Dear Columban Friends,
One of most intriguing yet mysterious images that Jesus uses in His proclamation of the Good News is, “The Kingdom of God!” Our faith teaches us that the Kingdom is within all of us - and it is in you! It is among you! It is already, but not yet! It always grows like the smallest and simplest things in our daily lives. If we truly believe, God will achieve things through us that will go far beyond our wildest imaginings. Thanks to you and other benefactors, Columban missionaries continue to bring the promise of hope, salvation and a brighter future for all those willing to listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ. I have an excellent example of this in our mission at the U.S./Mexico border.
In January 2019, when thousands of Central American refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. were in Mexico, the Columban missionaries became concerned for their emotional and physical well-being as they waited. By the grace of God, an empty building near the Columban parish in Anapra (a small unincorporated colony near Juarez, MX) was loaned to us by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Columbans used this opportunity to create a shelter for refugee women and their children. It was then that “Casa de Acogida” or “House of Welcome” was born.
When Covid struck, the women were forced to remain in the house for long periods of time, trying to attend to their children, communicate with their families and do the daily chores of cooking and cleaning as they learned to live as a community. Columban Migrant Ministry Coordinator, Cristina Coronado, who had set up “Casa de Acogida,” asked her sister, Maricela, a skilled seamstress, if she could teach the women to embroider. Maricela said, “Sí!” and one of those paths that leads to the Kingdom was opened wide. And like many paths that lead to the Kingdom, this one was a response to the needs of vulnerable women and their children.
The Columban Mission Center in El Paso leads guided immersion trips to Anapra with their Border Awareness Education (BAE) groups. One of the top requests was to visit the “House of Welcome,” where the ladies and their children shared their often-harrowing tales of escaping death threats, rape, pressure to join gangs, poverty and corruption. Word spread and other visitors and groups began to come and see the house and learn about the experiences of these valiant women. The final moment of the visit was always the presentation, by the women themselves, of their now beautifully embroidered bags, which they happily sold to the group participants. Everyone left with a piece of Central America, a heart moved by human courage and resilience, and the blessed experience of dwelling in a little corner of the Kingdom of God for an hour or two.
Gradually, the refugees received asylum in the United States. With their departure we discerned the value of inviting women from the parish who were at risk, struggling economically or otherwise in need of community support, to become part of this embroidery community that was weaving a new way of life for its members—and our Columban parish!
The newly reconfigured group, has begun to grow in their embroidering skills, diversity and faith. There were Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Mexicans from various states, Haitians, the young, middle- aged and elderly, some with special needs physically and emotionally, embroidering with their hands and creating a tapestry of relationships with their hearts. “Thanks be to God!” they would say about having arrived in a safe place like Casa de Acogida.
On October 18, 2022, we celebrated the grand opening of a special exhibit at the National Institute of Fine Arts Museum in Juarez. This exhibit was related to the William Bullock Prize that Columban employee, Cristina Coronado received from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) as a result of her work with at risk women in Juarez. It portrayed the formation and growth of Casa de Acogida and the Embroidery Project.
Cristina’s son, Pablo, who is a graduate student in history at the University of Texas in El Paso, composed the introduction that welcomed visitors to the exhibit:
“The Casa de Acogida is not so much a shelter, but a community of faith made up of women from Juarez and migrant women who met as a result of the exodus of thousands of refugees from Central America seeking asylum in the United States. In the midst of a bleak panorama, the community that arose in this space has been like a second family for the participants. Single women and women with small children formed a bond that grew more intimate by sharing stories, dreams and hopes around the table of welcome in the kitchen of Casa de Acogida. The embroidery project is like a search to capture and transform stories of pain, hope and resilience through art, offering the women of Casa de Acogida the chance to earn some income, but also to connect with the inhabitants of Anapra, one of the most impoverished areas of Ciudad Juárez. Casa de Acogida, begun as a response to the needs of vulnerable migrant women, following its origins of faith and solidarity, will continue to be a space for personal accompaniment and spiritual growth for women and, Lord willing, have a great impact in the community around it.”
If you continue to partner with us, together we will bring hope and life-giving support to the impoverished and mistreated around the world.
Gratefully yours in the Risen Christ,
Fr. Chris Saenz | Director, U.S. Region
The Missionary Society of St. Columban is entrusted by the Holy Father with part of the Church’s mission to spread the Faith and saving work of Christ.” (Vat.II) The Society works under the guidance of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and under the leadership of the bishops. We are listed in the U.S. Official Catholic Directory published annually by P.J. Kennedy and Sons. As such, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service recognizes us as a religious not-for-profit corporation, therefore contributions to our work are tax deductible. We employ no outside professional fund-raisers and pay no commissions.
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