Friday, November 22, 2019

Educational Bursaries in "México Profundo" in 2020

In 1987, a Mexican ethnologist and anthropologist named Guillermo Bonfil Batalla published a book called "Mexico Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization." "México Profundo" could be translated as "Deep Mexico," "Profound Mexico"—perhaps even "Real Mexico." For the author, what unifies and distinguishes "México Profundo" from the rest of Mexican society "is that they are bearers of ways of understanding the world and of organizing human life that have their origins in Mesoamerican civilization and that have been forged here in Mexico through a long and complicated historical process."
Many of the bursary recipients are graduates of the Marist-run Champagnat High
School of the Mountain, a school constructed and maintained in partnership with MMEX
Such are the indigenous peoples in the Mountain of Guerrero. Such are the peoples with whom Mission Mexico partners in their efforts for justice, dignity, peace, life. Those who do not identify with "Mexico Profundo" are, in the opinion of the author, part of "Imaginary Mexico"—a Mexico that does not exist but whose ultimate project is to uphold the dominant civilizational program geared towards what we might call "Western" values and goals. 
Sharing clothes in the Mountain before the cold season begins in December
As the indigenous peoples here in the 700 villages of the Mountain from the Na'savi, Nahuatl, and Me'phaa cultures strive to survive and dream of flourishing in Mexico today, the challenges are many. Mission Mexico's solidarity with the peoples involves especially two areas: health and education.
Hopefully my friend Braulio will grow strong and continue his education someday...
I often wish that Guillermo Bonfil Batalla had not died in 1991. I would love to talk with him about the solidarity projects sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Calgary and ask him about what he might consider its pros and cons. I daresay that it is impossible to have a "perfect" relationship when the rich or privileged or better-off interact with the poor and marginalized and forgotten—but I daresay that it is possible to have a relationship that is based on respect, listening, reflection together, joint decision making, and working together. And this is the "culture" that Mission Mexico tries to promote in its interactions with the peoples here. And Mexican "partners" here that collaborate with Mission Mexico, every bit as informed and astute as Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, continually accompany us in our journeys of solidarity.
The lack of electricity doesn't mean that supper can't be an enjoyable experience.
I recently sent to the Mission Mexico committee in Calgary a list of project proposals for 2020. This committee is composed of volunteers from Calgary who, out of the goodness of their heart, work to raise funds for Mission Mexico and to coordinate the use of these funds so that they are put to the best use here in the mountains. I actually felt bad when I assembled the different requests for bursaries that different young people had submitted to study a university career and forwarded these to the Mission Mexico committee.
Elizabeth fell and fractured her spinal column in June, but someday she hopes
to be able to continue studying.
Last year, in 2018, there were 27 students who wished to renew for another year their Mission Mexico bursary, and there were 13 new requests for a Mission Mexico bursary. This year, in November of 2019, there are 39 bursary renewals, and there are 36 new requests for a bursary. In other words, the numbers jump from 40 bursaries in 2019 to 75 bursaries requested for 2020.
This is the home of José, one of the present bursary recipients.
I have visited, spoken with, and know these young people. The need is real. Without outside support, the dream of a university education and a professional career will be just that: a dream. 
My 91-year-old friend Reyna, deaf-mute all her life, died last week. 
I share these thoughts with you, the reader, because, unless the donations to Mission Mexico increase in the very near future, it will be impossible for Mission Mexico to award 75 bursaries. At the moment, only God knows what will happen. But please, if you can assist in helping these young people achieve their goal, please consider a donation for Mission Mexico. Thank you.
Maria receives a MMEX bursary; her parents died; when I last visited Maria,
her grandmother prepared me breakfast on this, her "kitchen stove."
If you enter Facebook and go to MissionMexicoRC, you can see videos of a couple of bursary recipients and see photos of the reality of the mountains of Mexico. God bless.
Seven of these children walk three kilometers to school and three kilometers
back home each day. They appreciate the sucker from MMEX.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mission Mexico and Human Flourishing

