Allow me to introduce myself

11891260_401115316758471_271491186663104710_nI am Pepe Ruiz, a Jesuit priest, high school theology teacher and campus minister. I am a member of the USA Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus, currently serving at St. Louis University High School in St. Louis, Missouri. But I am a native of Ciudad Juárez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

At one time, Juárez was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Locals call it endearingly Gotham City of Mexico. The violence has subsided somewhat in recent years, but the city still suffers from poverty, crime, and corruption. Located right on the border with the United States, Ciudad Juárez serves as a portal for immigrants, both documented and undocumented. This places Ciudad Juárez at the crossroads of Globalization, in the intersection of cheap labor, Industrial development, and all their unintended consequences. Did I mention that Juárez is also where the Margarita was invented, and probably the “burrito” as well? During the U.S. prohibition years Juarez was a popular hangout for people from El Paso, and the U.S. Also, during the mid 20th century, when the Catholic Church was heavily persecuted in Mexico, the Churches in El Paso, TX, were a hosts to many from Ciudad Juárez. In fact Sacred Heart, from my very own Jesuit Province still serves Spanish speakers as a result of that historical relationship.

This month, Ciudad Juárez will welcome Pope Francis. The excitement in my hometown is palpable, and I cannot stay away. Thanks to the leaders of my province and the high school where I serve, I will return to Juarez to experience the papal visit firsthand. This blog will be the place where I share my thoughts and feelings and what I see and do. I hope you’ll join me!

I plan to provide you with the “inside scoop” as I interview people and share with you what this place means to me. Having been known only by its darkness, may the light shine on Juárez, may it touch the hearts of many. May this agent of God, inspire the leaders of tomorrow, and the leaders of Today, who work so hard to make my hometown a better place.

[Versión en Español Aquí]

Allow me to introduce myself

Gotham Vs. Nineveh: Reflections

GothamJuarezAt the mass in Ciudad Juárez the Pope compared the city to Nineveh. This is the city that Jonah is sent to preach for their conversion. Francis was simply preaching on the reading of the day. He said that Jonah was basically sent to tell them that if they didn’t change they were going to die. This was simply the natural course of events, the consequences of their sins was imminent destruction. God was sending Jonah as a voice of reason, and a loving gesture, to prevent their self-destruction. Jonah reluctantly does preach to them, and to his great surprise they all change around.

I had mentioned before that people in Juárez named the city the Gotham of Mexico as an endearing nickname, perhaps a way to cope. The more I think about the Pope’s homily the more I think of Juárez as Nineveh, and less as Gotham. New names often come with new identities in the bible. Perhaps they do so today as well.

Gotham is a city that will never recover. Is the stuff from comic books. It needs a hero because it does not care for itself. It needs an outsider. Evenmore, Batman is a hero that attempts to fight violence with violence, and if sociology and religion agree on something it is that violence begets violence. Gotham is not a place of hope. It is a place of darkness.

Nineveh, however, is a people of surprises. This is precisely the expression the Pope has used during and after his visit to Mexico to describe his time there. He has said, Mexico is the country of surprises. I don’t know exactly what he means by it, but perhaps it has something to do with the great hope I’ve been describing in previous posts. I think Juárez is a place of surprises because of how it has found its soul after the violence.

There is still work to be done in Nineveh. Juarez still needs to put into practice the many lessons it has learned. More people need to wake up, more need to take leadership in the light. Corruption is still a great problem. Nepotism is still there. However, I’d like to think of Juárez as Nineveh now, rather than the Gotham City of Mexico. I much rather the light at the end of the tunnel in the conversion that Nineveh underwent, than the constant need for a violent hero from the outside.

I thank you God for a Prophet like Jonah to a land like Nineveh in the 21st century.

 

Gotham Vs. Nineveh: Reflections

Reflection: Cradles of Hope Pt.2

In the Key of Human Dignity.

busines

During the Pope’s speech to Business people and workers the Pope spoke about their responsibility to create working environments that are “worthy and useful to society, especially for the young.” Its opposite was described by pope Francis with the image of a petri dish where bacteria slowly grows. The petri dish of lack of education, and lack of work opportunities, which lead to poverty and marginalization is the place where the bacteria of violence and drug crimes grows. He said that “God will hold accountable our modern-day slave holders.” He warned them not to get “lost in the seductive seas of ambition.” This was not your warm and cozy, lovey-dovey, Pope Francis. Yet, he delivered those words with loads of hope, helping people imagine how to move forward.

