Dios le pague

Dios le pague

“Dios le pague.”  These were the words spoken to me by seniors who come to eat lunch twice a week at Divino Niño Parish in Caupichu area of Quito, Ecuador.  When translated directly, it says “may God reward you.”  It is another way to say thank you in Caupichu.

After taking two Spanish language courses at the Pontifical Catholic University in Quito when I arrived in Ecuador, I was assigned to continue my language and culture education at the SVD Divino Niño Parish in Caupichu.  Caupichu is a developing area south of Quito.  It is high up in the mountains so it rains often and is very cold.  Unlike places like Chicago, the people here do not have heaters to keep themselves warm.  They just wear extra clothing and layer down when they go to sleep.  Thinking that Ecuador is a very hot place since it is along the Earth’s equator, I brought very little clothing for cold weather in Caupichu.  Like the locals, I quickly learned to layer up with whatever clothing I brought!

Caupichu is one of the poorer area of Quito.  The people in Caupichu make enough for their day-to-day living.  They work very hard but earn little.  As with other developing areas, there are problems with drugs, crimes and contamination of the environment with trash.  Programs were developed at the community and church level to tackle some of these problems.  One of the earlier programs was the development of a “comedor” or soup kitchen for the elderly at Divino Niño Parish.  Other programs were recently started by both SSpS sisters in collaboration with the SVDs to educate the youth about the importance of protecting the environment.

When Fr. Toan Vu was assigned here many years ago, he wanted to help the senior residences of Caupichu.  The seniors come from all walks of life.  Some are abandoned by their children.  Some wanted companions.  Others do not have enough food to eat.  With all these needs in mind, Fr. Toan created a soup kitchen that feeds the elderly twice a week.  Not only are they fed, there are also activities for them to do before the meal.  This include prayer service and “baile terapia” or dance therapy.  A program like this requires a lot of volunteers and donations to run.  Fr. Toan created a framework in which a group of volunteer “cocineras” or cooks would come every Friday and Saturday morning to cook.  Other volunteers come to cut fruits or vegetables, set up the dining room with tables and chairs and afterward, help to wash the dishes and clean up.  Where do they get the money to buy food for cooking?  These “cocineras” also cook on Sunday to sell to parishioners to raise funds for the program.  Sometimes the parishioners see the benefits of this program to the community so they come with food donations.  The majority of the time, the elderly feeding program is self-sufficient so do not need financial assistance from the parish.  Fr. Roberto Christy continued this program when he was assigned to the parish after Fr. Toan left.

As part of the setup and cleanup crew, which includes two SSpS sisters (Sr. Charito and Sr. Ruth), we help set up tables and chairs in the comedor.  When the seniors are seated, I often go into the comedor to count them in order to prepare the bowls and plates.  Whenever I enter the comedor, many would look up, wave and say “¡Buenos días hermanito!”  Often they want me to come over to them so they can shake my hand or to plant a kiss on my cheek.  And with every bowl of soup and plate of food we serve, we hear, “Dios le pague.”  Never mind that sometimes we have only vegetables and rice to eat, they are always grateful.   Moments like this really defined my missionary experience here in Ecuador.  It takes away the hardships of adjusting to life in a new land along with all the communication difficulties.  It is moments like this that I too say back to the seniors and the volunteers, “Dios le pague,” for helping me to see Christ in the people I serve and for strengthening my missionary desires.

“Hermanito” Benjamín Le
OTP Student in Ecuador