Friday, September 14, 2018

Riding In the Clouds—And Not as a Joy Rider


This father-God to whom we pray “our father” rides the clouds not as a joy rider, but rather to be in a position to see and to know and to care and to intervene and to feed and to heal and to forgive and to reconcile and to liberate.
-       Walter Brueggemann, A Gospel of Hope (2018)

Braulio is just one of many children who have benefited from medical attention
provided by Mission Mexico.
Forty years ago, Walter Brueggemann´s ideas expressed in his book The Prophetic Imagination “messed up” my spirituality and my way of understanding the Bible—something for which I am eternally grateful. Today, Brueggemann’s words at the top of this page, from a more recent book, don’t “mess me up,” but they definitely challenge me to reflect deeply on what it means to be a part of Mission Mexico and to be a disciple of our loving God here among the impoverished indigenous peoples of the mountains of Mexico.
Juana fell unconscious two years ago, and her left foot landed in the hot coals of her fire pit for quite
a while. Mission Mexico provided transportation on several occasions to and from the hospital.
This photo, taken five days ago, shows that she has no toes on her left foot, but at least she can walk.
And when I join Brueggemann’s thought to the following words written by St. Teresa of Avila more than four hundred years ago, the challenge becomes even more daunting:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Hipólito was praying when I arrived at his house the other day with roofing materials. I listened to him
for a good while, and the most common word I heard him use was "Tatsabú"—"Thank you" in his language.

Here in the mountains of Mexico, Mission Mexico tries to fulfill St. Teresa’s hope that Christ’s followers will “[look] compassion on this world,” will “[bless] all the world,” will “[walk] to do good.” Everyday Mission Mexico tries to live out the nine verbs that Brueggemann attributes to our “father-God”: to see, to know, to care, to intervene, to feed, to heal, to forgive, to reconcile, to liberate. If I could be allowed to add one more verb, it would surely be this: to nourish hope.
It is always a joy to visit with Simona. I had to wait for her because she had gone out
to gather firewood. She then used some of that firewood to prepare lunch. 
This is done by assisting our Mexican partners (such as the Champagnat High School of the Mountain, or the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain), and it is done by one-on-one relationships with the poor every day of the week. Every small gesture of solidarity is so appreciated by these impoverished people who so often feel marginalized, excluded, forgotten.
The Champagnat High School of the Mountain has 229 indigenous students this year. The inset photo
is Wicho, the director of the school. The bearded friend is Cepillo. Both of these men are Marist brothers.
All of this is made possible due to the generosity of the people in the Diocese of Calgary. It was Father Fred Monk’s idea almost twenty years ago that a loonie or a toonie a week shared with the poor of the mountains wouldn’t be too much of a burden for most Canadian families—but it could impact in a major way the lives of persons, families, and communities here. That idea has proven itself to be true thousands of times since the turn of this century.
Abel Barrera (seen here with me and his wife, Charo) is the director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights
Center of the Mountain; he is probably the most respected man among the indigenous peoples here,
due to his total commitment to justice for these peoples. 
I thank the people of the Diocese of Calgary for this generosity. I am the fortunate person who gets to go out to the villages (the estimate is that there about 700 villages) here in this region of Mexico. The roads are almost always terrible, but that makes the experience even more interesting. Sometimes the trip involves food; sometimes medicines; sometimes school supplies; sometimes building materials (for example, on Thursday I transported materials to be used to repair Hipólito’s tar-paper roof); sometimes to pick up or drop off a sick person; sometimes it’s just a visit to see how things are going. I promise that I never go as just a “joy rider” (to use Brueggemann’s expression)—but I also promise that I always return home with a heart full of joy.
This 4 x 4 truck, purchased by Mission Mexico almost five years ago, allows me to go (on occasion)
where very few vehicles go (some would say "where no sane person would try to go" hee hee)—
but it is the case that the more isolated people are, the more impoverished they tend to be.
I hope to visit Calgary in mid-November, and I hope that I might be able to share stories with some of you about the impact that Mission Mexico is having here in the mountains. And I know that in mid-December there will be a special collection in the Diocese of Calgary for Mission Mexico. I hope that many people will make an effort to help the very needy here. As St. Teresa of Avila puts it: Christ has no body now here on earth but yours. God bless.
I fell last month and twisted my ankle badly, and I sought attention from several native healers
(including Doña Rogelia), but finally I went to Doctor Vladimir; he put me in a cast and on crutches
 for two weeks. But I am now just as good as new.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Do All The Good You Can

This is Reina, the woman you can read about in this blog.

