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A New Beginning in Uncertain Times at Casa Juan Diego

by Angel Valdez

Anne joined Casa Juan Diego as a Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego on August 1, 202,0 after her graduation from St. Mary’s College in Indiana.

I was welcomed at Casa Juan Diego with the simple instructions given by Louise Zwick to all new Catholic Workers upon arrival: ring the doorbell when you’re here. When I first arrived at the front door, I paused, thinking of the many individuals who had come before me and stood at this threshold. I thought of those who had had their lives changed by ringing this very same doorbell. The sound of this bell would grow familiar to me with each passing day I spent in my new home — although, as a newcomer standing at the door with a backpack and small bag of belongings, I was a stranger to the hardworking individuals inside who I would soon call my community. However, I knew that, as soon as those doors opened, I would enter into the next chapter of my life.

I carry with me the fruits and blessings of education I received from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, as a member of the Class of 2020. After discerning a post-graduate plan amid the uncertainties of the pandemic—on top of the normal existential crises that strike around graduation time—I felt called to embrace the mission of service that set my mind, body, and spirit in motion towards the common good. My own passion for advocacy for immigrants, refugees, women, and children planted me in a special place where I could begin to learn how God could work through me to chip away at systems of injustice through charity and justice on the front lines.

The move to Texas from my home city of Madison, Wisconsin, brought many adjustments I had not anticipated. From the relentless heat and humidity of the South, the lizards and frogs that emphatically sing like sheep in the evenings, the unmistakable smell of bats under Houston’s many bridges, to the different voices of God that speak to me in Spanish each day, I couldn’t have imagined the encounters I would have in my new home. As I began my work at Casa Juan Diego, I met questions at every turn. I found myself caught in spaces of uncertainty, not knowing what to do, what to say, or how to feel. I deeply respected the importance of the work at hand—extending aid and resources to those on the margins of society—and, at times, I wondered if I was truly up to the task of serving those who embodied such divine strength by enduring impossible circumstances.

Despite the abundance of uncertainty, here I was, and perhaps the wealth of opportunities to learn contained an important lesson: not knowing all the answers to the unfolding questions around me, which concerned how I could best serve others, brought me to a place of humility. If I felt that I knew what to do at every step of the way, I would be walking alone. If I didn’t reach out to others, I would not know my neighbors, nor could I learn what the world is like from different perspectives. If I had all the right words to say and I knew exactly how to say them, I would not be able to fully expand my empathy for those who I serve by understanding the anxiety of language barriers that those in my community face when navigating everyday life in the United States. If I believed I had all the answers to these (and many other) questions, I wouldn’t be a Catholic Worker; I wouldn’t understand the necessity of humility and vulnerability that comes with the foundational principle of voluntary poverty in the Catholic Worker movement.

While recognizing the value of my own thoughts, emotions, and experience, I acknowledge that this work is not about me; my hands, head, and heart are guided by the will of God. It is my job to remain open to the ways I can cultivate a deep love for others and with others, manifested through service. The focus of our work at Casa Juan Diego is the community we serve, and the needs of our neighbors. We need each other to effect positive change, along with all of the gifts, talents, assets, energy, ideas, questions, interests, strengths, and weaknesses we possess. I arrived at the door with the knowledge of my own limits, but with a heart to grow and give as well. Casa Juan Diego welcomed me when I was a stranger at the door, giving me work that keeps me in the company of others when I remain humble.

Houston Catholic Worker, October-December 2020, Vol. XL, No. 4.