Forging Ahead In Hope

A lesson on what’s possible with creativity, commitment and God showing the way

By Paco Wertin

November 15, 2021 | 40 Years 40 Lessons

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Thirty years ago, I was relating to and working with young men off the trains from Mexico and Central America as they looked for work so that they could send money back home to their families.

Casa Peregrino (Home of the Pilgrim) was the name of our shelter, started by the founders of Unbound so that we could be involved in Kansas City with work similar to what was going on in our projects around the world. While the shelter eventually closed, it gave the staff and volunteers at our headquarters an outlet to be closely connected with the people we served, reinforcing the importance of building relationships.

As part of the effort to walk in solidarity with children, elders, their families and our coworkers in the sponsorship program, co-founder Jim Hentzen had the idea that priests could preach the Gospel at Mass and invite people to put it into practice by sponsoring and connecting with a child or elder in need.

Jim hired Liz deLisser to engage with parishes. She kept us on our toes by reminding us that you need a “fire in your belly” to be able to do this work. You need to be passionate and forge ahead with hope and confidence, with love.

Father Peter Hereley came along, then Father John Graden, God rest his soul, followed by others, and the rest is history. We had explosive growth over the 1990s as a result. When my wife, Claudia, and I became sponsors in 1991, there were around 16,000 children, youth and elders sponsored. When Archbishop James Keleher sponsored in 1997, he was sponsor number 100,000. That’s rapid growth and a result of God working through our preachers and all those who supported them in their work.


Father Jerry Hackenmueller gives Communion to a woman at a Mass in Guatemala. Father Hackenmueller visited the country as part of an Unbound Preacher Awareness Trip in 2019.


I am deeply grateful for all the times I was able to accompany our priests while they preached the Gospel and invited folks to sponsor. What a joy to see them in action, living what they preach. Many of our preachers shared that they were continuing their service to the poor by connecting with Unbound and committing themselves to walking with families forging a path out of poverty.

Our preachers are people of prayer, people committed to the poor, people who challenged Unbound to be its very best. They’re people who embody our values, people of the Eucharist serving the People of God. We don’t have explosive growth now, but we do have faith-filled priests and staff who are committed to keeping Unbound sustainable. We are pilgrims, searchers, co-creators who know that God will show us the way.

I will leave you with this beautiful image that Larry Livingston, senior writer/editor for Unbound, painted for us to contemplate: The sponsorship table with folders of children and elders is an extension of the Eucharistic table where bread is broken and wine poured out, Body and Blood of Christ, given for all.

There is deep gratitude and joy for the gift the preachers are to this Unbound worldwide community of compassion and service. With you, O God, we are a liberating force of love in our world today.

Photo 1: Father Cyrus Gallagher greets an elder on an Unbound Preacher Awareness Trip to Guatemala in 2019. Awareness trips help inform the work of priests who preach for Unbound.

Photo 2: Father John Gillespie talks with parishioners at the sponsorship table after Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Shawnee, Kansas.

Many of our preachers shared that they were continuing their service to the poor by connecting with Unbound and committing themselves to walking with families forging a path out of poverty.


About the author:

Paco Wertin retired in May 2021 after 30 years with Unbound. He served in several roles, including outreach to the homeless, sponsor support, CEO and in church relations. He brought a faith-filled, joyful optimism to his daily work.