The Bible is about human flourishing…I suggest that while “human flourishing” is certainly not the only metaphor to describe the message of the Bible, it is a way of describing God’s work that needs to be restored to a place of stature and that provides insights into the whole message of the Bible.
-       Jonathan T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (2017)

Peter McWhir visited from Calgary and quickly became a member of the family here in Pozolapa
I can’t get this thought out of my head. The Bible is about human flourishing. Mission Mexico is about human flourishing. The Bible vision is in process. The Mission Mexico vision is in process. The Bible speaks to who we are as people and who we can and should become. Mission Mexico tries to offer people in the mountains of Mexico an opportunity to become whom they wish to become and people in the Diocese of Calgary an opportunity to become whom they wish to become.
These students, seen here with Brother Cepillo (Salvador), are learning to play guitar
at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain
Here in the mountains of Mexico, the task of human flourishing is a most challenging one. The realities of village life (little paid work, low salaries if there is work, low prices for local crops, difficult access to educational opportunities, little access to health care, high costs of transportation, discrimination against the indigenous peoples, etc.) make the simple task of survival a difficult one for many. But the Bible’s message is one of hope, and Mission Mexico does what it can to nourish that hope.
This youth group from the Cathedral in Tlapa works for human flourishing for all
Mission Mexico supports a number of “projects” year round, such as the Champagnat High School of the Mountain, or the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain, or the La Estacion Day Care Center, or the Xalpitzahuac Health Project, or the dozens of scholarships assisting students in different universities. Thousands of people benefit regularly from this solidarity. But every week seems to offer different opportunities to serve the people in this quest for human flourishing.
Father Ruben Torres is a priest and anthropologist and works tirelessly for human flourishing
For example, the hope is that in this month of May (and if not, surely in June) the rainy season will begin. The soil here in the mountains is not very rich, and for years the government has offered fertilizers to the impoverished peasant farmers. But there has always been a lot of corruption and mismanagement with this program. A new federal government that took power in Mexico in December of 2018 is trying to assure that the fertilizer reaches the needy farmers, but many of the farmers are not aware of the changes in the “rules of the game,” and they often lack the documentation necessary to prove just how much fertilizer they need or proof that they really do have a piece of land that they wish to plant. So I have been driving all over the mountains recently trying to “help out” in as many cases as I can.
With the rainy season starting soon, there will be days that I won't be able to get to where i want to go
It’s the same thing with education at this time of year. Most schools and universities begin offering registration and/or “entrance exams” in May or June for the new school year that will begin in August. Graduating high school students are especially challenged because the university or teachers college or technical school where they hope to study is often located in a city to which the student has never traveled. So I have tried to be as “helpful” as I can in many of these cases. If anything, it will be education, I daresay, that most nourishes the hope of “human flourishing” in the impoverished indigenous villages.
Marist Brother Wicho (Jose Luis) is the director of the Champagnat High School
of the Mountain, where the message of "human flourishing for all" is exemplified
And there are the “usual” daily crises that impact the lives of so many families: unexpected illnesses; unexpected deaths; unexpected emergencies. For example, in recent weeks I have taken a thirteen-year-old girl three times to a psychologist for therapy after a violent sexual assault by several men. The girl was so traumatized that she couldn’t even speak for a week after the incident; she just sat on the dirt floor of her house crying. The sessions with a gentle female psychologist who speaks her language is helping the girl immensely.
Preparing corn (pozole) for visitors to a village festival; the local religious leader,
Tomás, is blessing the corn
And sometimes there are “occurrences” that work out favorably for this “human flourishing.” A few weeks ago, a hardware store went out of business, and Mission Mexico was able to buy at cost price a large supply of materials for “Alex’s Welding Shop” at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain. “Alex´s Welding Shop” offers training to students in welding, plumbing, and electricity, and is named after Alex Graf, a young man from Medicine Hat who died in a traffic accident in 2014; his family and friends sent a donation to begin this project, and they continue to support each year.
Marist Brother Checo (Sergio) is in charge of Alex's Welding Shop
All of these attempts to assist the poor in their situations of need are possible because of the generosity of people in the Diocese of Calgary who support Mission Mexico. I mentioned in the first paragraph that I see Mission Mexico as an opportunity for people in the Diocese of Calgary to become whom they wish to become. I am thinking of the desire of people to be good human beings, to share with those in need, to witness to the message of Jesus that we are all sisters and brothers. For parents, I would hope that it is an opportunity to educate their children that we can journey together in this struggle for human flourishing. I thank all of you for your solidarity with this cause. God bless.
The chapel at the local Diocesan Seminary of Tlapa has three flags flying in front: Mexico, the Vatican,
and Canada. Why Canada? Because of the incredible solidarity for the Mountain from people
in the Diocese of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Sunday, March 10, 2019

