I was always reading the Bible. The gypsies came because of the guitar... They didn't know who I was. In the meantime, Jose Agudo was at odds with another clan of "tinkers". He came to me to inquire about what the Gospel says about beating people up. I read him the Sermon on the Mount that tells us not to resist evil, and he remained open mouthed: "What? But if I don't defend myself they will kill me! What must I do?" I gave him the Little Flowers of Saint Francis to read. These made a great impression on him, and after that, he never left my side again. Very well, I won't continue with these stories otherwise I will go on to long...