He proposed communication, even healthy confrontation, as well as for people to commit themselves to the idea that they need to lose in some areas in order for everyone to win in the long run. He proposed that work should be serving human beings, and not the other way around, which is what Catholic Social Teaching is all about. Business needs to lose some profit in order to “invest in people,” he said.

Two friends of mine and my family, who are committed Christians and were both volunteers at the Pope’s visit, come to mind as people creating cradles of hope. They are tremendous sources of inspiration in living out what the Pope spoke about. After reflecting on what the Pope said to business people I thought I’d include their stories here:

Davidf

  • My friend David Blancas is in the center of both pictures above. The picture to the right is of me, David, and my brother Luis, from right to left, the evening after the Pope’s visit. The picture on the left is of the opening for their first housing development for low-income people. My middle brother is on the far right of that picture. David is a housing developer , who is shaking things up when making housing for the poor. The poorest housing available now can seem pretty expensive. His competition sells houses without doors, without a wall to separate them from the next house; without parks. These are costs they save, and pass on to their poor clients. My friend David believes that “added value” like parks with gazebos, grills, and a structure to hang a piñata,  not only helps people flourish, but makes his company more competitive. Their houses are an invitation to develop their family lives and play with their children. Not to mention that they include doors, light bulbs, separating fences, and all the rest. “People choose the company that cares for them; people notice. We take a hit in certain industry markers, but we put people first, and that’s what makes us much stronger than our competitors.”

arturo

  • Another example is a friend of my father and mine, Arturo Adame, who runs a Maquiladora. He’s wearing a black coat, sitting to the right of my dad in this picture. They are both holding their volunteer tags at the Pope’s event, where they served as part of the 100,000 volunteer force. Arturo also believes that his faith should inspire his work. He says that they have a budget under which they have to operate. He says he can’t give people the salaries he wishes. However, “I’ll give them as much as I can within the constraints placed on me. I give every single employee the opportunity to get the next level of education they need. I make sure we have healthy and tasty food in our plant: restaurant level. If I don’t absolutely love eating with them, I don’t serve it. I won’t offer mid-night shifts. I just don’t think it’s good for families. I actually measure our employee’s satisfaction on the regular basis as much as I measure our client’s satisfaction. I see myself as serving both.” These are the kind of hope-filled people the Pope hopes to animate.

These are just two of my friends who make me think that there’s lots of hope for the future of Juarez. These are the type of people that are constructing brighter opportunities for the city. These are the people the pope comes to affirm, while many of their competitors go with an “all profit, no social responsibility” motto. They both believe that Francis’ message might activate some business people who have been on the fence about some of these issues.

“We’re all in the same ship” the pope said. “Work should be a space for humanization and building a bright future.” May we see more people like David and Arturo in Ciudad Juarez. I thank God for the hope they represent for me and for the city.

 

 

Reflection: Cradles of Hope Pt.2

Reflection: Cradles of Hope- Pt. 1

In the Key of Beauty

At the end of the mass in Ciudad Juárez the pope stopped reading his notes, looked up and said that there were points where he was about to tear up during his visit to Ciudad Juárez. He said that many parents would lift up their children as he was passing by. He said that he was deeply touched to see so much hope, represented in those children, in a city that had known so much pain.

In the next few posts I’d like to speak about hope. Those children are promises for the future, but hope is already making a cradle for them in the city. I’d like to affirm that in this and the next post.

I find great hope in the pursuit of beauty, art and infrastructure for the city.

When I was doing volunteer work in Juarez there was something I’d love to show my friends, what I called “Pretty Juarez.” The places I love. Many of those were affected by the violence, and run down. However, a sign of hope is that people are starting to rebuild the city, and re-beautify it. These people find in the words of Francis a renewed impetus. When Francis was speaking to people from the business world, he said that we are co-creators with God. In this post I’d like to affirm those co-creators, and give you a view of the city that is rarely shown.

