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Helping locally and globally

Meet another member of South Florida's many-sided faith community. This week we're talking with Elena Garcia, administrative assistant at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Palm Beach and coordinator for diocesan Catholic Relief Services.

Q: What drew you to Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services?

A: I heard of CRS at a conference when I was working for Catholic Charities. I loved everything I heard about it. It's a humanitarian agency of the bishops of America. if there is a disaster overseas, organizations look for CRS because it's already there, and has already established a trust with the people. So help globally and locally.

Q: How did you get into your vocation?

A: I didn't apply for it. I started working as an administrative assistant for seven offices in the diocese. The director of CRS was one of them, and he asked me to help. I couldn't believe it. I didn't even ask for it.

Q: Why are you involved with Operation Pedro Pan?

A: I came to America as one of more than 14,000 children who came unaccompanied. I'm very grateful that my parents sent me, and for the people who took care of me, and to the Catholic Church and the United States. Around 2005, I wanted to know more about the other people who came. It took a few years to be able to go to their monthly breakfasts. But when I did, I built a connection almost immediately.

Q: How do you like to relax?

A: I like long walks and going to nature centers, like Green Cay in Boynton Beach and Wakodahatchee in Delray Beach. At Wakodahatchee, you could see a lot of the baby birds in the nest.

Q: Favorite pastime?

A: I take pictures. I have a Canon.

Q: What book have you been recommending lately?

A: I'm reading "Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today", by Yoani Sanchez. She writes from Cuba. The book is about her blogs, from 2007 to 2010. It's about daily life in Havana.

I also recommend "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust," by Immaculee Ilibagiza. She was able to forgive the men who tortured and killed her family.

Q: How about favorite film(s)?

A: "Of Gods and Men," about priests in Africa. It shows how dedicated they were and stood up for the people.

Q: Favorite music? Favorite performer(s)?

A: Classical. My brother is a classical pianist. I grew up listening to him.

Q: What person in history would you like most to meet?

A: When I was younger, I wanted to meet Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori system of education. I loved her approach. I actually took a one-year program to become a Montessori teacher.

I'd also like to meet Caryll Houselander, who wrote several books on spirituality. I read "The Reed of God" many times.

Q: Do you have a treasured possession?

A: Letters written by my parents and my brother when they were still in Cuba and I was in the U.S. When I read them, I feel as if I'm walking into a history book.

Q: If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

A: I wonder how a country like Cuba could be ruined in such a short time.

Q: Your most memorable spiritual experience?

A: One thing that comes to my mind is the day I arrived from Cuba. Suddenly I realized I could not go back. I was 13, and I grew up in that moment. I feel the reason I survived those years is my faith.

Q: Something most people don't know about you?

A: I like to fix things, like a door that isn't closing right. I'd be Mrs. Fix-It if I could.

Q: What one thing would you change about yourself?

A: I wish I weren't as shy as I am.

Q: Is there one thing you can't stand?

A: I don't like the noise of generators. That's something you can understand only if you've lived through a hurricane in South Florida.

Q: Have you ever doubted your faith?

A: Yes, especially when I was in high school. Religion for me was very important. It was basically all I had left. I asked if God really exists, and if the Roman Catholic Church is really the true church.

Q: How were those doubts resolved?

A: By studying the Gospel of John. I also read a commentary by Raymond Brown. He answered many of the questions I had.

Q: Motto, or favorite scripture verse?

A: John 1. It talks about God being the Word, and it talks about everything begin made by him. That connects with my love for nature. And because it's the Word, it's organized and makes sense. There is a plan. sNothing is haphazard. That's the whole faith of the Catholic Church.

More about Garcia

Title: Administrative assistant, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach; coordinator, diocesan Catholic Relief Services.

Other community posts: Member, St. Mark's Catholic Church, Boynton Beach.

Education: Degree in English literature, master's degree in religious studies, Barry University.

Personal: 64. Born in Havana.

Family: Married to Sixto Garcia, professor of theology, St. Vincent de Paul Major Seminary near Boynton Beach. Two children.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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