Compassion: A Lesson From Two Small Children

At Catholic Social Services, what we do to help poor and vulnerable seniors and families is as important to us as how we do it, and we have two foundational core values that drive our work – impact and compassion.

At CSS, we believe that impact occurs when the results of our service have a lasting influence on the future of our community. Through accountability, transparency, and self-determination, our team pursues ways in which the effects of our actions will be seen for years to come.  And we believe Compassion to mean that we are inspired by a God who came as and identifies with ‘the least of these.’  We are motivated by a desire to enter into places of poverty, pain, and controversy and respond to the suffering of others.


It is our belief that the synergy between impact and compassion will make the difference for our clients and community. Impact is dependent upon Compassion, and Compassion requires that we are moved to make a positive Impact.

A few years ago, I learned a lot about compassion in the most unexpected place from some unexpected people.  I had the opportunity to visit my friend who was working as a village doctor in El Salvador. The town was composed of people who had fled El Salvador during the Civil War and were rebuilding their lives. They shared their sacred stories with me, opened their homes to me, and cared for one another with a bond of solidarity that I’ve never seen before or since. I had the most incredible time with them.

But, after a week and a half, I was ready to go home. I wanted more to eat then rice and beans; I love long, hot, glorious showers, and the two liters a day that were allotted for my bathing were completely inadequate. But two days before heading home while dreaming of what I consider normal, I got sick.

On my way back from the outhouse, the two boys from the family that I was staying with spotted me and wanted to play. I told them that I wasn’t feeling well. So, I went into my room, shut the door, lay down, and wished my mom was there to take care of me.


The boys weren’t pleased that I wasn’t playing with them, so they picked up some rocks and started throwing them at the steel door of my room. My head was already pounding, and the rock crashing only made things worse.

While I have no children of my own, I have five younger siblings, 20 nieces and nephews, and I spent two years at an orphanage in Chile, so I can reprimand children in multiple languages. And, I got up to tell the boys that this behavior was unacceptable, when suddenly it struck me.

The day before, I had seen Christian, the three year old, at the clinic. He had the same thing that I did, but the chronic version, from a lack of clean water. And Meme, the 4 year old, was being raised by his grandma because his mom had immigrated to the United States to build a better life for Meme and his brother.

Moments before, we had been worlds apart, separated by life experiences, skin color, language, opportunities, education, and a list of things that we use to separate ourselves from others, but, there we were a woman sick and missing her mom, and two boys, sick and missing their mom. All of those differences were no longer important, because I felt compassion. I took on their suffering as my own pain and my own struggle.

And that is why I believe that it is the synergy between impact and compassion that will strengthen our community. Because until we feel each other’s suffering and commit to each other’s struggle, we may gauge the impact of our efforts by how it makes us feel, rather than by how we better the lives of those we serve.


The good news is that it works! When we bring impact and compassion together with the power of the human spirit, amazing things happen. I was just speaking with one of our Pathways to Hope clients, Louise. Pathways to Hope is an intensive case management program for survivors of domestic violence and their children. These survivors come to us from Choices shelter, and they have significant barriers to breaking the cycles of poverty and violence in their lives. Louise has been able to find stable housing, schooling for her children, and is enrolled in a workforce development program. After decades of being beaten down literally and figuratively, Louise told me that she had advanced to manager-level training.

Inspired by Louise and thousands like her, and driven by these two values – impact and compassion, we do the important work of helping people reach their God given potential.

~ Rachel Lustig, President & CEO

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