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Joys and Tragedies at Casa Juan Diego

by Angel Valdez

“In the tender compassion of

our God

The dawn from on high shall

break upon us

To shine on those who dwell

in darkness and the shadow

of death

And to guide our feet into the

way of peace.”

Marisol (is tough. Not in a negative sense, but in the sense that she has survived.  She traveled in the company of a coyote (smuggler) to the U.S. as a teenager, escaping the crushing violence of her home in Central America. We asked her once if she would ever go back; she looked at us strangely and gave a response that was profound in its simplicity: “They kill people there.”

Marisol is also awaiting the birth of a little girl. She just sent away her young son to live in another state, hoping he would get more stability there than she could offer. She does not know when or how she will see him again. That was five days after we had held our weekly Mass in the name of her father, who had passed away in her native country. Despite her family’s pleas, she was unable to help with expenses or return to see him one final time.

Tonight, the third blow. Marisol came to me and asked for an international phone card. When I asked why, she told me that she needed to speak with her mother because the gang back home had “taken” her little sister. We both knew what that meant.

Carmen grew up in Spain after emigrating from Cuba at the age of 9. She struggled for years as a single mother, never able to overcome the anti-immigrant sentiment and declining economic situation. Finally, she took all the money she had and left for the U.S. with her young children, making her way from Cancun to Matamoros to Houston. When she reached this point in her story, she paused and said, “I’m not going to talk about Mexico, because things happened there that were too terrible to say.”

Angelica was a beautiful Honduran girl who was placed in immigration detention after crossing the border alone. She was in the early stages of pregnancy when she was diagnosed with advanced, terminal liver cancer, the result of an untreated infection that was transmitted to her at birth. Angelica came to Casa Juan Diego with her sister to care for her as she rapidly declined. She became ever weaker, but managed to give birth to her son; she passed away two weeks later. She was only 18 years old.

We are all tired here, but no one more so than these women. They have truly seen the darkness of the world, and want only peace, a place to rest, and hope for their children. I asked Louise recently how she deals with story after story, tragedy after tragedy, and she replied, “There’s a lot of pain, but there’s also a lot of joy.” And there is: watching a baby grow up free from the abuse that his older sisters witnessed; the deep strength of a woman taking steps to break free from the cycle of domestic violence; the happiness of a boy who came here with no English learning to write his name, sing his ABC’s, and say “I’m fine!”; the elation of a woman in the midst of an asylum case finally receiving her work permit; a guest laughing and dancing because she has been reunited with her husband; a woman who was moved to tears when we celebrated her birthday with a special cake.

Big pain, small joys- but always, there is joy.


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, March-May 2015.