Sister María Elena Mendez, MGSpS answered questions, after closing a Missionary chapter of her congregation in Mississippi after 16 years, sharing their history and experiences.
Q: How and why the Guadalupana Mission came to Mississippi?
A: Sisters Ana Gabriela Castro, Yesenia Fernández and Gabriela Ramírez arrived in Forest, Mississippi on Aug. 17, 2004, invited by Father Richard Smith, who was in charge of St. Michael parish. They arrived excited and eager to mission through these lands, they came loaded with accumulated experiences from various parts of the country and abroad, varied types of apostolates and with several boxes of possible tools to be used in the new mission. At the beginning, there was only Yesenia and Ana Gabriela in Forest and Gabriela María in the Hispanic ministry within the chancery, but during the course of time, some sisters arrived and others left both for work in Forest and from the Hispanic ministry office.
Q: What are the fruits and challenges you had?
A: In Forest, the work of Gaby Castro and Yesenia was exceptional, but set the path for all of us later. They walked with the people in their needs, they went to the hospital, to the Mexican consulate, to jail when some were detained in the constant immigration checkpoints or took them out of there. English was required for all these details, since there was almost no place for translators and almost nobody had a driver’s license, only God’s. They looked for ways to train the community through small workshops, retreats and home visits to empower them personally, but the constant mobility left them often frustrated to start again when these leaders moved out to another place in search for work. But just as some left, others came and to continue. The missionary motivation did not end because of that.
Q: What are your most memorable experiences?
A: First, all the wonderful people we met. In the mission, we slept on the ground, listening to the whistle and the intense movement of the rails before the thunderous passage of the train, experiencing up close the loneliness and depression that many people live in the distance from their homeland, family and friends, tired physically and mentally for the work that absorbs them. We traveled the length and breadth of the 37,629 thousand square miles the diocese encompasses to find us in our path, valuable, brave, and struggling people who are making their way through the arduous lands of the southern state of Mississippi.
Q: What is Mississippi for you all?
A: Mississippi, made us realize that the mission is here, even in these moments; it is a mission land, first-generation migrants and very different from those we already knew in other places for years. We had to realize, from the constant frustrations and experiences that we were acquiring, that our job was to accompany, be present in their joys and difficulties, walk with them, go out to meet their needs and give them training to enhance leadership in the community, as the Virgin of Guadalupe did, from our Guadalupano priestly-charism and our personal charisms.