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Young Woman from Spain Visits Casa Juan Diego: An Unforgettable Month

Summer began again and I got on a plane to Houston, Texas, USA, to work with my father at Casa Juan Diego, a house of hospitality and part of the Catholic worker Movement, founded by Mark and Louise Zwick in 1980. It is dedicated to housing immigrants, mostly from Latin America.

I decided to go on this trip, to see first-hand how an organization that helps immigrants works, and because this year I’ll begin at the university with a major in Social Education, and I wanted to be sure that I had made a good choice.

I arrived in Houston and everything was different: different people, different mannerisms, different food, different language… everything was different except for one thing: we all have a dream. The one found there among the immigrants was clear: get to the United States and be able to live with dignity. Their dreams and mine are different, but we all have one. Only not all of us can feel the pride that comes from having attempted everything to achieve it. These immigrants that I found at Casa Juan Diego can.

For some of them it takes months to get to the United States, including some women who have had to walk days – pregnant and subjected to any imaginable weather conditions – all to achieve this dream that they have longed for.

At Casa Juan Diego where the women and children stay, there are volunteer workers who work passionately, sharing a part of their lives with the guests and helping them in any way that they can. But I ask myself, who helps more? I was there a short time and I tried to help as much as I could, but I am aware of the fact that I have given very little in comparison to all that I have received and learned. There is nothing better than getting up in the morning to find a little boy smiling just for you.

I am 17 and I have never smiled as much as I have this month, and although I know that absolute happiness doesn’t exist, during this time I have been closer to it than I ever have before. I understand more clearly than ever what we need to do to be “happy:” Simply give yourself to others; help the people around you. It isn’t necessary to go to Houston to do something for your neighbor, because unfortunately, poverty is close by, although you might put on blinders so as not to see it.

While I was at Casa Juan Diego I felt distressed as I spoke with the guests – how could they be happy and smile with the problems that they had? At first it was inconceivable for me: I who in Spain, at the first bump in the road I’m deterred and I think the world is against me.

Due to this, thanks to this experience, I have learned to that on the road there are going to be bumps, it’s inevitable, that suffering is part of life, and you can’t stop when you come to the first obstacle, instead you must continue, and know that the obstacle isn’t as big as it seems, and that it is easily overcome. Above all you can’t forget that we are fortunate to have opportunities (without knowing why they have been given to us) that the majority of people don’t have, and we should appreciate them. Nevertheless we shouldn’t use them only for our own profit, but utilize them to help those who are without. We all have much to give and also to receive, and the more we give the more we receive.

This is the real key to happiness, not the one accepted by most people, which is “give me everything and I’ll be happy.” This is contemporary society’s great error. People feel empty and fill their lives with material things, while what they should be filling is not their pockets, but their hearts.

To finish, thank you to Mark and Louise Zwick for allowing me to spend a month working with this Movement, to the Catholic Workers (Erin, Aurora, Flor, Jennifer, Dawn, Chris and Matt, whom I sincerely admire), for your hospitality and for erasing from my mind the idea that there is no purpose for existence; I have learned that we are all here for some motive. Each one of us has his own, but I know that I am mostly here for one thing: to help others, and because of this, after this trip, I am more sure than ever that I made the best decision in choosing my major as Social Education, so I that soon I can dedicate my life to helping those who most in need.

Lastly, and most importantly, many thanks to the guests for allowing me to be with you every day, share part of your lives and care for your children, those kids that will have a piece of my heart for a long time, along with everyone else who I shared this month with. It has been an unforgettable month that has made me grow and given me the strength necessary to confront everything that happens each day with a smile and above all, has caused an interior change that should have been made a long time ago.

When I got on the plane to Houston I wanted to go back to Spain, but when I got home, I only had one thing on my mind: returning to Houston. It was hard to wake up in Spain and realize that I wasn’t in Houston anymore, that I had returned to my reality, to my normal life.

Now what I have to do is put into practice everything I learned there, continue down my road and above all not forget that my life will be more valuable and beautiful according to what I give unselfishly to others.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVII, No. 6, September-October, 2007.