header icons

Despair and Hope at Casa Juan Diego, the Houston Catholic Worker


Yesterday we found Fernando on the floor in a pool of blood with seizures that wouldn’t stop. Fernando, seriously ill with kidney failure, has lived in the States many years, but can’t get any compensation. For the rest of his life, which won’t be too long, he lives on the verge of collapsing before receiving emergency help.


Hope comes with the birth of twins to a homeless mother, though it took quite a while for them to come, with trips to the hospital and false alarms. They were first babies. It is so beautiful to see the mother nursing both girls at the same time. Everybody wants to hold the babies.


David comes to us, limping. He slept in a vacant house in Oklahoma City for a week and was bitten by some kind of animal. He had two awfully deep, abscessed wounds about an inch deep when he arrived. He was in trouble, but the doctor at Ben Taub Hospital showed Carlos how to dress the wounds and then Carlos instructed Brian, who became pretty good at it. There’s hope.

More despair comes with Bartolomeo, who came to the United States to get work to pay for his mother’s medical bills. She was seriuosly ill with cancer. Bartolomeo came to the States literally to save his mother’s life, but it was to no avail.

He wanted to stay as long as he could, even though he knew his mother was near death,to continue to support her, but he waited too long. His mother passed away and was buried before he could get back, although Larry tried everything with the Honduran Consulate and the airlines. Bartolomeo visited her grave and hopefully will come back soon.


The heart of what Casa Juan Diego symbolizes is celebrated each week with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our sacrifice in caring for and serving the immigrant, the awful journey and suffering of the people who come here, are taken up into the great act of love and made part of our Eucharistic celebration. In fact, we frequently have one of the guests tell their story of how they got here before the Mass that is celebrated to give thanks for their coming. The celebration and the Lord’s grace make another week possible.

Priests from the diocese give of their time to celebrate with us in Spanish. We sing Spanish songs.

Fr. Mario Arroyo,who was vocation director at the time, was the first Casa Juan Diego Mass priest.

Fr. Rafael Davila and Fr. Edwin Correas have celebrated Mass for us over the years. Fr. Edwin of the Diocese made a vow as a seminarian when he was a volunteer at CJD that he would celebrate Holy Mass for the immigrants when he got ordained.

The priests from St. Joseph’s have come to celebrate the liturgy often.

The Scalabrini Fathers at St. Leo’s have come faithfully for some years to celebrate each month. Fr. Angelo Moscati, who has come for the last year, died suddenly. A short, shy rotund older priest, it was discovered that he was one of the most popular priests.


Eduardo, a guest, loved the Mass, even thought he didn’t know who he was or where he was. His head was shaved and the deep crevices were obvious. Eduardo had head injuries and took a ton of Dilantin to avoid seizures.

Eduardo had interest in the Mass, especially the Spanish songs that Louise leads, but not much else. He was totally disoriented-until one day at Mass he jumped up and cried out,”I know who I am! I know who I am! I sang those songs in the seminary in El Salvador!”

Better yet, he remembered where his friends lived. What a reunion!

Another Mass story-Marcelo was looking for his sister, who, he said, lived on Main Street. Would we find her? Main Street is a long street, we said, and felt it would be pretty hard to go from one end to the other.

Marcelo tried a different tack to find his sister. He went to Sunday Mass to pray for guidance.

His prayers were answered. His sister was at Mass! It pays to go to Mass.


Despair is when a local private hospital calls and demands that you come and get this very sick immigrant out of their hospital-at once! “Come and get your illegal alien out of here.” We don’t know the man.

When we hesitated, they shouted back, “Who is your superior?” Who is your superior?” I want to talk to them!”

Of course, when we look to heaven and say it is God, they back off some, because they don’t want to deal with the alternative.

Actually, we do have some solutions. In the case of a very sick person, we were able to arrange a Board and Care home at $500 to $800 per month or we hope the family, if there is family, until another solution emerges.

Pray for us.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIX, No. 5, September-October 1999.