It all started in 1976 when a Roman Catholic youth group of idealistic young adults began to meet in El Paso, Texas, looking for a “greater sense of purpose and mission and substance,” says Ruben Garcia, who conducted the meetings. Sometimes 14 people came, sometimes just one.
“Along the way, as we reflected, something from the Scriptures kind of jumped out at us,” Mr. Garcia says. “God â€“ in the Old Testament, in the New Testament â€“ identifies first and foremost with whom? With the poor.
“We [decided to] quit our jobs, quit going to school, to live simply and by the grace of God.”
The group began walking the streets of El Paso, looking for the poorest of the poor, without any preconceived notions of what they would do. They helped some people by referring them to social service organizations. But some people said they couldn’t be helped because they “didn’t have any papers.” These were undocumented Mexicans, who at that time weren’t eligible for services. So the group decided to focus on helping them.