A mission of hope in Ciudad Juarez

"Another year of grace! Yes, we face crises like never before, but crises stimulate hope, and with hope come efforts for truth, justice and peace. That effort breeds optimism and even joy. Some saints say that Jesus on the cross, though crying out in desperation, experienced a deep interior joy at a work accomplished."

These words from Sister of Mercy Betty Campbell and Carmelite Father Peter Hinde, founders of a community of contemplation and political action called Tabor House in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, are good advice for all of us.

Sister Betty and Father Hinde live in a bleak neighborhood that I visited early in the 2000s. Nothing seemed to grow there. The yards, front and back, were hard-packed desert soil.

But though Tabor House was just as drab as neighboring dwellings, its yard was lush with growing vegetables, flowers and shrubs. Every spare drop of water used for cooking and washing was recycled to the garden. The shaded patio hosted classes and workshops. Everything about the lives of these two former missionaries to Peru spoke of hope.

In Juarez since 1995, Tabor House "accompanies the church and people of God of Ciudad Juarez," Father Hinde said in a recent e-mail. "Our principal purpose was to continue the solidarity work of "evangelizaci›n concientizadora" (conscientizing evangelization) of the churches and people of the United States with respect to U.S. policy in Latin America."

Until 2008, Father Hinde and Sister Betty received 30 to 50 delegations a year from universities and parishes for a week’s tour of the border. Since then, because of the difficulty of crossing and the increasing violence of Mexico’s war against drugs, only two or three come.

"We still receive individuals or small groups, generally people more familiar with the border," Father Hinde said.

The horrendous violence took the lives of 2,500 people, including 140 women, in one year.

"Patrols of the army, and now national police, cruise our area in two open jeeps with from eight to 13 heavily armed men but hardly ever get to the action on time," Father Hinde said. "We have had instances in our neighborhoods where army or federal police refuse to act when right at the scene of the killings."

Many people have fled the city, their homes and businesses abandoned. Pastoral workers persevere despite the threatening situation.

"What is most worrisome is the contempt for life, the human person made into merchandise, a disposable object," the Mexican bishops’ conference declared. "We are losing any sense of the dignity of the human person or the ability even to see ourselves as human."

Father Hinde asks: "Is this not the logic of consumer capitalism, i.e., make everything, even a person, a saleable commodity? And therefore disposable?"

North of the border, such logic is apparent in the campaign to deport so-called "illegals."

The work of Tabor House goes on.

Emilia Requenes Garcia, 60, a nun for 24 years and a resident of Juarez for 29 years, works in the women’s movement and helps children with their schoolwork two days a week.

Sister Betty, 76, is "as active as ever with women in the surrounding parishes and recently with chickens in our backyard.’"

Father Hinde, 87, helps with Sunday Mass in chapels nearby, serves on the board of Christians for Peace in El Salvador, accompanying clergy and medical doctors who go there, and does book reviews for "The Carmelite Review" of the Chicago Province.

"Those of us at Tabor intend to hang in here with our friends as long as life permits," Father Hinde said.

Sandoval is a columnist for Catholic News Service.

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