In this cursed place
Where sadness reigns
It is not crime that is punished
It is poverty.
En este lugar maldito
Donde reina la tristeza
No se castiga el delito
Se castiga la pobreza.
I first saw these words scrawled on the wall of a dirty prison cell in Tlapa; I was accompanying Father Vicente Cepeda, who had gone to the prison to celebrate Mass for the inmates. But on many occasions I have thought about how the “sadness reigns” and “poverty is punished” could be applied to many more places here in La Montaña than just that prison.
And sometimes one is tempted to feel a little
discouraged. Life is not easy here in the mountains. Some days it seems that
the pendulum is swinging closer to the side of “misery” than it is to just
|Men in Plan Ranchito wondering what might grow on this land|
But there are many good people here trying to push that pendulum in the opposite direction, to a place that perhaps we could call (at least) “poverty with dignity—and with hope.” Just in the past ten days I was blessed to accompany some of these people.
The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center does everything it
can to see that poverty is not punished in the justice system. The great
team there does what it can to see that any “punishment” is for a real crime and that it is a just one and a
rehabilitative one. It was an honor to participate last week in their twentieth
And I went to the village of San Marcos with Euclides, a
young doctor from Mexico City. He had traveled by bus all Thursday night (with
lots of medicines, especially antibiotics), so that he could get to San Marcos
on Friday, offer free medical attention all day Saturday, and return to Mexico
City on Sunday. No fanfare for him, no swimming at the beaches. Just an emptier wallet, a lot of
fatigue, and many grateful people in one of the most forgotten villages in La
And I was in Plan Ranchito with two biologists from
Mexico City who had come to get soil samples from the area, to see what crops
or fruits or vegetables might best yield results in that area. Sofía and
Salvador are a young couple who offer their expertise to different
villages in the mountains. The soil here is not always great, and sometimes the
results they share with villagers are not as positive as one might hope—but
even getting honest responses from people who care is a life-giving experience
for the poor who are accustomed to so much deception and abandonment from
And I went to Xochitepec to pick up José Luis, a young
man from Puebla who lived as a “volunteer” for one year with the pastoral team
there. His time there has come to an end; however, there is no doubt but that
this experience will “mark” him for the rest of his life. Just the opportunity
to share life with Fathers Juan and Héctor and Brother Gustavo is an incredible
blessing. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the commitment (and deep
spirituality) of these men. I feel renewed after just a few minutes with them;
imagine a year with them.
|The roads aren't getting any better as the rainy season continues|
|Poor people marching to downtown Tlapa during Tlachinollan's anniversary celebration|
|Doctor Euclides checking his medical supplies in San Marcos|
|Sofía and Salvador digging for soil samples in Plan Ranchito|
|Fathers Juan and Héctor receive radio and keys from José Luis on his departure|
So is this “a cursed place”? It might sometimes seem to be that way in “the big picture.” But just as next Sunday’s reading at Mass (August 10) talks about Elijah perceiving God’s presence, not in the strong wind or earthquake or fire, but in a “sound of sheer silence” (New Revised Standard Version), so too there are many signs of that “light silent sound” (New American Bible) here in La Montaña.
|Salvador found a flower to give to Sofía; isn't love great!!!|
Those signs don’t catch headlines; I daresay that next to no one knows about the solidarity of people like Euclides, Sofía, Salvador, and José Luis. But Mission Mexico is honored to call these people “friends” and to contribute in any way it can to their struggles for justice, hope, and life in these mountains of Mexico. As Father Fred would say: “God is good—all the time!”
|Mike with two of his best friends (Baltazar and Antonieta) in Xochitepec|
Thank you, supporters of Mission Mexico, for trusting in the worthiness of these efforts at producing that “tiny whispering sound” (Jerusalem Bible) of God’s presence and love shared with some of the neediest of God’s people in Mexico. Enjoy this summer month of August.