Today included two stops with the first to the Blessed Miguel Pro museum and shrine followed by the most difficult stop on our pilgrimage: La Basura.
In 1926, the Mexican government attempted to make Catholicism illegal which led to outbreaks of revolution such as the Christeros in the northern part of Mexico. Priests were hunted and an attempt was made to bomb the image of Guadalupe with this happening to the altar cross in front of the image.
The image was not harmed at all or even the glass broken, but windows 1 kilometer away were blown out. Our Lady would have none of that. Neither did priests like Blessed Miguel Pro who was ordained and returned to Mexico City despite the ban on religious and priests.
He would travel in secret and in a variety of disguises saying Mass in homes, garages, or basements. He was eventually caught and executed.
The museum had the clothes he wore when he was executed as well as photos of the execution.
He was executed with his arms like a cross and shouted “Viva Christo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King) which became a rallying cry for Catholicism in Mexico.
The chapel houses his relics which are pieces of the body taken for veneration by the faithful, a practice dating back to the first Christians who would soak soak cloth in the blood of the martyrs.
Most relics are in cases, but we asked the caretaker and she showed some of us the finger of Miguel Pro.
“Viva Christo Rey”… it seems like a hard thing to say in the midst of persecution, but most especially in the face of incomprehensible poverty. This we found in La Basura…basically translated as “the dump.”
This garbage dump is home to more than 2000 people who have built homes, lives, and communities here. It literally felt like being on a different planet in a way.
The government does not like that they have built homes there and make efforts to force or scare them out because the dump can be seen from incoming planes. Fires mysteriously start. They don’t provide clean water. But they people here are resilient.
They even have built a chapel furnished with things they have saved from the trash.
And it was here among the packs of wild dogs, flies, and dust we had Mass. Even in the midst of the worst living conditions imaginable, the people here still praise God and say “Viva Christo Rey!”
After Mass, Father Floeder blessed this new chapel built after the old one burned down.
We then met the “leaders” of the dump who gave us a “tour” and told us their story. Everything feels weird describing the day from this point on because this is home for them. We asked how long they had been here and one woman said she moved with her family to this area because work was promised. There was no work so they lost their house and lived in a park. Slowly, her and many others were pushed into the area where the dump was built and since 22 years old, this was home for a woman now in her mid 60s.
They work every day sorting “Amazon delivery boxes” (they joked) like this one to find food and things to sell like metal, aluminum, copper, and steel. Most is poor quality so they only make around $1 US dollar a day if that.
But they stay because they found something that they cant find on the street: community. Also, they find work, something that they may not be able to do on the street.
They build homes, lives, and communities here out of the pieces with each community having its own governing system and autonomy. In times of major crisis, they come together to help each other out. There is no power, water, or sanitation.
Each has a job: some unload the trucks, some sort the trash, some sort the metals, and some stack the trash on piles. The pool their resources and send their kids to school.
“Butch” Murphy’s group comes down and brings medical supplies, food, and water every 12 weeks and he told us stories of miracles of multiplication of things. One day they were handing out rice, beans, and oil. They stacked the clean cardboard off to the side and when they ran out, the woman handing out oil went to put the last card board box in the pile and tripped over a full box. She handed out that one and tripped over another box of oil in the exact same spot. Every person left with a can of oil.
Another time they were handing out sandwiches and apples until they ran out so “Butch” searched every inch of the bus for more, but found nothing. The leader of the community said “we’ll just have to trust in God” and started cutting sandwiches in half. Thirty seconds after, someone came up asking if they were holding back a crate of sandwiches that they found on the front seat of the bus. “Butch” was stunned, but said no “pass them out.” A few minutes later, another person from his group came up with a box of sandwiches found on the seat of the bus. The day ended with leftovers which the people brought to other communities.
At the end of the day, Father invited the people to bless us. It was moving and powerful that these people with nothing in our eyes are richer than most of us. They have strong, unshakable faith, despite not having many priests able to come and give the Sacraments.
“Why doesn’t God just do something to fix things?” “Why does God allow good people to live like this?”
I don’t know. “Butch” doesn’t know and he asked these questions at dinner tonight. But I don’t think we can judge faith, hope, and love based on things. We are rich materially in the US, but depression levels are at an all time high. Jesus chooses to love us in every state of life, but do we choose to love Him back? If loving the Lord is wealth, who are really the poor ones?
“Viva Christo Rey!”