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A Busy Day at Casa Juan Diego

Fr. Edwin Correa, who keeps his promise he made when he was a
 volunteer seminarian at Casa Juan Diego, to return to celebrate the
 liturgy each month for refugees, brought a couple with a four-day-old
 baby and a two-year-old who were living on the street.

With Fr. Edwin, no questions are necessary.

Wedding of Presbyterian, Methodist and Quaker

Rev. Neil Seymour, a Methodist minister, said he would be our new
 dental assistant after reading the notice in the last issue of the 

Our dentist, George Smith, is a Presbyterian, whose father is a
 minister. They will be working together as a team each Friday

One of our long-term medical doctors, Marsha Holleman, has been a
 pillar of Casa Juan Diego for ten years. Marsha, a Quaker, has been 
crucial to our existence, since we have so many mothers and children
 often ill. She will see a dozen patients today who are guests of Casa
 Juan Diego.

Dr. Karen Cottingham continues to see the poorest of the
 poor every Monday night.

Sr. Marianna Woods and the Police

Marianna Woods, O.P., called to refer a battered woman. She works at
 the Southwest City Clinic run by the Sisters of Charity and calls often.

The Houston Area Women’s Center called several times today for
 possible referrals.

The Family Violence Unit of the Houston Police Department referred
 two women and their children, both of the women nervous wrecks from
 years of physical and emotional abuse.

The Phone! The Phone!

Often Casa Juan Diego’s phone rings off the wall. In the middle of
 the needs of so many people, sometimes it is a real challenge to answer
 the phone one more time.

Ben Taub Hospital social workers called today to ask us to pay the
 return fare to Central America for a pregnant woman who was ill.

Several parishes called to ask us to take in people stranded at their
 doors–St. Benedict’s, St Michael’s, St. John Vianney, Assumption, St.

A Christian food pantry called to ask if we could help three families
 with food. They found it very difficult to help them because the
 families didn’t speak English and the pantry couldn’t get enough 

A city health clinic called to ask if we could accept a woman who was 
being held prisoner by her husband, if she was able to escape.

We took a battered woman to have the stitches taken out of her head,
 where her husband had hit her with a fan.

A hospital called to ask us to accept a young man who had lost both 
legs in a train accident on his journey. Since his wounds were not yet
 healed, we paid for his care in a board and care home for a month.

Sharpstown Hospital called to tell us that Maria had had her baby.
 His name–Diego, for Juan Diego.

We received a call from another part of Texas asking us to accept a
 Spanish-speaking battered woman.

A representative of a Christian coalition of parishes and churches
 called to ask us to take care of immigrants. They said their charter
 forbids them to work with people who can’t prove that they are legal.

Our charter (Matthew 25:31ff.) does permit this.


People from many parishes and congregations process in every fifteen 
minutes and at times every five minutes loaded with clothing, food and
 furniture for the poor of Casa Juan Diego (we especially need men’s

Although people from various religious groups support the house, the 
majority of support comes from individual Catholics and, secondly,
 parishes and religious congregations.

Big Feet and Beds

Also arriving at Casa Juan Diego are people almost shoeless and with 
feet that appear to belong to the watermelon family.

People arrive exhausted, not having eaten for days, and complain of
 stomach problems. They weep as they see all the food on the table for
 their children and family members who have no food. They are starving, 
but sometimes cannot eat for several days–and get sick when they do.

Visitors to the men’s house are scandalized to see men sleeping
 during the day on the couches spread throughout the house of
 hospitality. Forgive them, we beg the visitors, these men may not have
 seen a bed in several months.

Stay Home, for God’s Sake

For God’s sake, why don’t you people stay home, is the question after
 hearing stories of immigrants, of how practically all have been robbed
 on their journey and the majority of women have been raped.

Why did you come?

Why did Rosa come?
 Rosa: In my country (Peru), if one works very hard, one can support one
 person (oneself), but not another person. I have a son.

Why did Imelda come?
 Imelda: My husband had beaten me for years and I had nowhere to turn.

Why did Sara come? 
Sara: The economic situation in my country (Guatemala) is critical.
 People wonder why my children are so small–here in the U.S. you eat a
 lot. We eat very little.

Why did Jesse come?  It’s so difficult to live in El Salvador now, to make enough to
 survive. The tortilla (so important to our diet) was $.25 of a colón
 and now it costs one colón (Salvadoran currency).

Why did Linda come?
 Linda: I didn’t want to leave my home, but I had no choice. There was
 absolutely no work. Honduras is very poor.

Why did Lupe come? 
Lupe: I had to avoid being involved in a civil patrol in Guatemala. If
 I refused, I would be killed. If I participated, I would have been
 forced by the government to kill my friends and neighbors. So I fled.

Why did Mario come?
 Mario: (A youth of 14 years). My family is very poor. I came here to
 work to help them, but here no one will give me work because I am so

Why did Julian come?
 Julian was blackballed by a U.S. government agency because he was 
active in his labor union. The U.S. government agency AID promised
 First World companies that they would name all “troublemakers” trying to organize unions.

What is the Future?

Things improve here for some immigrants. Those who are skilled and
 aggressive will be absorbed into the work force as not only is the 
immigrant dying to work, but the contractors are dying to have them.
 They really want to work. But for those who are not highly skilled it 
is difficult if they don’t have family in the states.

Women immigrants are confined to house work, often six or seven days 
a week.

Unfortunately, there are always Americans ready to exploit women to
 work in their cantinas and prostitution. At Casa Juan Diego we must
 carefully screen those who want women to work.

The men must often face not being paid, and for sure being
 underpaid. Casa Juan Diego could use a full-time person to follow up on the immigrant men being underpaid or not being paid at all.

The men must face the fact that in case of injury the contractor will

Teenage immigrants must face constant harassment from older men in
 big cars looking for young men to go with them. It is sad to see young
 men being pawed by an arm out of a car window as the young lad is
 harassed. The car disappears before we can go to ask if they are  looking for workers.

Pedophilia is alive and well. It’s too bad, in a sense, that the men 
in the big cars are not Catholic priests, because if they were, the
 Houston Chronicle would put this information on the front page with
 pictures. As it is, we can find no one to be concerned about the sexual
 exploitation of young immigrant men except ourselves.

So we do think it would be better for people to stay home. If only 
there was a way for our government and U.S. industries who have plants 
in these countries to guarantee a living wage for manufacturing jobs 
there. We don’t think it is necessary to pay $14.00 an hour, as in the 
U.S., but people must receive more than $14.00 a week ($.37 an hour is 
the average wage of U.S. and other First World factories in Central
 America.) If only they would pay $.70 an hour, it would make a big
 difference and keep people home.

Hope with Tim

Tim chose Casa Juan Diego as a place to do community service hours
 for his Catholic high school. Upon completing his hours, he told us
 that when he started at Casa Juan Diego, he had the feeling that
 basically everyone has to look out for himself–that here in the U.S. we 
should look out for our own before we help other people. But after
 working several weeks, coming to know the guests, he realized more and
 more that he is responsible for his sisters and brothers–that we can
 take care of ourselves and at the same time reach out to those in need.


Eileen Egan, in her new book, For Whom there is no Room, asks the
 question, “What can be achieved by learning of the suffering of those
 who have been driven over borders, castaways, reduced to living by the
 compassion of others?

First of all, she says, there can be an increase in compassion. “The
 heart-stopping stories of victims of violence and homelessness can break 
into our lives as a warning that we cannot live our lives as though
 these other lives are not being destroyed.” And “people who choose to
 accept suffering rather than inflict it in return are not only a part of
 the redemption but are a reminder that no innocent suffering is lost or
 wasted. Innocent people driven across borders to hunger and want can be signs of that redemptive suffering; they are a counterpoise to something at its polar opposite, and perhaps more acceptable to people in general, namely, redemptive violence. Redemptive violence is a term in recent use to describe the unleashing of every kind of force, every weaponry, to drive out evil and right wrong. Some of us have lost faith in so-called redemptive violence, since history proved that the outcome of violence is more of the same.”

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 6, Sept.-Oct. 1995.