Thought for the Day – 18 August – The Memorial of St Alberto Hurtado SJ (1901-1952)
” Hogar de Christo”
Hogar means “hearth” or “home.”
Hurtado wanted to welcome the poor into “Christ’s home.”
In October 1944, while giving a retreat, he felt impelled to appeal to his audience to consider the many poor people of the city, especially the numerous homeless children who were roaming the streets of Santiago. This request evoked a ready and generous response. This was the beginning of the initiative for which Father Hurtado is especially well-known – a form of charitable activity which provided not only housing but a home-like milieu for the homeless: “El Hogar de Cristo”.
By means of contributions from benefactors and with the active collaboration of committed laity, Father Hurtado opened the first house for children, this was followed by a house for women and then one for men. The poor found a warm home in “El Hogar de Crist o.” The houses multiplied and took on new dimensions, in some houses there were rehabilitation centres, in others trade-schools and so on. All were inspired and permeated by Christian values.
From all accounts Hurtado was an intensely busy man. In 1946, he bought a green pickup truck to better bring at-risk children living on the street back to the shelters. He called them his patroncitos, his “little bosses.” In addition to his work with Hogar, his retreats and outreach to youth, he wrote several books and found the journal Mensaje, a Catholic magazine designed to highlight the social teachings of the church and which is still proudly published by the Chilean Jesuits.
Pancreatic cancer brought him, within a few months, to the end of his life. In the midst of terrible pain, he was often heard to say, “I am content, Lord.”
After having spent his life manifesting Christ’s love for the poor, Father Hurtado was called to the Lord on 18 August 1952.
From his return to Chile after his Tertianship to his death, a matter of only fifteen years, Father Hurtado lived and accomplished all the works described above. His apostolate was the expression of a personal love for Christ the Lord – it was characterised by a great love for poor and abandoned children, an enlightened zeal for the formation of the laity and a lively sense of Christian social justice.
Alberto understood the need for the balance between prayer and work, striving to be a “contemplative in action.” On the one hand, the activist is the one who at every moment recognises “the divine impulse.” On the other, prayer should not encourage a “sleepy sort of laziness under the pretext of keeping ourselves united with God.” I like to think of him as the patron saint of multitaskers.
In Santiago, near the original Hogar, is a shrine to Alberto, where many come to pray. Inside is his beat-up green pickup.