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
-       John Wesley (1703–1791)
Reina's house...home to her for more than fifty years.
I have been thinking about goodness a lot these days. A recent experience brought home to me the goodness that resides in the hearts of so many “ordinary” people. Indeed, I suspect that there is no such thing as “ordinary” people.
Reina inside of her former home.
Reina is a woman about eighty years old (so I learn from seventy-one-year-old Meche, who remembers Reina taking care of her as a young girl). She is a deaf-mute (all of her life, says Meche) and has lived for at least fifty years alone in the “house” depicted in the two photos above. At some time in her life, Reina must have broken a hip, because she has only one leg that has strength; when she walks with a stick, she drags her other leg behind her.
Reina walking back to her house from a bath in the river.
I learned from a friend that a young neighbour of Reina, Cecilia, got a job as a nurse and had built an adobe-brick house for herself. There were extra bricks, so Cecilia asked the workers to bring the bricks to where Reina lived and to build a small adobe house for Reina. The workers used the same roof from the older house for the new residence.
This is Cecilia with me; she used her own money to pay the workers to build Reina's new house.
When I learned of Reina’s new house, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could get a bed for Reina!” I’ve seen her lowering herself (painfully, it seems) onto the straw mat on the floor that has been her bed for most of her life, and I’ve seen her struggle to get up from the floor to stand upright with her one good leg—it’s not an easy thing to do.
Reina sitting on her new chair in front of her new house.
I approached a friend in Tlapa, Max, who makes wooden beds, and I asked him if he would sell me a bed cheaply. When Max heard about Reina’s situation, he insisted on the bed being a gift from his family for Reina. He even threw in a little nightstand and a wooden chair.
Max with the bed he donated for Reina.
I approached another friend in Tlapa, Vicente, who sells furniture, and I asked him if he might sell me a mattress at a discounted price for Reina. When Vicente heard of Reina’s situation, he insisted on the mattress being a gift for Reina.
Vicente helped to load the mattress onto the Mission Mexico truck.
A godchild of mine, Araceli, who lives in another state, heard about Reina’s new bed, and she sent to me, as a gift from her family, a woolen blanket and a set of towels for Reina.
Araceli, her husband, and their two children donated towels and a warm blanket.
Two little girls who live near me, Valeria and Lizbeth, brought a set of bedsheets to me for Reina’s bed. This was an especially generous gift, because their father was murdered here in Tlapa about eight years ago, and life is not always easy for them and their mother.
Valeria and Lizbeth giving me bedsheets for Reina.
So, one day I drove about four hours to Reina’s house to deliver her new bed and accessories. The bed just managed to fit inside the house. Reina immediately tried it out; it was evident that it was much easier for her to sit or lie on the bed than on the floor.
Reina's first time in her new bed—and perhaps her first time ever in a real bed.
The next morning, I returned to Reina’s house to see how her first night with her new bed had worked out. No words could be shared between us, but her smile suggested to me that “going to bed” at night will now be a much easier experience for her.
Reina on the morning after her first full night sleeping in her new bed.
Such little “miracles” of generosity happen here in the mountains almost every day. It is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why I feel like one of the most blessed human beings I know on this earth. And it is one of the reasons why I am so grateful to the people in the Catholic Diocese of Calgary who support Mission Mexico and help transform—sometimes in little ways, sometime in huge ways—the lives of the impoverished indigenous peoples here. Thank you, Calgary.
A neighbour of mine offered to give shoes to Reina—but I suspect she has walked barefoot her whole life.


