Stories from the International Winter Youth/Young Adult Service Retreat
Pharr, Texas 2009
I am in Pharr Texas, at St George the Great Martyr parish, attending in their 5th annual Winter retreat. I plan to come back many times. There have been many moving things in my time here, and although I am on a slow connection, I wanted to share another story with you.
Mother Nati and the baseball bat
The parish regularly goes to help a Roman Catholic orphanage called “Casa Amparo”, in the outskirts of Renosa, Mexico. The Abbess is Mother Natividad, but everyone calls her Mother Nati. She is a very small Mexican woman, no more than 4 feet 8 inches tall, with brown, weathered skin and a smile as wide as the Rio Grande. She has been at the convent at least 20 years.
I saw her on Tuesday, when she came to the parish of St George. We were going to go to her convent and orphanage Thursday to deliver some clothing and food and help with projects. I was really looking forward to this, but there have been several shootings in Renosa, including a shootout in the streets in the midst of innocent civilians, all no doubt drug related, and many parents are afraid for the safety of their children. In addition, most of the children of the orphanage are not there right now – they have gone home!
Orphanages in Mexico are different than we are accustomed to in the USA. There are “orphans” in the “traditional” sense – those whose parents are dead, but many of the children are “economic” or “spiritual” orphans. Some have parents who are too poor to care for them, or are drug addicts or prostitutes. We live in a sheltered world, and there is a lot of misery out there. We must be aware of it and see.
Mother Nati has built an orphanage brick by brick, with her own hands and the hands of volunteers, without a peso from the Mexican government or Roman Catholic church. Between 75-100 girls of ages 5 to 18 live there. They are educated there, and learn trades such as sewing, baking, and computer skills (they have a computer lab). They have a thrift store, sewing shop and bakery to support themselves, and also make and sell empanadas and tamales to local workers. English is taught to everyone, to help them be as employable as possible.
The story that follows is sad, and horrible and infuriating, but also fantastic and beautiful. This is the way with so many things in the world – a mix of good and evil, as we are creatures capable at one moment of acts of extreme and godly beauty, and at another of the darkest evil. Lets us learn something about true authority from this story – where it comes from, and how to exercise it.
One evening, two of the girls were kidnapped for the sex trade. For those of you who may not understand, girls from countries all over the world are routinely stolen and transported to other countries, usually to be sex slaves until they die or escape or perhaps are no longer useful and are let go. This evil occurs all over the world, with the supply coming mainly from impoverished countries, and the demand from the richer countries. There are no words to describe this type of evil, nor which rung of Hell is reserved for the criminals who perpetrate such acts.
Mother Nati found out, and immediately grabbed a baseball bat and went off into the red light district of Renosa. to find the girls. She broke down doors, and eventually found one of the girls. Lamentably, the other child was never found, and is probably out of country, likely in some city in the United States. This tragedy is profound, and its frequency does not lessen the tragedy.
Let us focus on Mother Nati. all of 4 feet 8 inches and of no physical threat to anyone, even with a baseball bat. Her zeal and love gave her authority, which even the armed pimps were unable to gainsay. I daresay that I could also go to the red light district with a baseball bat, and I am bigger and stronger than most Mexican men, but I might have been shot, because authority is not something that comes from being angry or strong. It comes from zeal and love.
Mark 11:27-33 27 And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, 28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? 29 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. 31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? 32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. 33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesusanswering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.
In this gospel, the Pharisees, asked the Lord from where He had His authority. He asked them a question and promised that He would answer them if they answered Him. They were afraid to answer it, because they were full of deceit, and with deceit comes cowardice (and no coward has any authority). The question went unanswered in the Gospel.
We must answer all questions in the scripture. The Pharisees could not answer this question, but we should know it well, and also its corollary – from where do we obtain our authority? Or, perhaps, a better questions to ask is do we have any authority?
Of course, the Lord had authority because He is God and man, and as God is over all things. He is, as The Evangelist John tells us, “full of grace and truth”.
The God-man came to give us the ability to have authority over ourselves – to the extent that we become full of grace and truth. If we feel we lack authority in something in our lives – manifested by confusion, weakness, bad habits and despair – then we are in some way not living according to the Gospel. There is something impure, something sinful in us.