Archive for August, 2013

A few weeks ago, while I was in Ecuador, a woman came to Proyecto Santo Niño in Anapra. She arrived just as Cristina Coronado, a volunteer, was leaving. Marta told Cristina that she was looking for help for her daughter-in-law, Cynthia, who had cancer. Cristina knows what it is to have to fend for yourself with a diagnosis of cancer in Juarez.  In fact, in this city of over a million people, cancer is basically not treated. For the past year she traveled four hours to the state capitol, Chihuahua, to access diagnostic tests, chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer. An activist and community organizer, she has been drawn into the situations of other women seeking treatment in Chihuahua. She is working to develop a support group for women with cancer and to mobilize people of faith to provide adequate housing for patients who must travel long distances from home to receive care. So Cristina was immediately sensitive to Marta’s story about Cynthia who at age 21 was diagnosed with cancer sometime around the birth of her second child three months ago. She had a hysterectomy but was discharged from the hospital without any recommendation for further treatment. As she became sicker and sicker, her family took her back to the clinic where she had been diagnosed and they were told that there was nothing to be done.

Marta came to Anapra hunting for “La Clinica Guadalupana” because a little family she met in downtown Juarez told her that she could get help there.  This is where the story becomes mysterious and fascinating. Our center in Anapra has not been called “La Clinica Guadalupana” for many years. When we became aware of the lack of services for children with special needs, through the experience of one of our prenatal patients who had a baby with Downs Syndrome, we decided to dedicate ourselves to that project and we named it “Proyecto Santo Niño” after the Holy Child Jesus.


Santo Niño de Atocha

Marta told Cristina that somewhere downtown, desperate to find care for her daughter-in-law, she encountered a man and a woman with a small handicapped child. She told Cristina that she felt drawn to the child.  As she stared at him, the parents noticed her and she felt very embarrassed.  She went over to apologize, explaining that she, too, had a child with a special need: her daughter-in-law Cynthia. She told them the whole story and that was when they said that they always went to “La Clinica Guadalupana in Anapra”. They felt sure that she would find help for Cynthia there, too.  And she did.

When Cristina heard this story she sprang into action. She arranged to visit Cynthia the next day and was struck to the core at the vision of misery before her. “What a tragedy!” she told me a few days later. “The situation of health care in this country, especially for the poor, is a disgrace!” Familiar with the hospitals and the “system”, she made some calls and pulled some strings until appointments were scheduled for Cynthia. Although it was clear that her condition was terminal, Cynthia was hospitalized in the “oncology ward” of the general hospital.

I visited Cynthia in the hospital on Friday with Cristina. The ward was immaculately clean, quiet, cool…and almost empty. Only one of the dozen beds was occupied besides Cynthia’s. Cristina spoke with the nurse at the desk while I sat with Cynthia. There was confusion over the medications the doctor had prescribed. Cristina had been all over the city trying to purchase them because the hospital could not provide them. The doctor told the family that he wasn’t sure that Cynthia could even tolerate the treatment because of her extremely weakened state. When we visited, all she wanted to do was to go home to be with her children for whatever time she had left. And so she did. On Saturday she went home to her mother-in-law’s house. On Sunday Cristina and her husband took Fr. Bill Morton to anoint her and on Tuesday morning Cynthia died.

Cristina and I have had several conversations about what this experience means for us.  We knew that what could be done for Cynthia was palliative at best. “I don’t think that this is just about Cynthia,” Cristina told me as we left the hospital last Friday. I agreed. “But there are many “Cynthias” in this city who are not receiving the services they need because the resources are not directed towards Juarez.” We talked about the enormity of the problem. What can we do? What are we called to do, because now we know?

Every time we feel ourselves drowning in our own inadequacy, one of us returns to the story of Marta’s encounter with the little family in downtown Juarez. Who could they have been?  The fact is that we do not have any family at Proyecto Santo Niño that fits their description. Marta insists that they told her they always go to “La Clinica Guadalupana” and always find help there. Could they have been the Holy Family? And by the reference to Our Lady of Guadalupe, are we not to be reminded of one who enlisted the most unlikely of helpers for her project? Juan Diego felt completely unqualified for the task entrusted to him by Our Lady. But she was insistent:

“Listen and hear well in your heart, my most abandoned son: that which scares you and troubles you is nothing; do not let your countenance and your heart be troubled; do not fear that sickness or any other sickness or anxiety. Am I not here, your mother? Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not your source of life? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle where I cross my arms? Who else do you need? Let nothing trouble you or cause you sorrow. “ *Image

And so for now, we await further instructions.

