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Casa Juan Diego in Houston, Saint Juan Diego, and a New Life in Christ

Artist:  L. V. Díaz

Two years ago, God blessed me with the opportunity to be a Catholic Worker for the summer. Before arriving in Casa Juan Diego, I was not entirely sure what living there would entail, but I knew I wanted to spend my summer doing service and learning more about the Catholic faith. One of the requirements of the summer program I applied to was choosing a site close to home or a family member. Since my home is in Guadalajara, Mexico, the only other option was close to my aunt. Providentially, the Houston Catholic Worker was the site closest to where she lived. It was there that I met Jesus Christ.

I was baptized in the Catholic Church as a baby and received my First Communion when I was 11. Reciting the Our Father prayer once in a while before bed became a habit. However, I did not know God personally. In my head, He was a distant supreme being who did not wish to know me and had no real impact on my life. It had been hard to think of Him any differently as my anxiety and depression continued throughout high school and my first year in college. By the end of my first year at Notre Dame, I was slowly losing hope and sight of my purpose in life.

The semester was coming to a close, and the time to go to Houston was approaching, but I did not feel worthy. I was scared I was not going to serve people well. Looking back, I know God sent me to Houston to heal me. I met Him in every person I encountered when I stepped foot on Rose Street. He showered me with His love every single second of every day I spent there. His redeeming face in the poor turned my whole world upside down, and He showed me my purpose. Mary walked alongside me the entire time, guiding me to Her Son. There, just as she did to Saint Juan Diego, she said, “Am I not here, I, who am your mother?”.

I had a few encounters with mothers who came to Casa with their children. Most of them came with their husbands, but some were there alone. One woman arrived with her two children after she ran away from her abusive husband. My first few interactions with her were brief, but she asked me if we could talk one day. I told her we could go inside the chapel to talk, and it was there that she shared part of her story with me. That day as many of the days that followed, the Lord graced me with the blessing of accompaniment. All I could do at that moment was listen to her as she relieved her pain. I did not know this then, but Mary’s pierced heart ached for that woman and her pain.

There were many challenging moments throughout my time at Casa Juan Diego. There were a lot of moments when I felt like I was not doing a good job or I felt like a fraud. Many times, I still did not feel worthy. Juan Diego, after Our Lady appeared to him, probably felt similarly. When his uncle was sick, he lacked confidence in Mary and her powerful intercession to ask for her help. He probably did not feel worthy of such a gift. But it is in his poverty and weakness that God wanted to come and make Himself manifest. Mary appeared to him again, even after he tried a different way to avoid meeting her, and his uncle was healed. There were many moments during my time at Casa when I felt like running away from God, ashamed of my faults, but every single time, God asked me to let Him back in, showing me His immense love.

One instance occurred during my first week. An older, frail woman living on the street arrived at Casa. We prepared a room for her, welcomed her, and gave her some food. After finishing her food, she asked if she could use the bathroom. She had recently had surgery, and she was having trouble walking. Once inside the bathroom and a few minutes passed, I heard her asking for help. I panicked because I had no idea what to do to help her. I called for help. One of the Catholic Workers, also a nurse, went in and helped her.

There were moments after that day when that woman wanted some company, and out of fear of not having the right words, I was not there for her. Casa did not have the resources to care for her as required, but when she left, she was sad to leave. She had found a home under the mantle of Mary that was Casa Juan Diego. The other guests demonstrated and reflected God’s love by loving her and making her feel seen and heard. Thanks be to God Casa Juan Diego found a place that would provide all of the attention and services she needed. After she left, I understood how God was trying and continued to meet me in my weakness, in the parts He still wanted to heal.

After the summer ended, I returned to Notre Dame, joined RCIA, and chose Juan Diego as my Confirmation saint. His intercession during my time in Houston filled my heart with all of the healing power of God. I arrived with a shattered heart and left with the certainty that we receive in giving. I received so much at Casa Juan Diego from the guests and the other Catholic Workers. I would never have imagined how much love was contained in such a small place, and I pray that I can grow in holiness to share that same love with others.

Houston Catholic Worker, October-December 2023, Vol. XLIII, No. 4.