The gospel reading at Mass today (about a pagan woman who seemed to be inviting Jesus to go beyond his “usual thinking” about what it might mean to share God’s mercy and love, and to make a difference in another person's life) brought back the memory.
It was a terrible day to be visiting. The pathways were muddy, slippery, and full of every kind of imaginable garbage. The stench of human excrement was overwhelming. The hard rains of the night before had caused the open ditches (the only “sewage system” available) of the settlement to overflow and deposit their waste everywhere.
Families were busy repairing roofs and walls of their
homes; falling branches and blowing garbage had caused great damage to roofs
and walls of the tarred-cardboard houses. No one really had time to talk with a
group of foreign visitors.
|So much wisdom and so much love in one person|
Or—maybe—it was a great day to be visiting. On other occasions when I had brought friends from the north to the neighborhood, the people tended to be in a great mood, and the visitors were treated almost as royalty. That welcome, that hospitality, took the rough edges off the incredible poverty that was the main feature of the lives of the thousands of people living here.
I decided that the best person to visit today might be Doña Mari. Since her husband had a full-time job, her house was made of better materials (cinder block, not cardboard), so perhaps she would have less work to do today fixing it. Perhaps she could talk a bit with my visiting friends.
Yes, Mari was home, and she gladly welcomed everyone into
her small home. There weren’t chairs for everyone, but no one seemed to mind.
It wasn’t the seating arrangement that concerned people; it was the awful smell
of raw sewage everywhere. The Canadians were trying to be polite, but almost
everyone had a finger and a thumb against their nose, trying to block this
assault on their olfactory system.
|Being poor is never easy—but knowing someone else cares makes a huge difference|
Mari talked about her life, how she had been born in this very poor settlement and how she had basically self-taught herself how to read and write, how to sew, how to embroider, how to handle minor medical issues, how to be a midwife, how to try to feed her children with nourishing food. She didn’t have any fixed employment, but she spent hours every day sharing the knowledge she had picked up along the way with other poor women in the neighborhood.
Mari seemed to be speaking so glowingly and so joyfully
about her life in this poor neighborhood that one of the Canadian women seemed
to be doubting whether she could really be sincere. It was the one woman who
had already scolded me for letting them come to the neighborhood without advising
them that they should wear sneakers rather than open sandals. Even someone
else’s joke that walking in this “fertile mud” would surely help their toenails
grow didn’t seem to go over well with her.
|Doña Tere sharing a noodle soup in El Obispo|
So, removing her hand from her nose for an instant, the Canadian woman challenged Mari: “Mari, you don’t have to live here, do you?”
The question seemed to catch Mari off-guard, so she responded, “What do you mean?”
The Canadian said, “Well, you already said that your
husband has a full-time job. Surely you could move to a nicer neighborhood if
you wanted to.”
|Early morning coffee for Eli, Fernando, Sofía, Isadora, and Jesús|
Mari thought about that for a second and then said, “Yes, I guess I could.”
The Canadian then blurted out, “Well, why don’t you then?” The way she said it showed that she thought that anyone in their right mind who could opt to get out of there should do so as soon as possible.
|Jesús and Isadora checking the map of a reforestation project in El Obispo|
That seemed to make the answer easy for Mari. She looked at the woman who had asked the question. “Yes,” she said with a smile on her face, “I could leave. But”—and she spread out her arms as if she were embracing all the other people in her neighborhood—“they can’t.”
For Mari, that seemed to be all the answer that was needed. “They can’t.” That simple fact—the marginalization of others—made all the difference in her life choices. Maybe she wasn't in her "right mind," but I daresay that she was closer to having a "Jesus mind" than I will ever have.
One of the biggest blessings of being here in the
mountains of Mexico is the fact that I meet people like Mari very often—more
than I deserve. This past week I was in the village of El Obispo, where members
of two groups based in Mexico City, Cosechando Natural and Cooperación Comunitaria, are
living examples of persons who are making life choices because “they can’t.”
Sofía, Julio, Fernando, Isadora, Jesús, and Elizabet had spent the week—and, by
far, not their first—sleeping on the floor, eating poorly, and working hard,
simply because they want to accompany the impoverished indigenous people of El
Obispo in their efforts to create a more dignified life for themselves. It was
an honor to be able to spend time with them.
|Fernando, Sofía, and César—working for change in the mountains|
|The road from El Obispo wasn't great after a rainstorm, but we were able to leave|
I guess that, in a sense, that’s what Mission Mexico is all about. “They can’t.” Maybe we can…Thank you, Mission Mexico supporters, for also keeping Doña Mari’s spirit alive. I find it easy to believe that the Holy Spirit plays a role in that. Have a great week.