Cuando el pobre

Our hymn this week was written by José A. Olivar and Miguel Manzano, borrowing a musical style from Argentina, the chacarera. Although the collaborators are from Spain, the theology underpinning this hymn is Liberation theology, from Latin America. In the 1960s, theologians in different parts of the world started questioning Western Capitalist ideas and actions, specifically the ways imperialism and economic oppression were affecting poor people in the world. Liberation theology asserts that God is on the side of the oppressed, whether that oppression be economic or legal or racial. This hymn is a reminder of what is important in life: not big houses, fancy things, and achievement, but “simple things” and a house full of “goodness”.


When the poor ones, who have nothing, share with strangers/ When the thirsty, water give, unto us all/ When the crippled in their weakness, strengthen others:

Refrain: Then we know that God still goes that road with us. Yes we know that God still goes that road with us.

When at last those who suffer find their comfort/ When they hope, though even Hope seems hopelessness/ When we love though even hate seems all around us [refrain]

When our joy fills up our cup to overflowing/ When our lips can speak no words other than true/ when we know that love for simple things is better [refrain]

When our homes are filled with goodness in abundance/ When we learn how to make peace instead of war/ When each stranger that we meet is called a neighbor [refrain]

Here I play an introduction and all four verses, so that you may sing it, or listen, or do a bit of both as you learn this piece.

I decided that instead of recording a singing demo, I’d provide accompaniment so you may sing it yourself. There are many beautiful recordings of this hymn on YouTube, in English and Spanish. This one in particular also provides the Spanish lyrics, which are not too difficult even for myself to pick up (no, I didn’t take Spanish in high school… mistake!). If you need the human voice to demonstrate the melody (and this is in fact the best way to learn music-we just respond better to the voice!), then I uploaded a video last Tuesday of me singing/learning this piece, which you can view here.

Although no theology can fully encompass and explain God perfectly, I do think this hymn deserves to be sung in every congregation where comfort threatens to numb us into complacency, and in every church where needs seem so difficult to fill that hope “seems hopelessness”. For too long Western theologies have been imperialist or focused on “prosperity gospel”, more serving of capitalism and materialism than of God’s commandments and desire for our lives. Matthew 25, in which Jesus declares that whatever you do to these people, you do to me, is clearly referenced in this hymn, and is always worthy of a reread.

Parents, if you want to teach this hymn to your kids, here are my little lesson plan ideas:

  • Listen to the hymn and read through the text. Choose one verse to start learning.
  • Pick a recording on YouTube, and dance or sway to the music. This is a great step, especially for younger kids, and especially with music with rhythmic interest and changes, like this piece has.
  • Jump right in! I recorded myself playing the music five full times through (intro and 4 verses, yes, it was very hard keeping track as I was playing *which* verse I was on, and when I should stop 😆 ), so sing the verse you’ve chosen to learn through a few times, not worrying about how much you or your child get “right”. Your being open to making mistakes will help your child get over their inhibitions and make for a better learning mindset from everyone.
  • If jumping in really isn’t your style, clapping the rhythm along with the right hand piano melody, or listening to more recordings are great ways to absorb the music as well. There’s really no wrong way to learn!
  • Learn more about the composers and music, here, in this great blog post.

Keep a look out for more general tips and ideas about teaching music to children, even if you aren’t a musician yourself. We will, eventually, be able to safely meet in our choirs and see our music teachers, meet in-person to worship and sing. Some places already can do this all safely. My goal is to help you feel more comfortable and confident singing in corporate worship, whether you’re on your sofa at home or in the pews surrounded by fellow worshipers.

The road to Emmaus, referenced in the refrain of this hymn. Attribution:
Christ and the Disciples Walking to Emmaus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved August 23, 2020]. Original source: – Fr Lawrence LEw, O.P..

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