By Jessica Taylor
Special to The Texas Catholic
For the second consecutive year, Catholic students at Southern Methodist University traveled to Mexico City during fall break, a pilgrimage and mission trip to bring needed supplies, prayers and hope to an area where the disparities between rich and poor are evident side-by-side in one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas.
Our mission was to work with Hope of the Poor, a non-profit organization, and to not only help and love the poor, but also to grow in our own faith and community. Our group stayed next to the Monasterio Madres Concepcionistas and about a 15-minute walk to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The sisters at the convent cooked for us and also allowed Father Arthur Unachukwu, the SMU chaplain, to celebrate Mass in the chapel in their convent.
On the day we arrived, we were given the incredible opportunity to see the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bishop Edward J. Burns concelebrated Mass with Father Unachukwu in the pilgrimage section of the basilica. Seeing the tilma for the first time was a moving experience. Seeing Our Lady looking down on us, her children, was something I will never forget; I knew seeing it that Mary was indeed living in this miracle she had given us. After each day we were given the chance to see multiple churches and learn and understand the culture of Mexico.
On the second day, we visited a dumpsite that had 11 different communities living there. This was only one of six dumpsites located in Mexico City. As I walked through the dump on the first day, there was a steady buzz that was difficult to distinguish and uncomfortable to hear. Then I realized what it was: thousands of flies swarming through the air. The conditions were an attack on all my senses for a short period, but I realized that this was a way of life for many people living, working, breathing and eating there.
We visited two communities while at the dump. At the first community we gave out shoes, helping them put the shoes on and eating tacos with them. At the second community, Bishop Burns and Father Unachukwu were allowed to celebrate Mass, a rarity since Mass is celebrated at the dump only once a year. After Mass, we ate lunch with the people there and at one point we had a giant jump rope game going on with children and adults in the community. While this may not have seemed much to us, for those residents, it was a rare and extraordinary treat.
On the third day, we went out on the streets to encounter Christ once again. Talking and sharing lunch, we learned more about their “street community.” People were confused as to why a bunch of young Americans were on the crowded streets outside the basilica sitting with the poor and playing with children.
Two women and a man who work for Craig Johring at Hope of the Poor shared their stories of life on the streets, how they got there, their faith and how they are doing. Many passersby stopped to listen and their expressions showed their awe in the stories they heard.
On the last day, we entered a state-run woman’s shelter, an opportunity rarely given to other groups. Many of the hundreds of women there had no family and many of them were mentally disabled. We brought lotion, nail polish and a speaker to allow us to project music, a treat the women never get to hear. Whether it was having an in-depth conversation with them, just listening to what they had to say or holding their hand, Christ’s love was present as we encountered these women.
“I think Christ showed me on this trip how to never underestimate the impact you can have on someone—even if it is only for a brief moment,” said Mary Fraser, a second-year FOCUS missionary at SMU visiting Mexico City a second time. “He is always trying to pursue us, especially in one another.”
The goal of this mission trip was not necessarily to work, but to be present and to love everyone we encountered. Seeing him in everything and everyone we encountered, big or small, was such a gift. I learned how much Jesus loves poverty—not just the poor in a physical sense but also the poverty of the spirit that every single person struggles with daily. We need to remember that Christ is always inside us. He sees our messiness and imperfections and he never stops loving us.
Jessica Taylor, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University, is a regular contributor to The Texas Catholic.