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Casa Juan Diego, House of Miracles

I sat in the comedor of Casa Juan Diego and heard a story of a woman who, upon arrival, had been referred to a local hospital. She had massive burns on her leg from the exhaust pipe of a truck. She had ridden several days and nights in order to get to Houston. She had travelled from El Salvador.

I thought of my own story, and my own journey to Casa Juan Diego. I arrived in perfect health with my five-year-old daughter. The previous night, I stayed with a friend in her home in Memorial. I arrived in my Mercedes Benz. I had, nevertheless, travelled a great distance; I had arrived at homelessness.

I thought of the home I had left over a week before, and the home-based business I had, for all practical purposes, dissolved. I thought of the six-figure income my husband had earned the previous three years, to which I no longer had access, and which he claimed was all spent.

I also thought of the fear and anguish in my daughter’s face and eyes when she described how he had touched her. “Hurts!”, she said. I thought of the chaos as we moved from place to place in order to hide from his rage and insanity.

CPS officials, psychologists and attorneys were limited. “You need to disappear for two months,” I was told. “Disappear” until I could get protective orders and custody guidelines in place. “Disappear” until I could get the legal system to restore to me that right most precious to Americans–the right to travel in and around one’s home and one’s job in safety. I couldn’t go home, I couldn’t go to family, and my wariness of the danger I was in meant I couldn’t go to friends. Where could I go to “disappear?” Why, to Casa Juan Diego, of course!

I had, sporadically over the past year, done volunteer work at Casa Juan Diego. I never dreamed I would one day stay there as a guest. I called Louise and asked if I could come later that day. Surprised, she said, “Yes, come on.”

That’s one of the many miracles of Casa Juan Diego. There’s room for all. Expected or unexpected, beaten, lost, depressed, defeated–there’s room!

When guests arrive at Casa Juan Diego seeking hospitality, we are really seeking healing. We are depleted emotionally, physically and spiritually. We arrive fearful, angry, and betrayed by some circumstance, institution or person in our lives. We shake–inside and out–for the first several days. We cry hot tears for no reason and for every reason. Our spirits soar with gratitude for safety and shelter, and plummet with worry and frustration.

Yet, when we arrive at Casa Juan Diego, very few questions are asked. What few questions there are seem so loving when you’re down and out: “Have you eaten?” “Do you have enough clothing?” To the reader who has never known these needs, and from this writer, who never before imagined these, needs, those questions are asked by none other than God’s angels. Later, questions were, “How can we best help you?” and “Do you need to talk?” First-aid to the spiritually wounded!

The women and children of one house, and the men of the other house, sweep and mop floors, cook meals, and wash dishes. In so doing, together, we mend our lives. Each day, each guest is given a job crucial to the running of the house. The pride that is taken in completing the task well is both contagious and constructive of a new and better self-esteem. It dawned on me, one day while I was doing dishes, what the difference was between them (the other ladies of the house) and me. Nothing! Not a thing! We are all God’s children, brought together in community living through Christ’s love.

Some of us are awaiting money, new skills, governmental papers, jobs, new births; some have no direction at all. But we are all people whose lives, however broken, need spiritual healing. We need miracles!

And a miracle this Casa Juan Diego is! How is it that three meals a day are prepared each and every day for guests whose numbers, appetites, and tastes are unknown? Is there a menu posted and monitored? Heavens, no! What is available and appealing to those assigned to cook is what is served. Thus far, I’ve not seen anyone grow skinnier since arriving!

Most households of more than two people can’t agree on cleaning methods, storage of pots and pans, rules of coming and going, noise control, etc. Yet, at Casa Juan Diego, it all works. My assessment: only the Holy Spirit could bring it all together.

Guests, do you need to see the doctor, the dentist, the ophthalmologist? Let the Catholic Workers know. Someone will be here within a few days. Any medicine you need will be here for you tonight. Ha! So much for my fancy, expensive HMO! All the money in the world couldn’t get you better medical treatment than I’ve seen here at Casa Juan Diego.

Language classes, art classes, singing, story time–I never knew what a difference these things really made to the guests at Casa Juan Diego. When you and your child are unable to walk the streets freely, those volunteers who walk through the doors breathe hope and new vigor for one more day. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to the staff members and volunteers at Casa Juan Diego. You not only were kind to me, you were caring and respectful of my child–my beautiful, innocent child who life had suddenly turned to chaos. The love you’ve given us has grown in our hearts. We have been replenished! We can now share what you’ve given us with others. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Had you told me of a place where I could practice language skills, have three meals a day cooked for me, could spend hours each day playing with my child, could read, pray, learn the way of the Gospel, and could sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament daily, I’d have shouted, “Where?” and “How much?”

As it is, the dues we pay to get here are emotional, economic and traumatic. But the new life that is born here is different, getter, stronger and heavenly.

St. Paul said that, “In our weakness is our strength.” The strength of one human helping another; the strength of one community standing for love and equality; the strength of miracles and inner conversion which can only come from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thank you Louise and Mark, Sue and Emily! Thanks be to God for Casa Juan Diego.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVI, No. 7, December 1996.