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'The poor are not forgotten ... the poor are loved'

55 needy families receive gift cards from archdiocese for Heart of Christmas program

MIAMI Archbishop Thomas Wenski asked his agencies to name 40 needy families to give Christmas gift cards.

Instead, they sent 55 names — and he gave each of them a $500 card.

"The message of Christmas means that the poor are not forgotten, that the poor are loved," the archbishop said of the second annual Heart of Christmas program. "Five hundred dollars won't give anybody longtime economic security. But hopefully, it will bring a measure of hope."

And hope is badly needed: The reports from around the archdiocese read like a Dickensian tale amid the feverish seasonal spending by others. People losing jobs and cars and homes. Single mothers with several children, some abandoned by their husbands. People caring for loved ones with MS or epilepsy or autism. People falling behind on bills while earning low wages at restaurants and supermarkets.

Heart of Christmas was born last year when members of the Neocatechumenal Way, a lay movement, sent a large check to the archdiocese "to help the poor." Their gift inspired Archbishop Wenski to add to it.

He said he hoped Heart of Christmas would have a "multiplier effect" — prompting others to give, just as the Neocatechumenal Way prompted him last year.

And all the gifts should point back to the original, he added in an e-mail message. "Every gift at Christmas is small when compared with the gift we have received in the person of the Christ child." 

The 0 gift card that each of 55 families received.


The 0 gift card that each of 55 families received.

'Never give up'

When Argentine Champagne got one of the gift cards, she did what many did this past week: She cried.

"It made me feel like never to give up," said the Miami resident, a single mother who was still sick from a difficult birth more than a month ago.

Champagne said she nearly died from blood loss when she gave birth by C-section on Nov. 7. She has been unable to work as a nursing assistant for three months. And since it's a parttime job, she has no paid sick leave.

The $500 gift card will go for milk, diapers and wipes for her newborn child, she said. And Christmas gifts for her 10-year-old son.

She received a gift, too: a boost in faith. "God always opens a door. Someone is always there to help you out."

 'It was a miracle'

 "Wow! Seriously?" Nina Uricola said tearfully on hearing she would get one of the gift cards for Heart of Christmas. "This couldn't be more of a blessing."

Uricola has had it rough ever since she got rid of her sexually abusive husband last year. She tried selling credit card readers but was laid off.

Her two preteen children attend Little Flower School in Dania, and they all live with her parents. She attends Friday Mass at the school, and Father Thomas O'Dwyer of Little Flower counsels her whenever she needs.

"If it weren't for my parents, I don't know where I'd be," Uricola says. "And Father O'Dwyer is my angel. When I need to talk, he always has words of encouragement."

The Heart of Christmas card will go to Christmas gifts for her kids: Transformers, Barbie dolls, iPads with educational games. And clothes for both children.

Throughout her ordeal, Uricola's faith has held firm. "I believe in angels and miracles. Just the way all this happened, I'd say it was a miracle.

"This is one of the best Decembers I've ever had."

 'There is hope'

 "Shocked, surprised, happy, all at once," was Rodeline Esther Verdela's reaction when Catholic Legal Services in Miami told her she was getting one of the gift cards. As one might imagine for someone who has been living since August at a Salvation Army shelter with her four children.

Verdela, a native of Caicos Island, said the archdiocesan gift card would pay for a medical examination, a requirement in her application for federal immigration residency status.

She has already applied to Miami-Dade College and is looking for a job — "kitchen, cleaning, anything" — although she first needs a green card.

But the Heart of Christmas gift "helps a great deal," she said. "I'm grateful that they're even helping me. It makes me feel like there is hope."

 'I've been praying'

 Rosa Vega smiled politely as a Respect Life officer told her of an honor to be given her — then beamed when she heard what it was.

"This is really a lot for me," she said, cradling the box with gift card at the Respect Life office in Hollywood. "Do you know how much I've been praying?"

Rosa needed several hospital visits during her difficult third pregnancy; then her doctor told her to quit her hospital job or lose the baby.

