Sunday, August 27, 2017

To Live to Serve

Students during their first week of classes at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain
Vivir para Servir: To Live to Serve. Without a doubt, this is one of the mottos that most quickly comes to the minds of the young indigenous men and women who have the opportunity to receive a high school education at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain, located in the village of Potoichan, in the mountains of the State of Guerrero, Mexico.
The property of the Champagnat High School of the Mountain, located in Potoichan
This high school is run by the Marist Brothers, a religious order founded in France two hundred years ago by St. Marcellin Champagnat. The main focus of this religious institute is the education of young people, especially the most neglected.
Students and teacher (Marlen)—August, 2017
The Champagnat High School of the Mountain began in the year 2004, when Leslie Davies, now a school principal in Calgary, was Mission Mexico’s on-site coordinator in the mountains of Mexico. Mission Mexico initially helped to construct the high school, and since then it has assisted annually in helping to pay teachers’ salaries and room and board for the live-in students. For the school year of 2017–2018 that began last week, 250 students are registered in the school; one half of these students live in dormitories in the school, and one half of the students live in Potoichan or nearby villages.
Administration area and some of the classrooms of the high school
Three of the main requirements to be accepted as a live-in student at the school are the following: the student should be indigenous and speak one of the three native languages of the mountain region; the student should come from an area that has no high school; and the student should come from a family of very few economic resources.
Students—August, 2017
The Marist Brothers are known worldwide for the ethos of a sense of family in their educational institutions. The five characteristics of Marist teaching are usually given as the following: presence; simplicity; family spirit; love of work; in the way of Mary. If the reader is interested in understanding better these characteristics, please click on the following link:
Brother Salvador (Cepillo) and Brother Jose Luis (Wicho),
two Marist Brothers who oversee operations at the high school
The school has offered a new vision of hope to the impoverished indigenous youth of the Mountain. Already graduates of the school are involved in professions that would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago: lawyers; teachers; nurses; engineers; psychologists; lab technicians; accountants; nutritionists. The presence of these committed young people in the mountain region is helping to transform the reality of impoverishment and marginalization.
Students and teacher (Wicho)—August, 2017
This year, because of the higher demand for the services of the school, there are four first-year groups rather than three. This presents extra challenges for the leadership and the teachers of the school, but the hope is that everything will work out fine. The Marist Brothers are most grateful for the partnership that they have with the Diocese of Calgary through the Mission Mexico project.
Students and teacher (Ana)—August, 2017
Mission Mexico also has a scholarship program to help some of the graduating students to continue their educational journey. These are usually very poor students who have demonstrated during their high school years their desire to work for justice and well-being for others. This is just one more way that Mission Mexico is involved in transforming life among the “poorest of the poor” in this impoverished region of Mexico. Thank you to all who support these efforts of Mission Mexico.
The MAS Clinic (Medicine and Social Assistance Clinic) in Tlapa will be offering cataract operations
from November 30 to December 4, but patients have to go for a preliminary check-up beforehand.
Mission Mexico tries to share this message and to assist people in obtaining this service.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

"We Don't Create Our Lives; We Are Summoned By Life"

Maria Agustina with her herbs and firewood
For almost forty years now I have been moving back and forth between Canada and Mexico—with most of my time spent in Mexico. The contrast between life in urban Canada and life in mountainous Mexico is striking. And for some reason, the “culture shock” always hits me harder when I return to Mexico from a vacation in Canada.
Maria Agustina—one of my most beautiful friends
So it was a real blessing last week to return to the mountains from a visit to Canada and to come across Maria Agustina on my first day as I was driving to Tlapa. She was walking barefoot and carrying her firewood and wild herbs. She dropped everything to give me a hug. Her Spanish is almost nil and my Me phaa (her language) is almost nil, but our mutual smiles made everything seem comfortable. And just spending a few minutes with her reminded me of why I was here and why the Diocese of Calgary supports an outreach program through Mission Mexico.
Modesta and Braulio—Mission Mexico helps all ages
Stopping to speak with Modesta and Braulio made me feel even more “at home.” Modesta’s leg is now completely healed. Braulio has had no more problems with stomach worms nor eye infections. Without support from Mission Mexico, I’m not even sure that either one of them would be alive today.
I do have to admit that the sunset seen from my brother's house in
Nova Scotia is as beautiful as the sunset in the mountain
So now life is back to “normal” for me. It was great to spend time with family and friends in Canada, but if “home is where the heart is,” then the mountains of Mexico are home for me. If I were to win a lotto tomorrow, this is where I would be. And indeed, I often think—not morbidly; rather, happily—that I would prefer to die rather than to have to leave this sacred space. When I do go, it is going to be with a heart full of gratitude.
Now that I'm officially "old," I need to rest more often. 
A good friend of mine who lives in Mexico City but who works in solidarity with the indigenous peoples of the Mountain just wrote an article in a national magazine published by IMDOSOC—the Mexican Institute of Christian Social Doctrine. The article is called “Poder Elegir”: “To Be Able to Choose.”  The article, by Beatriz Alessio Robles Landa, suggests that many of the poor in the mountains have next to no choices in terms of escaping their poverty, especially because of the challenges in being educated. Mission Mexico is mentioned as a project that allows many young people to continue their education in institutions beyond the borders of their own village.
This is the well-written article by Beatriz that refers to the great work
being done by Mission Mexico
So the struggle will continue here. I am saddened that two of my very good friends (both Mexicans belonging to the congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit) in the parish of San Marcos Xochitepec have been changed to new locations. Father Vicente Montiel has moved on to a parish in Panama (yes, the country), and Father Juan Molina has moved on to a retreat center in Mexico City. Both of them have given so much to the impoverished peoples of the Mountain; I wish them well in their new endeavors.
Mike and Father Vicente Montiel, MSpS
Father Juan Molina, MSpS, during his final Sunday Mass in Xochitepec
(thanks to Beatriz Alessio Robles Landa for the photo)
Thank you to the Diocese of Calgary for supporting Mission Mexico. Know that this support is changing lives here. I have been reading a book by Marc Schauss called Post Secular: Science, Humanism and the Future of Faith, and he makes the argument that “Christian practices have become more liberal, more abstract and more secular over time in the West.” This may be true in many ways, but there is definitely nothing “abstract” about the practice of loving one’s brothers and sisters that is being lived out by those who support Mission Mexico. As David Brooks expresses it in his book The Road to Character, "In this scheme of things we don't create our lives; we are summoned by life." Thank you for responding to this summons.
Traveling to Bowen Island on the Pacific Coast to visit my sister is
a little different from traveling the dirt/mud roads of the Mountain