I traveled to the City of Aguascalientes, Mexico, last July with the intention of improving my Spanish; however, it turns out that I learned much more. I experienced the great faith and the warm hospitality of the Mexican people. I also witnessed the joy and love of the Missionary Daughters of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, the religious community of sisters that graciously hosted me for my month in Mexico.
The sisters were incredibly selfless in all they did. Whether it was cooking a delicious meal, caring for an elderly sister, or by showing patience as they listened to my poor Spanish, the sisters were always kind. I will always be grateful for their hospitality.
I had the opportunity to visit some of the sisters’ missions and my heart was especially captured by an orphanage for girls the sisters run called Hogar de Las Ninas. The girls range from age 2-22 and are there because their parents died or cannot possibly take care of them. Several of the children were literally left on the doorstep.
The girls were full of energy and excitement when they met me, an American priest. Upon learning I lived in the United States, one of the young girls asked if I lived near Disney and another if I lived close to Hollywood. That shows the influence of television and movies to the world beyond our borders. Not surprisingly they did not know Bridgeton, N.J., but smiled with acknowledgement when I told them I lived close to New York City. (When you are in Mexico, Bridgeton is close to New York).
I believe it is important for a parish community to have a sense of mission. The church is larger than their parish borders and as members of the Body of Christ we have an obligation to care for and love people we may never meet. When I visited the orphanage I knew I found a mission that our parish could support.
The sisters who staff our parish also staff the orphanage, thus we have a natural connection that can be nurtured and developed over the years. When I returned from Mexico after my month long stay I told the people of Holy Cross about the orphanage and said this is a mission we should support. The parishioners responded very generously, as they so often do. We were able to raise $5,700 in just a few months.
It was a blessing to see our English-speaking and Spanish-speaking coming together to support a common cause. I returned to Mexico in April and presented the money, along with T-shirts, rosaries, and cards lovingly hand made by local high school girls from Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Newfield.
The sisters were very grateful and the girls in the orphanage were very happy that they now have American friends. After a beautiful Mass and dinner and as I prepared to say goodbye, the children spontaneously picked flowers growing nearby and gave them to me as a gift. They also presented me with a beautiful heart shaped card saying “We Love the Parish of the Holy Cross.” The love is mutual.
Father Vincent G. Guest is pastor, Parish of the Holy Cross, Bridgeton.