Reason for Hope at the Border

Brian Radziwill
December 5, 2011

Many of us have heard about the unsettling numbers of murders that have taken place in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, over the last five years, but most of us don’t know about the positive things happening there.  Despite the violence, Columban missionaries have provided a border ministry on both the Mexico side (Juarez, Mexico) and the U.S. side (El Paso, Texas).  In each, our missionaries are serving as a light in an often dark place.  If we only focus on the negative news in Juarez, we will miss the extraordinary work of the Columban missionaries in the region and the rich faith of the Mexican people that continues despite great adversity.  On a recent trip to the border, I had the opportunity to witness some of the positive Columban projects taking place.

The Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas, is a terrific example of the Society’s commitment to working toward environmental sustainability. It has been created with a vision of responsible environmental stewardship where visitors are encouraged to consider their ecological footprint. The Columban community there has taken the lead in tending a community garden that creates produce for local families while also serving as a unifying public project.  Columbans educate visitors on water conservation through more effective ways to brush your teeth and shower.  They also prohibit the use of wasteful plastic products in their home and wash their dishes with an effort to reduce waste and re-use remaining dishwater for their plants.

Just across the border from El Paso, the Columban community in Rancho Anapra, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is doing their part to minister to vulnerable families there.  The Columban priests and lay missionaries are pastorally present to the Corpus Christi parish in Anapra, leading the faithful in challenging times.  I witnessed the extraordinary faith of the people on Sunday, November 19, when I attended a Mass celebrated by the local bishop with an impressive 110 confirmations.  That day, the church was jam packed, as it is most Sundays, with parishioners dancing and praising our Lord in their own special way.

Days earlier, I had the opportunity to witness the Quinceañera Mass of two young women.  The Quinceañera is the Latin American version of our Sweet 16 birthday celebration for teenage girls.  In Mexico, the Mass is an integral part of this celebration, where the teenager wears a formal ball gown and is surrounded by a “court of honor,” a group of her peers who coordinate their attire to match hers (similar to a bridal party or groomsmen at a wedding).   It was very special for me to witness this ceremony that combines a Catholic faith rooted in a love for Christ and an honor of the Virgin Mary with a longstanding Mexican tradition.

While the violence in Juarez is still pervasive, one cannot say that the situation is without hope. In both the El Paso and Juarez communities, Columban missionaries serve without fear and take courage from the renewing faith that surrounds them.  Indeed, the Columbans have remained and will continue to remain with the communities there.

The Columbans invite you to experience mission in your own way to see firsthand the realities of the countries and communities where our missionaries serve.  To find out more, please contact the Columban Center for Advocacy & Outreach at (301)565-4547 or ccaoprograms@columban.org.