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Christmas All Year Long at Casa Juan Diego

As I finished my seventh Christmas season at Casa Juan Diego, I was amazed, just as I am amazed every year, by the generosity of our supporting community. The people of Houston give their money and their time open-handedly to keep our doors open and our pantry full, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. Grateful is an inadequate word to express our feelings at these daily miracles of selfless giving. But, I have to admit; sometimes we do not show it.

This work is not easy, physically or emo

Leftovers
by Angel Valdez

tionally. As Catholic Workers, we see, up close, such joy and such suffering, back to back, with little time to recover. In the span of 10 minutes, we can receive news that the father of a family that is living in our women’s house will finally, after many months, be released from detention, and will see his infant daughter for the first time, in our humble library. And in the very next moment, a woman in her 40s that has already survived a lifetime of tragedy comes to tell us that her breast cancer has returned. We have the highs of jumping for joy with a woman who barely survived an honor killing in her country receiving her permission to work in the United States, and then the low when we learn that a long-term guest has been electrocuted in an unregu-lated work environment, and will likely die. We do more than bear witness to what happens to people in a harsh environment, we share personally in the emotional toil.

People sometimes say that they have called us and that we are rude or that we are difficult when we answer the door. Sometimes, I know, our first meeting or interaction may not be as welcoming as we would like, and that is a great fault. Forgive us. We may have lost a HIV-positive guest that we have lived with and served for many years- this happened today. God rest his soul. We may be exhausted by the constant demands of the ringing doorbell and of the overwhelming needs and traumas of migrants coming from the most desperate parts of the world. And, of course, we have our individual sorrows to bear.

Last January my mother died from a brain aneurysm. For two months she struggled to survive. I did a poor job of hiding my stress and grief. Our guests at Casa Juan Diego’s Women’s House were so worried about me, so kind and consoling. During my mother’s memorial Mass held during our weekly Wednesday night mass celebration, somewhere between the presentation of the Body and the Blood, I suddenly realized that almost every woman in that room, most of them younger than me, would never see their mothers again in this life, either. They were separated permanently from their mothers, not by death, but by the laws and the immigration policy of the United States. This insight would have broken my mother’s heart, as it did mine.

It is a harsh and cruel political climate today for the undocumented, the asylum seeker, the refugee, just as it was a harsh and cruel political climate for Joseph and Mary, seeking a place to give birth. They found a place, a stable, we are told, and a community to support them. We are trying to be such a support for those we serve.

But we need you, our community to help us to persevere in good times and in difficult times. Help us and accompany us not just in our victories, when all is comfortable and warm and glowing, but also in our suffering and our sadness and our failure. When we have failed, when we have lost someone, when we have missed an opportunity to show kindness, this is when we need you the most. Be with us in this work. This is what we need at Casa Juan Diego, not just at Christmastime, but all year long.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXV, No. 1, January-February, 2016.