Monday, April 16, 2018

God Takes Us to Where Humanity Is Most Wounded


God is eternal newness…[God] takes us to where humanity is most wounded…So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find [God] there; indeed, he is already there. Jesus is already there, in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, in their troubles and in their profound desolation. He is already there.
-       Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, # 135

Hopefully everone will read Gaudete et Exsultate, by Pope Francis
I smiled often as I read for the first time Pope Francis’s latest apostolic exhortation, called in English “Rejoice and Be Glad! On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.” So much of what the pope wrote led me to think of the vision and the mission of Mission Mexico—the “daring” effort of the Diocese of Calgary to “go to the fringes” and to accompany and assist our “most wounded” brothers and sisters among the indigenous peoples of the mountains of Mexico.
Father Lawrence Moran, CSB, began the connection between the Diocese of Calgary
and the impoverished in Mexico. His picture still hangs in a meeting room in Los Reyes Metzontla.
Living here in the mountains offers daily many opportunities and challenges to respond to the God who is “already there” in the “wounded flesh” and “profound desolation” of the impoverished peoples. As I was writing this line, a young orphan knocked at my door; he wasn’t allowed into his high school today because the old shoes he has worn for years finally fell apart, and the school uniform code demands black shoes. I knew Lalo’s mother before she died; I never met the father who abandoned the family years ago; and I know that his elderly grandmother can hardly walk and is quite ill. Tomorrow, Lalo will show up at school with new black shoes. Thank you, Diocese of Calgary.
Edgar, seen here with grandmother and mother, is more mobile with
the wheelchair donated by Mission Mexico.
Last week it was Elena, a woman from San Marcos who was on the back of a truck that went over a cliff. Both of her legs were broken in several places, but the doctors here in Tlapa said that they couldn’t operate, that she would have to go to Acapulco or Mexico City. I was with Elena’s family on several occasions, and I was willing to transport her in the Mission Mexico truck, but personnel at the local hospital wouldn’t give us a medical recommendation so that Elena (who doesn’t speak Spanish) would be assured of entry into a hospital. It was only when a lawyer from the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center threatened to denounce publicly this lack of a dignified response to indigenous Elena that the director gave the family the medical recommendation—and included an ambulance to deliver her to Acapulco.
A sweater is only a sweater—or is it? What else might it be?
Other days involve young people trying to register for high school or university or vocational school for next year. For example, on Friday I will drive five hours to Puebla with five indigenous students—and the director of their high school—the five will write an exam on Saturday at the Iberoamerican University in Puebla; the exam is for a scholarship offered by this Jesuit university. None of the five students have ever been to Puebla, and this accompaniment is one small way to support the dreams of these students who are so used to living “on the fringe.”
Living on the fringe doesn't mean that one doesn't dress up on special days.
On Tuesday night I took an overnight bus that went from Tlapa to Mexico City. I accompanied Daniel, a nineteen-year-old young man from Tlapa who was heading to the U.S. border in the hopes of crossing. His dream is to work in the United States for three years, to help his mother in educating his younger brothers and sisters.
Daniel's last breakfast in Mexico City before boarding a bus "for the north"
After saying farewell to Daniel, I went to the National Cardiology Institute to visit Abel Barrera Hernandez, the founder/director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain. Abel was driving alone in his car at midnight ten days ago when he felt intense pain in his chest. He managed to get out of the car and stretch out on the pavement. A taxi driver alerted the police, the police called an ambulance, and on Tuesday Abel had surgery at the Cardiology Institute. He is now recovering at home; he has strict orders from the doctors to take care of his coronary stent, to watch his diet, and to not overwork. For Abel that is almost requesting a miracle.
Abel Barrera—surely the most respected man in the Mountains
in the eyes of the poor
During Holy Week I was on the road offering different kinds of service in many communities: Xochitepec; Cruztomahuac; Arroyo Prieto; Potoichan. One gets used to long days here—and night-driving. Easter Sunday involved twelve hours on the road (I might add “the worst road in the mountains”). This past Sunday was only nine hours on the road (I got home at two in the morning). But it’s all about compassion and service—and it’s all made possible through the generous support of donors in the Diocese of Calgary.
Abel Barrera being greeted by a child with Down's syndrome
(photo used with permission from Mirna Xibille)
When he was still a bishop in Argentina, our present Pope Francis was one of the bishops from there who wrote in a document: Personal encounter with Jesus Christ has to lead us to transform through the power of the Gospel our criteria for judgment, decisive values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration, and models of life. Mission Mexico tries to live out and witness to this transformation by going “to the fringes” and accompanying the “most wounded” in their “troubles and in their profound desolation.” I have read that “misery shared is misery halved”—but I don’t believe it. Misery shared is misery’s death; misery shared is the birth of hope. This is Mission Mexico’s most enduring gift here on the fringe: hope. Thank you, Diocese of Calgary, for birthing and nourishing that hope.
Thousands of students' families are grateful to Mission Mexico
for helping to build and maintain the Champagnat High School of the Mountain

