Counsel the doubtful: Juan Carlos Gonzalez helps addicts, homeless

0
Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a St. Mark parishioner, found mercy through the Personal Encounter with Jesus retreat and now shares the message with addicts and the homeless in downtown Phoenix. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a St. Mark parishioner, found mercy through the Personal Encounter with Jesus retreat and now shares the message with addicts and the homeless in downtown Phoenix. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

 

In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy. In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.

Practical ways to counsel the doubtful
  • Be a good listener
  • Pray with and for the person, that the Holy Spirit would lead, guide and illumine their path
  • Remind the person to trust in God who loves us and will never abandon us

Juan Carlos Gonzalez was in a tough spot: his marriage was falling apart and he and his wife were on the brink of divorce. That’s when the mercy of God broke through.

It began with the Eucharist. “When the deacon came out with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, that’s when I asked the Lord, that if He would save my family I would dedicate the rest of my life to Him. And He saved my marriage,” Gonzalez said.

At the time, he and his wife had been living at a breakneck pace, working two or three jobs in order to afford the nicer things in life. What they didn’t know was that their 16-year-old son was struggling with addiction.

“When I found out I really got scared,” Gonzalez said. He heard about a ministry that helps people who suffer from addiction and he and his son attended one of the group’s retreats.

“On that retreat I found the mercy of God. I saw the mistakes that I was doing as a father — giving everything to my son, the best phones, the best everything,” Gonzalez said. “I found out I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, like teaching the faith, teaching what really matters.”

Vowing that he didn’t want to see other families hurt the same way, he decided to do something about it. Today, he leads the ministry where he found healing. Known as Encuentro Personal con Jesús — Spanish for Personal Encounter with Jesus — it’s a ministry that has grown by leaps and bounds. People come from as far away as Florida to take part in the four-day retreat experience that takes place six times a year at Mount Claret Retreat Center.

That’s because friends, family and neighbors notice the transformation in the lives of the people who attend. “They saw this kid was on drugs a couple months ago and now he’s dedicated his life to God and they ask, ‘How did you do that?’” Gonzalez said. “People don’t know the need that is out there.”

One of the things he’s discovered is that about 70 percent of those who attend have not completed their sacraments. Gonzalez and the team get to work to help with that and so far, about 15 couples have had their marriage blessed by the Church.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Juan Carlos Gonzalez routinely hands out blessed rosaries to people he encounters on the streets. He “feeds” those often living in doubt with hope via the word of God. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Twice a month, Encuentro Personal con Jesús takes its work to the streets, setting up tables at Madison and Third Avenues in downtown Phoenix where many area homeless congregate. The group brings food, rosaries and Bibles to give away, but they share what is needed most, Gonzalez said: hope.

“It’s not about feeding them food — it’s about feeding them the word of hope, the word of God,” Gonzalez said. The army of 150 volunteers continues to grow and share because it’s a way to show God how thankful they are to have broken the chain of addiction in their own lives and in their families.

“Jesus is never going to ask us how many cars we have at home or what the square footage of our house is. Jesus is going to ask us what we did for the person next to us,” Gonzalez said. His phone rings constantly as people reach out to him for help. These days, he’s ditched the fancy house and cars and is in formation for the permanent diaconate. He now owns a cleaning business, something Gonzalez said allows him the flexibility to be there for people when they need prayer and support.

“They just need a hopeful word to trust in the Lord. That’s what our main focus is,” Gonzalez said.

LEAVE A REPLY