Columnist recalls horrifying scene from early poverty work – The Herald-Times

I worked poverty neighborhoods near Chicago and came to know the poor. Though their stories differed, they were poor in both spirit and bodily needs. I could talk of so many, even including charts and statistics but no one really relates to such. We need to know just one. So let me tell you of Camila.
I first met Camila responding to a request from the court. I found her living in an unheated, decaying shed on the edge of the coal yard with her five children. I learned that those children and her current pregnancy were all the result of rapes that began when she was 8 years old. Camila was gaunt, had rotting teeth, was illiterate and would never smile. She was but 24 years old. My colleagues and I brought her food and clothing but it was never really enough. Poverty can be a bottomless hole that you find yourself rarely able to fill. In winter Camila sought and secured back-alley abortion assistance. The abortion was attempted on a wooden table in an unheated garage. The procedure could only be described as butchery. Both she and the baby died.
More from Ray Golarz: ‘The poor you shall always have with you’
Several weeks after her death, I visited that garage with a veteran social worker, Irene Kruger. To this day I wish I hadn’t, for the haunting visions have never gone away. The garage was filled with flies and roaches and the stench was overpowering. There was a wooden table in room’s center. It appeared as though someone had recently attempted to wipe it down. There was dried blood on several legs and the pool of blood under the table was being feasted upon by flies and roaches. I felt nauseous and knew that I would vomit, so I bent over and turned, vomiting unintentionally into a large decaying structure filled with discarded undergarments and maggots. So, this was the hospital of the poor. A cold chill ran through my body and I wept.
I know that there is a loving and caring God. Yet what he permits confused me throughout most of my life — the vile and vicious acts of child abuse, the torture of fellow human beings, the countless numbers who annually die of starvation and disease. The living of life is intolerable for millions. Yet He permits.
When Camila died, I am convinced that she acted out of sheer desperation, and I cannot believe that God stopped loving her. She died on that table clenching a precious medal she always wore around her neck. She had the habit of holding it close to her heart whenever she prayed.
More from Ray Golarz: Cynthia — one woman highlights those at very bottom
Some time ago my son, Dan, who did extensive work with poverty on Native American reservations and in Africa, did some work for our Bloomington St. Vincent De Paul society. His work took him into the dwellings of the poor. Later we talked.
“How was it son?”
“The poverty is real dad, very real. Makes you feel inadequate and personally thankful all at once.”
I understood him. After my work on the streets of poverty I directed an agency focused on tending to the poor. We could never keep up. Yet I found that where we were successful in making a small difference was always because of the dedicated work of those on our front lines.
I know now why God permits. He has left the task of the poor to us.
Ours is simply to choose the manner of our work in His fields. I’m confident that whatever manner we choose, our actions will cause Camila and God to smile.


Leave a Comment