To See Christ in Everything and In Everyone

What if Christ is a name for the transcendent within of every “thing” in the universe? What if Christ is a name for the immense spaciousness of all true Love?... As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, Your religion is not the church you belong to, but the cosmos you live inside of….A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else….We see him so we can see like him, and with the same infinite compassion.
- Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How A Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, And Believe (2019)

Maria Agustina, one of my most "Christ-like" friends here in the mountains of Mexico
I first walked in the mountains of Mexico forty years ago, in 1979. I was a young, naive high school teacher from Canada, unconsciously blind to so many factors that allow the world to function as it does. I daresay that I now see life, creation, religion, politics, economics, God differently. I am grateful for this learning experience…and I recognize that I will depart from this world still not knowing all of the answers. But the noble indigenous peoples of the mountains have shared the richness of their spirituality and their relationship to life—and I pray that I be a worthy friend with them on their journey to truth, goodness, and beauty.
Yadira and her mom, Estela, are grateful and content with Yadira's new wheelchair
Saint Oscar Romero, the archbishop murdered in El Salvador in 1980, once stated that “there are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” Bishops meeting at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s began their document Gaudium et Spes with these words: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men [sic] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.
Don Lencho recently lost his house in a fire—but the struggle to rebuild is underway
I have been blessed to have been allowed during almost four decades to be physically present with many poor and afflicted, and to be allowed to share in their joys and hopes, their griefs and anxieties. Father Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest quoted at the beginning of this blog, writes in that same book, The Universal Christ, that “only presence can know presence. And our real presence can know Real Presence.” Besides being stupid, I would have to be blind to not  discern (weakly, I admit, and with many failings) Christ in the people and in the cosmos that surround me here in the mountains of Mexico.
Ester and Mario welcomed me to their kindergarten in Naranjo with flowers; there were perhaps 4 or 5 pairs
of sandals worn by the 38 kindergarten students and the 80 elementary school students—but smiles abounded
All of this is humbling. And especially humbling is the thought of all of the good people in the Diocese of Calgary who support Mission Mexico in so many different ways. I have the blessing of presence, of seeing smiles, of receiving hugs, of observing hope being nourished…and all because of the generosity of donors in the Diocese of Calgary who trust that the loonies and toonies and dollar bills given in Canada are being used to make a real difference in the lives of the poor indigenous peoples here. Sometimes when I think of this sharing between “north” and “south,” I think of a quote by Denis Goulet, one of the main founders of “development ethics”: Yes, there is a link between meaningless lives on one continent and meaningless deaths on another. I pray that this solidarity with impoverished peoples in another part of the world helps to give meaning to the lives of the people and families in the Diocese of Calgary.
Saturnina, Monica, and Priscila were walking to the next village
on this day; Priscila had left her baby boy with her mother 
Thank you to all those who who support Mission Mexico. Be assured of the gratitude and the prayers of the beneficiaries of your solidarity and generosity. May God bless you on your own journey to Real Life.
Some students at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain share a birthday cake
with the school principal, Brother Wicho

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Death Does Not Have the Final Word

