Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.
When Pope Francis addressed an
estimated 50,000 in the city of Morelia in Mexico recently, present in the
crowd were young parishioners from St. Eugene de Mazenod in Tijuana, Mexico.
But according to Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI, youth minister and group chaperone,
mental preparation for this once in a lifetime event started way before leaving
Tijuana. Before beginning the trip Fr. Jesse gathered the group on several
occasions to study Pope Francis’ writings and encyclicals. He also spoke to
them about potential hardships during the trip: flying from Tijuana then driving two and a
half hours by car to Morelia; being outdoors in the hot sun; limited access to food
and water; and waiting in long lines for restrooms. He reminded the young men
that they were ‘pilgrims not tourists’ and a certain degree of sacrifice was
necessary for their experience to be successful. When they returned they would be
expected to share their experience with others in their home and church
Left to right: Miguel Munoz, Alan Walle-(on one knee), Pedro Verdugo, Fr. Jesse, Luis Herrera, Luis Alberto Zepeda
The Oblate Mission in Tijuana,
Mexico is a large parish consisting of fifteen communities: one church and 14
chapels. About 200 young people participate in youth ministry, not counting
children in the Confirmation program.
The five young men selected for
the trip range in age from 18 years to their early 20’s. They are either in college or
about to attend college. Two are studying to become engineers. All are discerning
a vocation with the Church.
Excitement grew as departure
day approached. A day before the event they first traveled by air then drove two
and a half hours to the city of Morelia. They spent their free time exploring
the city, interacting with other young travelers and praying. One of the young
men brought his guitar and played to small crowds. Being in a city renowned for
gangs, drug violence, kidnappings and poverty, the young men suddenly realized that
while Tijuana was similar to Morelia in many ways, in other ways Morelia’s youth
maybe had it even worse.
On the big day the group
arrived at the stadium at 7AM for an event set to start at 4PM. The crowd was
exuberant as they waited to hear the Pope, whose native language, like theirs,
is Spanish. Despite long lines for restrooms, limited food and water, and in
the words of Fr. Jesse, ‘baking in the sun’ for nine hours, none of the young
parishioners complained. Then about half an hour before Pope Francis took to
the stage, the energy in the stadium escalated as the crowd sang, danced and waved
The Pope’s message of hope resonated
with an audience of young people eager for words of encouragement. Fr. Jesse
said they were overcome with emotions and a few of them shed tears as they listened
to the Pope’s message. When young people who were part of the program presented
Pope Francis with a list of some of the problems they are facing, he addressed
each in a ‘humorous and refreshing way’, noted Fr. Jesse. He described the entire
experience as ‘very moving and motivating,’ a moment that ‘ignited a fire’ in
them. “We were very impressed with the level of excitement the Pope generated
among youth,” he said.
After both an exhilarating and
spiritual time, the group returned to Tijuana and has since shared their
experience with an audience of at least 120 youth.
Fr. Jesse offered some final
thoughts on his experience as Youth Minister at St. Eugene de Mazenod. He
described the young men he mentors as very driven with high aspirations. Many come
from low-income families. Families offer emotional support but are less able to
offer much monetary support. Most of the young men work minimum wage jobs,
attend university and keep busy with the church.
Having also worked as a youth
minister in California, Fr. Jesse expressed that he sometimes forgets the
reality of young people in Tijuana. He
gave the example of their youth meetings, which sometimes extend into the
evening. Young parishioners then have to scramble to catch a bus or two, or hitch
a ride home. ‘Parents don’t drive up to get them like you would typically see
at a California parish,” he said.
Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI is in his second year of Youth
Ministry at the St. Eugene de Mazenod parish in Tijuana. Prior to that he
served as youth minister at the Oblate parish of Santa Rosa in Los Angeles, CA.
He has BA degree in Philosophy from D’Youville College and made his vows to
become an Oblate in August 2013. He was ordained a priest in May 2014 and
received his M.Div. from the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. For
his pastoral internship, he spent a year at the St. Jude Shrine in New Orleans.
He also served as a lay missionary in Honduras.
Dr. Carlos Hernandez, MD runs a women’s clinic in
Eagle Pass, TX and has done so for the last 18 years. He is also a parishioner and
serves on the leadership council at the Sacred Heart Parish, Diocese of Laredo.
Like other pro-life advocates around the country,
January 22nd is an important date for Dr. Hernandez. This date marks the
anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 43 years ago that legalizes
abortion under the constitution. Since this ruling became law, pro-life advocates
have worked to overturn Roe vs. Wade by organizing marches and other events on or
around January 22nd every year. The largest of these gatherings is the March for Life, which draws tens of
thousands of participants to the National Mall in Washington, DC every year.
These nationwide events aim to call attention to the sanctity of life and the need
to respect human life.
recently spoke with JPIC staff about a pro-life event he organized in his
For the last 20 years parishioners from three parishes within
the Diocese of Laredo, TX – Our Lady of Refuge, Sacred Heart and Saint Joseph’s
-- have actively participated in a local Walk
For Life event to coincide with events around the country. Dr. Hernandez
has been the event’s organizer for the last six years, working with leadership councils
from the three parishes and the local Knights of Columbus.
Dr. Hernandez explained that prior to the event and to
engage parishioners, a banner contest was held. The winning banner was displayed
at the march and the winner received a gift card. Second and third place
winners were presented with prizes as well. About 200 people of all ages
participated in this year’s Walk. The group first gathered on Main Street in
Eagle Pass, then proceeded to walk a mile and a half, praying the Rosary along
the way to their final destination at City Hall. The elderly or those unable to
walk the full distance waited at City Hall. When the walk concluded, a short program
was held and attended by the Vicar of the Diocese, the mayor and other city
Nine days before the
Walk for Life event members from all three parishes joined in solidarity
with other Catholics around the country in a prayer campaign organized by the
U.S. Bishops. The 9 Days for Life
campaign called for Catholics to pray for victims of abortion, violence and
those suffering from addiction in the nine days leading up to January 22nd.
As Dr. Hernandez personally reflected on the sanctity
of life, he shared with JPIC staff
a few local stories and his perspective on
the issue from the standpoint of a physician specializing in
obstetrics/gynecology. He commended local families who under very
difficult circumstances, commit to caring for severely disabled children. He
shared a particular story of a young girl born with hydrocephaly - a brain
disorder. The child, now nearly 3 years old, was born the very day Pope Francis
was elected, on March 13, 2013.
The child had surgery in Mexico but it failed to
correct the problem. Through the assistance of parishioners, the family moved to San
Antonio, TX for access to better medical care. Despite surgeries and
treatments the child remains in a vegetative state and her condition makes her prone to seizures. Yet her family is very committed to caring for her.There have been other tragedies in the
child’s family. The father passed away from leukemia leaving the mother as the primary
caregiver of several other children. As Dr. Hernandez puts it, the child’s mother
is ‘doing her best.”
Though the reality of this family is very difficult,
Dr. Hernandez remarked that for him, this exemplifies the core of pro-life philosophy
that ‘every life is worth living.’
Dr. Carlos Hernandez was born in Colombia, South America.
He studied and did his medical residency training in Baltimore, Maryland. He has been in practice for 18 years.