Advent can be an emotionally-turbulent time for Catholics who value the Church’s call to serve the poor. Inundated by the Yuletide appeals of worthy organizations, a simple walk through a local shopping mall can overwhelm the heart.
Leaders with the Catholic Diocese of Calgary understand the angst. For those who want to add an international charity to their gift-giving, they also offer a solution, Mission Mexico.
Mission Mexico is a registered charitable organization with deep ties to the faithful in southern Alberta. The charity began in 2000 with the support of Fr. Fred Monk, now retired. Familiar with missionary work in Mexico, the priest linked his fundraising efforts to build a new Catholic church in Cochrane to a project to help some of North America’s poorest people.
While donations have declined in recent years, Mission Mexico has raised more than $5 million since its launch. Much of that was raised in loonies donated by Catholic parishioners and school students in Calgary, says Mike MacDonald, Mission Mexico's on-site director. A former high school teacher in Calgary, MacDonald moved to Mexico more than 40 years ago. Until 2013, he served a Catholic bishop whose diocese, headquartered in the city of Tlapa de Comonfort, includes an impoverished region in the State of Guerrero.
Education and health
Mission Mexico focused its efforts on education and health. In the village of Potoichan, MM helped build a high school that takes up to 240 students a year, with 140 living in dormitories. The students, who come from indigenous mountain villages, learn academics and Spanish at a school run by Mexican religious brothers from the Marist congregation. Spanish instruction is essential, since many students come to the high school with little understanding of that language. While Mexico recognizes more than 60 native languages, students must speak Spanish to qualify for university.
Speaking to Calgary Catholic school students during a November visit to Calgary, MacDonald is full of stories about the transformative impact of education. He talks about young people studying to be doctors, social workers and nutritionists thanks to Mission Mexico's support. He shows photographs of a young woman, the oldest of nine, now studying to be an accountant. Another picture shows a young man in a wheelchair. Thanks to Mission Mexico's support, he finished high school and is studying psychology. These are some of the dozens of students Mission Mexico has helped with bursaries. While university tuition is affordable, the country’s most vulnerable students cannot attend without financial help.
Mission Mexico excels in how it values human dignity, adds MacDonald, who helps villagers access the basic health and dental care Canadians takes for granted. He knows a child who’s been fitted with a prosthetic eye after losing that eye to parasitic disease. Another, once housebound by blindness, lives a transformed life thanks to cataract surgery.
MacDonald, 71, also lends a hand with other community projects. He helps families access social supports, including housing. He collects, sorts and delivers donations of clothing and teaches wealthier Mexicans about their country’s most vulnerable people by taking them to remote villages.
“God is good, all the time and I get to see what Mission Mexico accomplishes every day,” says MacDonald. He is grateful for the continued support of the Calgary Catholic Diocese, led by Bishop William McGrattan. “I want people to know that their help makes a difference down here. This kind of work is very focused on lifting people out of poverty. The more money we raise, the more people we help.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully. Joy Gregory is a writer, cradle Catholic, and long-time parishioner of St. Peter’s, Calgary, where she’s been active in preschool catechism programs, RCIA, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Photos courtesy of Mission Mexico. All rights reserved.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers