PARAGUAY, Javier Vera Brizuela •
“I was in prison and you visited me…”(Matt. 25:36). For four years, a group of people has visited the Itaugua Educational Center (CEI) every Saturday. This is a place where minor boys are deprived of their freedom; in other words, it is a Juvenile Detention Center. Even it is only one person, the boys are visited and a ministry of accompaniment is carried out, so that they can be re-inserted into society once they are released from incarceration. This year theCatholic University Missions (MUC), founded in 2000, joined this great project, and one of its fourteen towns and places of mission was this detention center. —
Personally, I have participated in MUC since 2006. It was my tenth mission, and it was so different from the others!
Even though previously I had gone to the detention center to share with the boys, I never had the opportunity to experience four consecutive days with them and to share with the same people. I participated with a group that went to the La Esperanza Educational Center, which in a separate place behind the CEI houses the youths who have the privilege of being in a semi-open prison. It is a little more peaceful, it has a large patio and a pavilion with only nineteen boys ages 14-18, unlike the roughly 130 youths that are in the CEI.
It was really profound to experience so many things with them: from sharing personally and they tell you their most intimate things, and that they talk about their families.
Some of them missed their mothers greatly, and others had just became fathers, and still do not know their own babies. We played volleyball, but most of all, we had a mission: for them to experience a real Holy Week.
They never had received a hug— no one told them they loved them
Every day we talked about the days of Christ’s Passion: we commented on the Jews’ betrayal; we experienced the Washing of the Feet with them; we saw the movie, The Passion; we did the Stations of the Cross; we prayed a sung rosary; and we shared the Easter Vigil Mass. But the most important thing was that we formed a bond with them. It is an attachment with which we realized that God the Father is greatly merciful and he allows us to encounter him 1,001 times even though we have fallen to the depths of an abyss.
Many of them never had received a hug, no one told them that Jesus loved them, and that they could return to him. The majority of them come with many family problems: drugs, loneliness, with so many things working against them, and society judging them greatly.
We arrived at the jail a little afraid of not knowing what we would encounter. We realized that they are normal people, just like we are— with defects, virtues, and that the problems they had in life led them now to be deprived of their freedom. But we should learn that only God is able to judge.
My faith resurrected with them
Personally I had been a little turned off spiritually, I had not participated actively in Sunday Masses for a long time. I did not pray enough and my spiritual life had deteriorated considerably. During this Holy Week, Jesus really arose in me, in a way I needed for some time, and meeting these boys gave me the impetus that I needed to return and to get closer to God and the Blessed Mother.
This mission is just beginning, since there is still much to do. We must make the Lord’s mercy present in their lives.
Original: Spanish. 7 April 2018. Translation: Celina M. Garza, San Antonio, TX USA. Edited: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA