The Arlington Mission Office proudly concludes our presentation of the winners of the Missionary Essay Contest with the fine, 1st Place winner by Aaron Peiffer.
Ragged, unkempt, and neglected, they appeared at the door of our mission house looking for a moment of respite, a touch of humanity, a look of compassion, a word of consolation. Many of these dear souls lived alone and it was often difficult to ascertain what paths had led them to their present conditions. As in a vast desert, tracks become quickly lost in ever shifting sands. Many came from broken families, some had additions, others were mentally handicapped, and almost all were terribly lonely and isolated. These are the forgotten ones among the poor of Villa Jardín, a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina where I was privileged to serve as a lay missionary with the ecclesial movement Heart’s Home for 14 months.
During this urban mission we had daily contact with many of the impoverished and forgotten poor of our parish and neighborhood. Frequently these dear souls came to Holy Mass and eagerly arrived on feast days at the various street shrines, or ermitas, dedicated to various saints scattered throughout our neighborhood. These dear ones revealed to me a profound mystery by their very presence: the immense love of Christ who is present to us in the very least of His brethren and continues to suffer in them, bearing their infirmities and sorrows. The more I spent time with them, the more I could truly sense that all their miseries and sufferings were but a thin veil shrouding the immense mystery of Christ’s incarnation.
They found a special place in our hearts, and we in theirs. Soon we became aware that many of them would pass holidays and feast days alone in their small, dark houses or rooms, perhaps too ashamed or embarrassed to seek the company of others, so we invited them to our mission house on such occasions to share a meal, some fellowship, and light-hearted festivity. It only later occurred to me that our small gesture of friendship and charity was in some small measure a fulfillment of Christ’s desire to pour forth the blessings of His kingdom upon the poor and the outcast: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (Luke 14:13-14).
What joy and fulfillment we received welcoming these dear friends into our lives and into our house. I can hardly remember enjoying a gathering of friends quite in the same manner, free from the many anxieties, expectations and self-consciousness that often accompany social gatherings. We laughed, chatted, feasted, and at times simply sat contentedly around the patio table in the flickering candle light and the cool evening breeze, sensing in some small measure a participation in the joys of heaven even now in the love of Christ. Their earthly lot was indeed a heavy burden, but I know that these simple, yet joyful moments helped them to continue their journey with renewed strength and hope.
Today, nearly four years later, my thoughts and prayers often turn to these dear friends, although my life as a clean-cut American professional is somewhat removed from missionary life on the noisy and dirty streets of the Argentinean Villa. I ardently pray that they would ever remain close to Jesus and Mary and that I would not forget their poverty, suffering, and pain. They continue to inspire me today to look beyond myself and my own anxieties and share the love of Christ with those around me who live crippled by fear, suffering, and isolation. Although we have parted ways in this earthly journey, I greatly anticipate being reunited with my dear friends one day at the heavenly feast in the kingdom of God. Clothed by the Divine Master in splendor and light, we shall once again laugh and partake of the eternal joy that knows no end.
Aaron J. Peiffer was born in Arlington, VA and raised in a devout evangelical Christian family. He studied architecture at the Catholic University of America, graduating in the spring of 2011. After years of prayer and searching he entered the Catholic Church on Easter of 2012 and later served for 14 months as a lay missionary with Heart’s Home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently he works as an architectural drafter in Fairfax, VA and is a parishioner at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax.