Monday, August 18, 2014

A Heart for the Poor

On this day in 1952 was the death of Luis Alberto Miguel Hurtado Cruchaga. 

Beatified in 1994 by Saint John Paul II and canonized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008, Saint Alberto Hurtado is affectionately known in Chile as Padre Hurtado. While studying in the Jesuit College in Santiago, he joined the Sodality of Our Lady. There he took a great interest in the poor as he would spend his Sunday afternoons with the poorest of the poor in the most impoverished neighborhoods. 

The year 1917 was a busy time for Saint Alberto. He studied law at the Catholic University, financially supported his mother and younger brother by working afternoons and evenings, while continuing to care for the poor on Sundays. All this delayed his entrance into the Jesuits. He didn’t receive his degree until 1923 because his studies were put on hold due to an obligatory military service. 

As a Jesuit priest and teacher he catechized the poor and gave retreats using the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He offered spiritual direction to young men and some of them he accompanied through their formation to becoming priests. He radiated the beauty of the priestly vocation and made it very attractive. 

He was an author and in 1941 published, “¿Es Chile un país católico?” (Is Chile a Catholic Country?). This book was considered a scandal among conservative Chilean Catholics. They even went so far as to accuse Padre Hurtado of being a Communist. The book revealed the truths and realities of Chile’s social movement. 

He sacrificed himself continually with his involvement with a nationwide Catholic Youth Movement. 

His pleas for help were well-received when he proclaimed his love for the poor, especially for the homeless children in Santiago. This led to “El Hogar de Cristo” (Christ’s Home), which provided shelter for children in need of housing and food. The housing for children next led to housing for women. Alberto Hurtado himself at the age of four lost his own father to death. 

In 1945 Padre Alberto Hurtado went to the United States to take a look at “Boys Town” and learn how he could make something like this work in his own nation. 

The “Asociación Sindical Chilena” (Chilean Trade Union Association) was founded in 1947 by Padre Hurtado. It was a movement which taught and supported Catholic social teachings among the labor unions of his country. To support this movement he wrote“Humanismo Social” (Social Humanism), “El Orden Social Cristiano” (The Christian Social Order), and “Sindicalismo” (Trade Unions) between the years of 1947-1950. 

Next for this very busy priest was the founding of the Jesuit periodical, “Mensaje” (Message) in 1951. This periodical taught and explained the doctrine of the Church. 

Padre Alberto Hurtado went home to the Lord in August of 1952. His life was cut short by cancer. During his battle with this disease, in his great physical pain he was often heard saying: “I am content, Lord.” His life was, however, very full, and stressed his concern for the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the abandoned. He also labored intensely for his social apostolate whose goal was for his government to recognize the dignity of every human person, and therefore, be treated fairly. 

With such love for the poor, one can only imagine the heavenly embrace and the powerful intercession of Saint Alberto Hurtado and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as they are perpetually before the Throne of God, pleading for those in this life who have little to nothing. 

Sancte Alberte, ora pro nobis!