I want to begin here, because it is such a symbolic piece. This is a Mural that went up in Juarez recently. This face is engraved within every art piece and architectural structure built or re-serviced after the violence. It is the face of hope, but not a superficial or manufactured one. It’s a face of hope from someone who has known great pain. This is the face of Ciudad Juárez today:

art

I see that face in the following places: In the next video I have a silent walk through a park that is in front of San Lorenzo, a church that the pope probably saw on the way to El Punto. The videos below are super short, I promise, and you don’t really need headphones, but there’s wonderful singing birds in the background:

Now let’s leave this very spot and fly over some of Juárez’s most beautiful architectural buildings today. All of these were either made or re-serviced after the violence. They are all cradles of hope where the Children of Juárez will play, work and pray:

Finally, here’s a video at night passing through a restaurant section. It is a real joy to see places like this, where people can come to just have a good time. Places of fun and recreation were precisely the first things that disappeared when the violence hit. Here’s to more of such cradles of hope for the city!

This is just to wrap it up, and give you a good sense of the City. It’s a video made for Francis’ visit:

 

These are just a few places. However, art and infrastructure are not the only places of hope. I’d like to mention some more in the following post. To finish on a symbolic image. Here’s the pope kissing one of those babies raised up to him during his visit to Juarez:

baby.jpg

Reflection: Cradles of Hope- Pt. 1

The Next Few Posts

I have been re-reading the Pope’s messages, praying and reflecting on them. In the next couple of posts I hope to write some posts labeled as “reflections” to talk about what does this visit mean now for people in Juárez and for me. Afterwards I’ll write some posts labeled “Effects” that will be about what might God be telling us all.

I also have a few videos with interviews that you might find interesting. I’ll be posting those once I translate them. I didn’t have the idea of translating as I went along on the first run of interviews I made. Adding the subtitles takes forever!

Afterward, I might keep going backward from the Pope’s messages in Juarez to those given in Mexico in general. I might close shop. I might use this to talk about Spirituality. I’m not sure. What I do know is that things are about to get busy for me as I get back to regular life as a Campus Minister and Theology teacher. So, I’m not sure what will be of this blog, but I’ll keep you posted.

The Next Few Posts

Missionary Priest to Indigenous People

Ciudad Juárez is a place where many cultures converge. People from different places in Mexico and Latin America often to Ciudad Juarez to either work in Maquiladoras or to go across the border. Indigenous people are not an exception. Every so often indigenous people come down from the mountains, where they’re normally located and try to find work or beg. The Pope has been calling us to not ignore them.

At every mass in Mexico the Pope invited Indigenous people to take part in the celebration. In his visit to Ciudad Juarez this was not an exception. The picture is below is from the petitions at mass in Ciudad Juarez.

tarahumara

The video below is from the moments right before the mass. People like the priest here have dedicated their lives to the mission of serving the indigenous people. He explains some of the main issues related to the Indigenous people in the North of Mexico:

In this shorter video he speaks what the Pope’s visit means to the Indigenous people of Mexico and those working with them.

Let us pray for our missionaries as they share our faith and hope:

Missionary Priest to Indigenous People

Hope Before the Pope

While waiting to board the bus to El Punto, where Pope Francis would say Mass later that day, I ran into some friends who are doing great work in Ciudad Juárez. The Salesian Priests and Brothers have opened youth centers here where they offer educational and recreational help and options for kids living in poverty. Join our chat about this Work of Hope that’s still growing in Juarez today. These are the agents of hope and prevention initiatives that were encouraged and affirmed by the Pope’s visit and message:

You can find out more about what the Salesian Missions are doing in Mexico on their website.

Hope Before the Pope

Today’s the day!- Walk with me

The people here in Juárez are just so excited to welcome Pope Francis today. Here’s a quick video as I make my way to El Punto, where he will say Mass later today:

morning

 

On the way we ran into a wall from Poetic Action, or Acción Poética. I wrote about their work a previous posts here, and here. 

My first stop was the Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia – or the Church of the Holy Family, the church where I was baptized. I talk here about the choir for the Pope’s mass and the process of getting to El Punto.

I ran into the group of Jesuits that were there to concelebrate as well.

Finally, this is me arriving to El Punto. What a great energy:

Here’s a video of the Altar and people as they were getting ready for mass:

This is what the Altar and music were like from where I was.

After this time I spent all my time hearing confessions. It was amazing how many people got in line to receive the sacrament and reconcile with God. Afterwards the mass went on. Rather than giving you a poorly filmed video here’s the real thing starting at the homily.

Prayers from Juárez !

 

 

Today’s the day!- Walk with me