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Were You There: Am I Here with Christ?

Gigi Gruenke featured image

Editor’s Note: Gigi Gruenke reflects on times on mission and in her life when she felt God’s promptings and overcame her fear in order to take action and accompany those who are suffering.

I see Jesus’ embrace of the cross as the ultimate act of solidarity with us: He is present in the middle of the most painful human situations with understanding, tears of compassion, and hope. Am I here with the crucified Christ is a question about how we bring God’s solidarity to suffering people now.

In my experience, God works by placing me in situations that touch my heart. I pray through my fears and then take action.

While a missioner in Peru in my early 20’s, I drew close to a very poor family. They offered me cooked food I didn’t recognize, but I ate it anyway. One night, a boy in the family fell off the rafter where he was sleeping and died. I learned an immense amount about the consequences of social injustice from this family.

In the late 1970s, my parish in the United States agreed to adopt a refugee Vietnamese family. They arrived too quickly–the parish hadn’t found a place to rent and furnish for them, or even gathered enough funds yet. What was our family to do? Offer hospitality!  

The morning we were to pick the seven members of the family up, I was so scared I could barely get out of bed. The crucified Christ provided the necessary courage, and in the end, we as a family received much more from this family than we gave them.

As a lay missioner in El Salvador during the early 2000s, God guided me into work with massacre survivors. One night, our survivor group joined with another group to commemorate loved ones killed twenty years earlier. With lighted candles, we retraced their escape route up a mountain. What must it have been like, the night of the actual massacre, to be escaping in complete darkness? Christ crucified knows the depths of darkness.

Today, Christ’s love for the suffering extends to all immigrants and refugees. One such person recently risked jail for a criminal act she didn’t commit. Although I was fearful of my ignorance in matters of criminal law, she needed an advocate, and there I was. A plea for a new trial is now in place. Hopefully this mother of four will remain free to raise her children.

Listening to God’s promptings in our lives and acting on them isn’t necessarily easy!  But Jesus’ solidarity with the suffering awaits our willingness to act. And God’s gratitude overflows.

Reflection Question: What holds you back and what spurs you toward solidarity with people who are suffering?


A licensed clinical social worker working in the greater DC area, Gigi sees a variety of clients including recent latino immigrants. She has worked as a lay missioner in Latin America on two different occasions, spending a total of 10 years in Peru and El Salvador. Her local Catholic parish is St. Camillus.