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Quietly doing God’s work

WASHINGTON At approximately the same time the pope was standing in the White House, Sister Carmen Soto was standing in a food pantry on Monroe Street in Mount Pleasant, 3 miles north of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

They give out food at Centro Cat Hispano, the Spanish Catholic Center, on Wednesdays. And, pope or no pope, people need to eat.

Eugenio Barba is 78. He is from Ecuador,
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“They give us so much, the sisters and the priests,” Eugenio Barba said. “So this is how I give back. It’s not much. But it’s something.”

Centro Cat Hispano started 41 years ago, but it really came into its own when a young Capuchin priest named Sean O’Malley took it over in 1970.

O’Malley, now a cardinal and Boston’s archbishop, is a legend in Mount Pleasant. Old Salvadoran women still tell the story of when O’Malley said a Mass for the Washington diplomatic corps.

He got up in the pulpit and told the smartly dressed ambassadors and consul generals that he had heard from too many of the women who cooked and cleaned for them that they were treating their domestics shabbily. Many in the congregation got up and left. O’Malley kept talking as the indignant big shots walked out.

“That’s a true story,” the Rev. Mario Dorsonville, the Colombian priest who now runs the center, was saying. “And the people here, they don’t forget that he was on their side, the poor people, the working people.”

More than 30,000 people pass through Centro Cat Hispano every year. They come from 75 different countries, and not just those for whom Spanish is a first language.

There’s a growing number of Ethiopians. They get their teeth fixed in the dental clinic that Sister Janice Heisey runs. Or they bring their children to the medical clinic where the surgeon is a nun named Sister Dede Byrne whose sense of humor is as sharp as her scalpel. They get job training. They get heard.

Father Mario says they don’t have a fancy mission statement. They keep it simple.

“What did Jesus do?” Father Mario said,
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It is obviously a big deal that Pope Benedict XVI is here. But lost in the wall to wall coverage of the pope’s visit is the simple fact that every single day,
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But, like Father Mario, like Sister Carmen, like Eugenio Barba, they show up. Every day. And they take care of people who need to be taken care of. They don’t preach social justice. They practice it. They do God’s work.

Marcus Kebede lives in Washington. He is 46 and he drives a taxi. He grew up in Ethiopia and he is extremely lucky to be alive because he has seen war. Some years ago, he found himself in Rome.

“I was a refugee,” he said. “I had no place to go.”

He was befriended by priests and nuns in Rome,
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