Nobody Helps the Poor Better Than the Poor

FamVin recently shared a story of learning from the poor in a subway. Javier Chento, reflecting on the story, was reminded of the words of Frederic Ozanam 170 years ago: “nobody helps the poor better than the poor themselves”

It happened in a Madrid subway but it could have happened to you or me. St. Vincent would say it should happen to us often as Vincentians… being evangelized by the poor. It may be true that never used the words “evangelized by the poor.” He did say “The poor have much to teach you. You have much to learn from them.”

I invite you to read the story of a young scientist in a Madrid subway who watched a poor person minister to another poor person.

In the Madrid subway, I just experienced one of the most beautiful and intense moments of my 17 years in Madrid.


I was coming back home from a concert when a junkie entered the metro car. I kept enjoying my concert experience by listening through my earphones to the band I had just seen, isolated. But the junkie started to cry; I was surprised by the situation and I took off my earphones to find out what is going on.


The drug addict was crying because a Moroccan boy, who was also in our car, told him to cheer up. He said that in the past he was in his same situation. It could be overcome. He had to fight.


The Moroccan boy hugged the junkie, seated down beside him, and patting him with encouragement. The junkie kept crying and got up. Before the next stop, the Moroccan took out his wallet and gave him € 10. The junkie collapsed again, crying, grabbed the money, gave him a hug and left.


It seems that [nobody] had ever given him so much affection, so many words. Money is just a plus. During the next two stops the Moroccan remained on the verge of tears, with watery eyes.


I was amazed. I was totally paralyzed by the experience. After thinking about it further, I told the Moroccan that it was the most human act I’ve seen in 17 years on the subway. He told me he has been already where junkie was, that during that time he had taken drugs. He has been in Madrid for 20 years, and now he has a job and, thanks to the help of others and to that work, HE NO LONGER SLEEPS IN THE STREET.


He knows that almost for sure that 10 € (that, of course, he also needs) will end up in drugs. But maybe not. And that someone had to help him. That helping others is something that God always rewards. That if someone had not helped him before, he could not have done the same. He was aware that, maybe he has not helped and that the junkie might spend it on drugs. But he had to do it.


I had a € 20 bill in my wallet and offered it to him. He did not want to take it. I told him that I wish I could have given it to the previous boy but that at least this bill would help him not sleep in the streets because of his good action, helping another. He told me he did not want it. I insisted until he took it. He told me it’s okay, and asked me if he could give me a hug. We hugged. I exited through the door and stayed on the platform. Stunned. Excited. And I’m still like that. We say a lot about other cultures, but I just saw a foreigner giving money to someone who was not that far away from his personal situation. Money that he did not have to spare, not like me. And to feel upset, not for him, but for the situation of the junkie.


Here we usually give what we have left over. Maybe to feel better with ourselves. I’ve just seen a someone give what he lacks.”

Sr. Mary Ann Daly, SC shared her personal experience with a homeless man who taught her and other administrators many lessons. The informal video, on the famvinglobal YouTube channel, illustrates how even our negative encounters with the poor can evangelize us.

Can you recall a time when you were surprised at what you learned from a person who was poor?

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