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Caring for Others out of Love


This caring for others out of love is not about being servile. Rather, it means putting the question of our brothers and sisters at the center. Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, “suffers” that closeness and tries to help them. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.    - Pope Francis, Homily on Sept 20, 2015
Between the branches one can see the road that I hope to be on in about an hour's time
I just returned from Tlapa’s new cemetery on the hillside outside the city. My good friend Jesús died yesterday and was buried today. Jesús owned a restaurant, and years ago, when Tlapa had a rustic movie theatre, I used to take the children from the orphanage to a movie (I remember “The Lion King” and “Titanic”—and always with popcorn), and then we would go to Jesus’ restaurant for chicken enchiladas.
The local band was present in the cemetery to wish Jesus farewell
Of course, that movie theatre no longer exists. The owner, Don Enrique, was kidnapped. And even though the family paid a ransom, Enrique was not returned. Months later, a police officer confessed that he was involved in killing Enrique, and he took the family to where Enrique was buried. The leader of the kidnapping gang turned out to be the mayor of Tlapa. The mayor was arrested, and he later died in prison. Such is “life” here in the mountains of Guerrero.
Last February Doña Modesta thought she might die. Today, thanks to Mission Mexico,
she can take her two goats (can you see them in the background?) out to pasture.
Many days here involve activities like that of accompanying Jesus’ family during this difficult time. Mission Mexico supports several projects here in the mountains, and I keep in touch with those, but every day involves “other” activities that seem to keep me busy. This is definitely not a complaint; it is an honour to serve—and be served by—the noble indigenous people here in the mountains of Guerrero.
Fifteen-year-old Priscila (in blue) is pregnant and has been fainting a lot, so her husband
asked Mission Mexico for assistance to take her to a hospital for the first time in their lives.
Request granted.
Most families in the mountains do not have a vehicle, so I get a good number of requests for transportation with the Mission Mexico truck. Most of these requests involve people who are ill, so it is difficult to say “No.” I try to avoid travelling alone at night, but sometimes circumstances require it. So far, so good.
I see a fair number of sunups when I'm on the road; they are always awe-inspiring.
And sometimes I am very accompanied. Last weekend the “PeregrinosTonantzin Guadalupe” youth group from the cathedral had a camping trip in the village of Tlalixtaquilla, so I helped to deliver them there on Friday and get them back home on Sunday.
The youth group at the end of their weekend experience in Tlalixtaquilla
I went the other day to the Intercultural University in La Ciénega to be present as Veronica defended her thesis in order to get her Engineering degree; she was successful. She is now the first and only member of her family to have a university degree. It wouldn’t have happened if Mission Mexico hadn’t supported her with a scholarship during her four years of study.
Veronica (with the flowers, in the middle) is now an engineer
I am expecting a phone call any moment/day now from Luz and Miguel, a young couple from Olinala who are hoping to be the proud parents of a baby boy this week. They have already named him: Stephen. Four years ago I was at the hospital with them day and night for about a week, but on that occasion their first child, a boy they named Jesus, was born with anencephaly and lived only a few minutes.
Luz and Miguel are praying that they will have a healthy son to bring home
So the days go by, and I tend to topple into bed quite tired most nights. But always gratefully. And I am very aware, as are the people here, that none of these efforts to offer more hope for life and dignity and justice would be possible without the support of the people in the Diocese of Calgary who support Mission Mexico. Thank you, everyone, for caring for these sisters and brothers in the mountains of Mexico. God bless.
Braulio (seen here with his niece Mairene) has received medical care thanks to Mission Mexico
This "caring for others out of love" is nothing new for Mission Mexico. Here is a photo
from 2008 of Father Fred Monk (Mission Mexico's founder)  with Pedro, a young boy from
Xalpitzahuac who had two operations to give him the gift of sight.
PS: Did you know that Mission Mexico now has a Facebook page? Please check it out at  https://www.facebook.com/MissionMexicoRC/ .



Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Quick Winter Visit from Mexico to Calgary

Xalpitzahuac is one of the coldest places (temperature-wise) in La Montaña,
and Marcelino appreciates having firewood for cooking and for warmth

It is not unusual for Canadians to escape from the cold winter of Canada and travel to a southern destination where there is sun and warmth. I did the opposite a few weeks ago: I traveled from Mexico to Regina and Calgary for a quick visit. And, yes, I noticed the difference in climate (to say the least).
Give me Mexico's climate...
As many people familiar with Mission Mexico (MMEX) know, MMEX has been an outreach project of the Diocese of Calgary for more than fifteen years. MMEX was founded by Father Fred Monk in 1999, initially as a parish project in Cochrane, after a visit to the mountains here in the State of Guerrero, Mexico. Later, Bishop Fred Henry endorsed the project as a diocesan effort.
A card drawn by Paty Gasca to assist in Mission Mexico's fundraising efforts
Now, in 2018, Father Fred Monk has retired from parish ministry, and the Diocese of Calgary has a new bishop—William T. McGrattan was installed as Calgary’s eighth bishop on February 27, 2017. And Mission Mexico will now be coordinated by the diocesan Mission Council; this council is coordinated by Sister Rita Kim, f.m.m. In reality, these are now my new “bosses.”
Bishop William T. McGrattan and Sister Rita Kim, f.m.m.—my thanks to both
Since Sister Rita and Bishop McGrattan had never met me, I went to Calgary to talk with them personally about the projects that MMEX is supporting and about their impact on the lives of the impoverished indigenous people of the Mountain. I brought with me messages of greeting and gratitude from many people from this area, including Tlapa’s present bishop, Dagoberto Sosa Arriaga.
The coordinating council of the Champagnat High School of the Mountain sent their thanks for support
I had the good fortune to stay for a few days in the FCJ Christian Life Centre, in downtown Calgary. The hospitality offered by the FCJ sisters and the personnel there was incredible.
The FCJ Christian Life Centre—what a beautiful blessing for Calgary
I had a wonderful supper in Cochrane with Father Fred Monk and other members of the Mission Mexico committee that had collaborated with him in the past. My gratitude is extended to all of these wonderful individuals. Leslie Davies, I am sorry that you couldn’t be there that night.
Thank you, Joann, Fred, Mary Anna, Warren, and John
I spent quality time with Father Fred Monk and Sister Rita Kim as we talked about the continuing support that the Diocese of Calgary hopes to offer to the people in this poorest region of Mexico. Father Fred is considered a hero and a saint here by the local people, and hopefully the future will allow him to visit here again. Sister Rita, thanks for your willingness to oversee these important life-changing projects.
It's impossible to express my gratitude adequately to Sister Rita and Father Fred...
The Mission Council supports projects both at home (especially the four First Nations’ Reserves located within the Diocese of Calgary) and abroad. A special subcommittee has been formed to assist the Mission Mexico projects. My gratitude goes out to the volunteers who offer their time and energy to help make MMEX possible. Hopefully you too will come to visit here in the mountains of Guerrero.
Jeff Hagel and Chandra Schubert, two members of  the Mission Mexico subcommitee...thanks
It was a quick visit—but most productive. There was not much free time. I did make a quick visit to St. Mary’s Senior High School, where I was a teacher in the late 70s and early 80s. I admit that just standing in the hallway was emotional for me, mostly for the sense of gratitude for having been allowed to know such incredible students and teachers. 
I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t moved to Mexico to accompany
 Father Lawrence Moran, OSB, in 1982.
And there were just a few times that I could meet up with old friends, most of whom I had not seen in some thirty years. These visits were extra “bonuses” in my four days in Calgary. Next time I hope to have a little more time (hee hee, that is a warning, Cathy and Rene Proulx, and Margot and Len Lang, and…).
Thanks, Erika and Jess Nieukerk (especially for the mole supper), Kathy Murphy, James Murphy,
Teri McKinnon (née MacDonald), Janet and Edwin Malate, and Father Greg Coupal
Thank you to everyone who made this trip such a blessed experience, and thank you to all of the good people in the Diocese of Calgary (and elsewhere) who support Mission Mexico and nourish the struggles and the hopes of the impoverished indigenous peoples here in the mountains of Mexico. God bless you for your generosity and solidarity.
Jeff Hagel, a special "Thank you" for your service and commitment to Mission Mexico