Death does not have the final word
In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life: the lives of those loved ones who preceded us into the great unknown. It is usually quite a festive time because, the belief is, the souls of our loved ones return to visit their families. It is a time for music, cempasuchitl (marigold) flowers, pan de muertos (bread of the dead), copal incense, candles, music, drink, ofrendas (altars in the home), food shared, and accompaniment in the local cemetery (often all night). This celebration often begins in late October, when family members go to the tombs of their loved ones and place a path of flower petals on the ground so that their loved ones can find their way to the ofrendas in the home.
A few of those candles are mine, for my deceased loved ones
As during most years, I was invited by several families in different villages to accompany them as they celebrated the presence of their loved deceased. I tend to not take many photographs during these visits, because I too am present to my deceased loved ones; I don’t want to seem to be a “tourist” or just an "observer."
A display for this time of year in the main square of Tlapa (where I live)
This year, though, it has been difficult to celebrate this feast day. First, six days ago, the father of one of my dearest friends in Tlapa, Martha, died from cancer. Martha and her husband Ramiro are compadres of mine who operate a small restaurant, and they were aware that Servando (Martha’s father) wasn’t going to be around for a long period of time. Yet, as most of us know, death always comes as a bit of a shock. Burial was this past Sunday.
Ramiro and Martha: my friends for almost forty years
But shock turned into what Martha terms a “shattering blow” when, just yesterday, her 46-year-old brother, also named Servando, was murdered. Servando was a taxi driver for many years in Tlapa, and he was shot several times yesterday as he returned from delivering passengers to a nearby village. No one knows anything about the motive; all that is known is that Servando’s wife and five children will now have to try to get along without him.
Servando father and Servando son: I will miss you, my friends
Tomorrow morning I will be present for Servando’s funeral Mass and burial. For me, one of the most amazing parts of this double-whammy experience for this family is the faith exhibited by Martha. Yes, she is “shattered”; but it is also Martha who posted the image that is at the top of this blog: La muerte no tiene la última palabra (Death does not have the final word).
Servando Senior was buried on the feast day of St. Judas Thaddaeus, the patron saint
of lost causes. Hopefully the struggle for justice here will never be lost.
The violence here in the Mountain has reached terrible proportions. Every day there are killings (usually very gruesome). Kidnappings, extortion, disappearances, robberies, etc., are more and more common. Very seldom is anyone brought to justice for these crimes. This may be due in part to the fact that many people do not even bother to report crimes to the police or governing authorities; too often, these authorities are perceived to be acting in collusion with the criminal. In 2017, Mexico ranked first among the 19 Latin American countries surveyed in the “Global Impunity Index.” In Canada, I daresay that “impunity” is a word that most people have never even used.
"When I do not walk in the clouds, I walk as though I were lost." - Antonio Porchia
The Mountain is a place of great beauty, great poverty, great hope—and it is the latter that Mission Mexico attempts to concretize and make more real and more extensive. Next week I will be flying to Calgary, and I will be bringing with me requests for support during 2019 from different individuals and groups. As I spoke with these people during recent weeks, it was sometimes difficult to not cry. One's location on the thin line between success and failure is often determined by only a few dollars per week. I think especially of so many students who have to rent a place in the city if they want to study; it is difficult for most of us to realize the sacrifices that these young people make in pursuit of their dreams.
Floriberto, a student at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain (supported by
Mission Mexico), wrote a letter of thanks to the parents of Alex Graf, a young man
from Medicine Hat killed in a highway accident in 2014; Alex's family and friends
established a welding shop in Alex's memory at Floriberto's school.
In the Diocese of Calgary, several churches and parishes offer ongoing support during the year for Mission Mexico. Other parishes and schools make a special effort to assist during a special collection in mid-December, around the time of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Ahead of time, I would like to thank all of those people who help to coordinate these efforts and all of those people who support these efforts. I am blessed in the sense that I get to see the fruits of this solidarity among the very impoverished indigenous peoples of this Mountain of Guerrero. Gracias. And remember: Death does not have the final word.
Thanks,Diocese of Calgary, for keeping the darkness at bay.

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.