"Celebrating hope in Juarez"
By Ben Lager
Local pharmacy owner Ben Lager is board president of the Catholic apostolate St. Jerome Mission in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The mission began as an outreach of the Denver Catholic Biblical School when Lager was a faculty member.
About $25,000 is needed to complete the dormitories for St. Jerome Mission retreat center.
To donate, mail a tax-deductible check to St. Jerome Mission, 1434 S. Gaylord St., Denver, CO 80210 or donate online at www.stjeromemission.com.
Throughout the last five years, Catholics in the Denver Archdiocese have contributed to the construction of a parish center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, called St. Jerome Mission. I wish each of you could have traveled with me and a friend March 17 to celebrate its dedication in one of the poorest barrios in Mexico.
After driving from Denver all night we crossed over the downtown El Paso bridge at 8 a.m. Soon we were walking across the border into what has recently become the most violent city in the world. We jumped into a friend’s old truck and traveled 5 bumpy miles through the western slums to Nuestra Señora de Esperanza (Our Lady of Hope) Church.
There we met Father Pedro Gonzalez, the pastor, who takes care of this and four other parishes in Juarez. He is a tireless, joyful priest, despite the overwhelming problems his parishioners face every day. He was overjoyed to see us, and to show us what your prayers and financial support have created for the poorest of God’s poor.
Your generosity has built for the Catholics of Juarez a lovely parish center, retreat center, parish office and simple rectory for Father Pedro. I was dumbstruck at not only how beautiful the complex is but that the entire neighborhood has been reborn!
When construction on this building began in 2007, the barrio was a terrible slum. There was no trash removal. Huge potholes made driving down the unpaved streets treacherous. Emaciated dogs roaming the neighborhood were the face of the barrio’s misery.
People lived in abandoned cardboard shacks, unless their home was one of the 250 houses built in the area by Southern Exposure, the homebuilding group spearheaded by Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada and the late Deacon Mike Howard.
But now, proudly nestled in the shadow of St. Jerome Mission, is a park with green grass and flowers. The city has set up weekly trash pick-up, the streets are paved, and many now live in comfortable adobe homes. Parishioners are venturing out on Saturday night for Mass. Attendance is up so much that Father Pedro has added another Sunday Mass.
During the dedication, Father Pedro read a letter of congratulations from Bishop James Conley, apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese, relaying his joy in the completion of the building and eliciting great applause when the priest announced that Bishop Conley’s letter also included an additional $30,000 from an anonymous donor to begin the last section of the retreat center.
In return, St. Jerome parishioners sent two beautiful ponchos to Bishop Conley as a sign of gratitude for their friendship with the Denver Archdiocese.
Over and over again, the hundreds of parishioners who attended the celebration begged us to convey their gratitude, saying “Thank you—thank you!” What touched them even more than your generosity is that during their darkest years you remembered them and showed your faith in them by investing in this marvelous, safe gathering place for their sacramental events.
Our five-year project in Juarez is almost finished. Be sure to visit the website www.stjeromemission.com to see inspiring photos of the building that has brought so much hope to the poor of Mexico.
About $25,000 is needed to complete the dormitories for St. Jerome Mission retreat center. To donate, mail a tax-deductible check to St. Jerome Mission, 1434 S. Gaylord St., Denver, CO 80210 or donate online at www.stjeromemission.com.