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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Young Catholics From Oblate Parish Journey to See Pope Francis

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 community.
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 colorful banners.  

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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Three Parishes Walk Together To Defend Human Life

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.

Dr. Hernandez recently spoke with JPIC staff about a pro-life event he organized in his community:

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 officials.

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.