Deacon answers call to serve medical mission

Friday, January 24, 2020 - Updated: 2:18 pm

By Deacon Herb Riley

Charity and service work are at the heart of what we deacons were ordained to do in Jesus’ name. I never felt more humbled or more like a servant than I did in my seven days in October on a Caring Hearts Ministry mission trip to San Luis Rio Colorado in the state of Sonora, Mexico.

Upon arrival at the boy’s orphanage where we would stay for seven days, we repacked more than 2,200 pounds of beans and rice into 5-pound bags for clinic patients. Each day we carried boxes of equipment and supplies to set up medical clinics for the doctors and nurses.

I was moved beyond words to assist at a Spanish-language Mass at Holy Spirit Church, even though I am not fluent in the language. The Holy Spirit provided me with so many opportunities to serve my sisters and brothers. My old body was sore and exhausted, but my heart was full and uplifted, and my eyes filled with tears at the end of each day.

As part of the Pittsburgh-based Caring Hearts Ministry team providing medical and dental care and eyeglasses to those in San Luis who otherwise cannot afford them, I was blessed to be able to see the face of Christ in so many, even through their physical and emotional pain. Here are two of people who showed me how Christ is present, even in dire poverty.

On my first day in the clinic, I was assigned to work with Mike Williams, a caring, selfless individual who makes eyeglasses for a living and has been providing glasses to the folks of San Luis for 19 years. For the most part, the glasses are “cheaters” to enable the folks to see well enough to “read the Bible” (Mike’s mission work) or to see at a distance. My job was to help determine which glasses worked best for them.

I met Tiofanes, an 84-year-old gentleman who could barely see. After working with him, we found a pair that allowed him to read even the smallest line on the eye chart. But they did not help him see at a distance. So we worked to find a separate pair that would accomplish that for him. Once we did and I gave them to Tiofanes, he tried to hand me back the first pair for reading. When I explained to him, through a translator, that he could have both pairs, he broke down in tears and gave me one of the most wonderful hugs I have ever received.

Such a small gesture on our part, but life-changing for Tiofanes.

Then there was Celia. I spotted her as soon as she entered the clinic. She is 83 years old and gets around in a wheelchair because her ankle was run over by a taxi a year ago. Her right ankle was obviously broken in many places, but she wasn’t there for that reason. When asked if she was in pain, she said, “Only when I stand on that foot.”

It turned out that when she went to the local hospital after the accident they did not treat her because she could not pay for the medical attention she clearly needed. But through her entire ordeal, Celia constantly had a smile on her face that would warm even the coldest of hearts. She was so grateful for the attention she received in the clinic.

I could share many more stories about my days in San Luis, seeing the face of Christ in the poor and forgotten, so close to us just across the border from Yuma, Arizona, and how much they need our help. It reminded me of the question asked in the parable of the good Samaritan: “Who is my neighbor?”

Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, answered it directly: “The one who is in front of me and is in need. Period.”

God calls us all the time in so many different ways. I was blessed by his calling me to help at this medical mission in San Luis. I was deeply humbled to serve those who have so little, but smile with the face of Jesus.

We should all be open to whatever God asks of us in serving our needy sisters and brothers, wherever and whoever they are. There is no more fulfilling way to carry out God’s call to be servants to one another, just as Jesus was when he was with us.


Deacon Riley serves the parish grouping that includes St. Colman in Turtle Creek, Good Shepherd in Braddock, St. John Fisher in Churchill, St. Jude in Wilmerding, Madonna del Castello and Word of God in Swissvale, and St. Maurice in Forest Hills. For information on the Caring Hearts Ministry, go to https://www.caringheartsmexico.org.

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