*translation by Fr. Virgil Elizondo, Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation, p.15-16


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half the world

I was on the last leg of the journey home from ten days in Ecuador with the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Korean and US provinces. It gave me a good bit of time to begin to reflect on my third opportunity to experience the mission of Charity shared by congregations who trace their roots to St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac and most especially St. Elizabeth Seton.

Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Mission and Charism Experience 2013

Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Mission and Charism Experience 2013

Five Sisters from the U.S. province and five from the Korean province spent a week on mission with the Korean SCs in Pedro Carbo, a small town north of Guayaquil. The Korean province assumed responsibility for a small clinic and a school for children with special needs five years ago. Tracey Horan and I helped with Spanish translation and offered some service with the other visitors in the school. We also facilitated a retreat day for the Sisters and staff. For me, it was a joyful reunion with the Sisters on mission and their dedicated co-workers. I saw the progress they have made at the school which serves mentally and physically challenged children along with the hearing impaired. They have added a program for early childhood intervention and enhanced opportunities for occupational, physical and speech therapy. They even have a music therapist on a two year commitment with the Korean equivalent of the Peace Corps.
Classroom at INESEM school.

Classroom at INESEM school.

As the days passed and we offered our ministries with students, teachers and parents, I often reflected on the words of St. Vincent: “The reverence with which we minister has greater importance than what we do.” During my own preparations for the trip, I had reminded myself that I was going to learn and to receive much more than I was going to do or to give. My goal was to stretch my awareness and grow my understanding of the needs of these sisters and brothers in Christ. Humble service would be a point of encounter. We would be mutually enriched according to the degree that we could serve with reverence.

In so many ways we experienced our interdependence. We depended on the teachers to communicate in sign language for the students for us, on the cook to show us how to prepare food for the school lunch, on each other for tri-lingual translation from morning prayer to evening Mass. We offered art projects, music and dance. The students, teachers and therapists gave handmade mementos to take home and performed songs, dances, poems and dramas for us. We offered classes to parents on nutrition and the experience of happiness. We were given delicious and nutritious Ecuadorean cuisine and we saw firsthand what genuine happiness looks like.

Happiness is a piñata!

Happiness is a piñata!

On Sunday we said good-bye to the Sisters in Pedro Carbo and we flew to Quito, high in the Andes. We visited the “Mitad del Mundo”, the zero latitude point that marks the division between the North and South hemispheres. We learned about the multicultural aspects of Ecuador and the scientific curiosities unique to the equator. But I couldn’t stop thinking about being at the edge of two hemispheres. My life has been almost exclusively lived in the reality of the North and West. But for the past ten days I had been immersed in the South and East, thanks to my Ecuadorean friends and the Korean Sisters.

On so many levels I was invited to hear, see, think, taste and feel life from a different reality. Beyond the most basic instructions that gave me pause, e.g. “Don’t brush your teeth with water from the faucet”, deeper questions surfaced as they always do when I am confronted with the great disparities of life. Why can some of us waste gallons of potable water every time we let the water run as we brush our teeth or flush the toilet while many others have no clean water to drink? Why must some people live with the smell of car exhaust and unending noise of the street while others enjoy the privilege of fresh air and quiet? Why would some people be happy to have the “extra” clothes that we could leave behind and not even miss them from the closet? My own questions kept coming and they made me uncomfortable.

Recinto of Balseras where we offered services with teachers from INESEM and hospital staff.

Recinto of Balseras where we offered services with teachers from INESEM and hospital staff.

Standing at the equator I was conscious that although half of the globe was south of me, way more than fifty percent of the people in this world live with less than I have always taken for granted. I have been blessed with opportunities beyond imagination and through no merit of my own. The experiences of the past ten days are included in those. How will I allow myself to be changed by them?

When the disciples returned from their big “mission trip” telling Jesus about all they had seen and done, he said to them, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to
hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Luke 10:23-24. So I ask myself another uncomfortable question: “What responsibility comes with such seeing and hearing?” The answer might be found in the very next section of Luke’s Gospel. Someone who wanted to test Jesus asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered with a question, “What does the Law say?” The inquisitor-turned-defendant replied that we must love God above all and our neighbors as ourselves. “But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10: 29

In my heart I am still standing at the “Mitad del Mundo”, hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan. How will I be neighbor to the more than half of the world left at the side of the road?

How will I be neighbor?

How will I be neighbor?

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