St. Louis Jesuit: Pope visit offers hope to Juárez

The Juárez-born everywhere were delighted by the positive attention brought to their city yesterday by Pope Francis after years in which the city has been perceived as a basket-case of drug-cartel violence and poverty. Few could have been more excited, however, than was Pepe Ruiz, not only a native son of Juarez but also a Jesuit priest. Father Ruiz made the trip down from his parish in St. Louis to join other Jesuits for the pope’s Mass in Juárez on Feb. 17 and a chance to reacquaint himself with his home town.

He was happy the pope’s trip showcased his city in a different light. “People might think it's only poverty or only violence [in Juárez],” he told me via instant messages today. But “there's great people here making a difference.”

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“I'm hoping to show both sides in my blog. There's wealthy people trying to make the city a better place, there’s also wealthy people seeing how much they can keep for themselves, which is a great violence creating destitution, not just poverty.”

Father Ruiz would like folks who only know Juárez from TV dramas or news reports of homicides and drug cartels, to see that much that is positive is also happening in his city. “There are groups of young people who are straight out of college who use all their free time painting walls and writing positive messages; they collect Christmas toys for poor children in need; there's lots of people from the private sector promoting cultural events and sporting events with the express purpose of getting children off the streets, food banks, parishes providing mental health and healing based retreats, as well as evangelizing.”

He adds, “There’s people committing their lives to the indigenous people in the mountains near by. There are people creating jobs with the purpose of helping people flourish, rather than reducing people to production machines. All of them were encouraged in their mission, and affirmed in their work as agents of God.”

Father Ruiz knows that Juárez still has a long way to go to emerge from its dark years, but he thinks there are plenty of reasons to remain hopeful. Corruption in the Chihuahua has very deep roots and “many people of good will often collude with it [out of necessity]. Their challenge is to break these ties. Perhaps the greatest challenge is this last one.

“There are some middle-class and poor people making a difference in their communities, as well as some poor people with lots of resentment taking what they can through violence and drug cartels. It's a complex reality, and the city is tilting the scale towards the side of life and defeating evil with love and goodness. The pope's visit could be just the extra push in the right direction.”

Pope Francis came to the city much girded with his “prophetic imagination.”

Like an Old Testament prophet, he denounced injustices and helped “people dream up new realities.” And like a prophet out of the New Testament, Francis is “helping the people of Juárez move forward from the violence, joining Christ's resurrection, having joined his death in a very literal way. He denounced injustice in love, affirming what's already moving in the right direction, and making sure people see how these moving forward is straight from their faith.”

The pope’s visit, he hopes will be a pivotal moment for Juárez. “Atheists, non-Christians of faith, the government and all Catholics were united in this event around a desire to serve the common good, and a desire for healing, love, life, hope and reconstruction. People in Juárez feel that they are far along in the path of reconstruction. They no longer want to be defined as the most violent city in the world, but as the city of reconstruction and the city that the pope visited.”

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