And Husband Angel had to leave his technician job to watch their two children while Rosa was hospitalized. He recently found parttime work making doors, and she recently returned to work as well; but they fell behind on apartment payments, and their car was repossessed.

She said the gift from Heart of Christmas would go toward lights, phone bills and gifts for the children. And for food. "I'm going to cook for Christmas," she said with a smile.

More seriously, she added: "This [gift] is like a two-week check. God knows what I've been going through. It's going to be better."

 'Signs of charity'

 For the Quants, the archbishop's gift card couldn't come at a better time. Ruth is pregnant with her eighth child, Christmas is coming — and the family has four birthdays, including Ruth's, each December.

Husband Christian pays for the essentials, like car and mortgage payments, from his salary as a restaurant manager in Miami. But for gifts, "an extra hand is always great," he said.

"We haven't starved; the Lord has provided," Christian said. "But it's kind of hard when you want to provide gifts to the children and can't."

Christian, who attends St. James parish in North Miami, said the gift made him feel compelled to pray for Archbishop Wenski and Sister Michelle Fernandez, principal of St. Mary's School, where the Quant kids attend. Sister Michelle was the one who handed Ruth the gift card in mid-December.

"These are the signs of charity that you see in our faith," Christian said. "This is something we can touch."

 'It'll be better'

 Paul Jackson got a Heart of Christmas card not a moment too soon.

"I'm relieved; I have a lot of bills, and the insurance for my car was about to expire," says Jackson, a Hollywood resident and father of five.

Jackson has been working hard to overcome his early life: dropping out of school, dealing drugs, living on the street. He changed his ways after his wife, Suset, became pregnant.

"I left all that, and I'm trying to find a legitimate job," says Jackson, who has gotten some work landscaping. "But I have no history of working, and no one will vouch for me."

He even took classes with Project Joseph, a pregnancy preparation class for fathers, when Suset was too sick to attend. He must have gotten it right: By Christmas Eve, Naomi Maya will be three months old.

"I am going to get the kids a turkey or ham for Christmas," hesays. "It'll definitely be a better one."

Mimosa Altidor, volunteer teacher, sheds tears as she receives her 0 gift card from Sister Michelle Fernandez of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, principal of St. Mary Cathedral School.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Mimosa Altidor, volunteer teacher, sheds tears as she receives her 0 gift card from Sister Michelle Fernandez of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, principal of St. Mary Cathedral School.

Comments from readers

clementina Salloum - 12/26/2013 09:23 PM
benditos los que alivian el sufrimiento de la Humanidad
Descubriste que la Navidad esta en la flor pequena, que nace en Primavera
en el frio de la nieve, en la maravilla del sol y las estrellas
en tus intentos de ser Santo, en tu arrepentimiento y Conversion
en TODA la Creacion de Dios...en cada granito de arena?

Navidad es mirar con ternura a quien latimo tu escencia
Es compartir el sagrario de tu presencia, con quien necesita Amor y esperanza
y lo mejor de tu corazon

El Ninito Jesus no solo esta en el Nacimiento Festivo,los regalos y dulce Paneton
Esta en los ninos que TIENEN HAMBRE, como en los que juegan felices
Esta en la s guerras que sobrevive la Humanidad y
en quienes generosos luchan por la Paz

Navidad eres tu, cuando te atrever a cambiar tu consciencia Amando sin limites
Animandote a trabajar por un mundo mejor, construyendo un Pesebre

Navidad es perdonar y pedir perdon, es la practica de la oracion
es la humildad de reconocer nuestras faltas, corrigiendonos con esperanza
es reconocer nuestros talentos para SERVIR a los demas, con ternura
ES CREER EN DIOS COMO ES EL, sentirlo cuando le das la mano a tus hermanos
y los invitas a Comulgar contigo
Es no dormir indiferentes a la VERDAD del otro, la ALEGRIA del otro, el DOLOR del otro
Es desligarse del egoismo que lo justifica TODO
Es seguir a Cristo compartiendo con El sin miedo alguno
Su Nacimiento, Su Via Crucis, Su Resureccion

Es permitir al Espiritu Santo que que nos transforme en el fuego de la Caridad y Conversion


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