By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — There is no substitute for meeting face-to-face, even if it has to be through a chain link fence.
It had been three years since members of the Guadalupe Association had seen Maria (not her real name for security reasons) and the children and people of the neighborhood she cares for in the colonia of Anapra, near Juarez.
But all they could do was stand a few hours on the El Paso, Texas, side of the fence and talk through the chain link to learn how the people they have come to love are surviving.
Not very well, they are told.
Things appear to be improving in Anapra over the 20 years since Deacon Ross Beaudoin first organized mission trips for the youth of St. Mark Parish in Independence as part of the Confirmation preparation program.
Streets are being paved. Water service is reaching ramshackle homes, though the residents must still buy water fit for drinking in five-gallon bottles. Electricity is coming to the homes, replacing extension cords that were tapped into the nearest electrical lines. A supermarket is even planned for the community which will mean that Anapra’s people will no long have to go into Juarez to buy food.
And that will be a blessing. Juarez — a point of entry for drug and human trafficking into the United States — has been taken over by violent cartels who seek control by terror and murder.
It wasn’t for their own lives that they feared going into Anapra, members of the Guadalupe Association said of their trip Aug. 9-12.
It was for the safety of their Mexican “family.”
“People have been killed after they have been visited by people from the United States,” said Brandon Schultz, a member of Lakeland Community Church in Lee’s Summit who first went on mission trips as a volunteer at St. Mark’s.
“It’s just a big power trip. The cartels think that if people like us visit, then we must have left something of value behind, so they go in and take it,” he said.
Still, they had to go, even though they keep in regular contact with Maria through cell phones and e-mails, and she reports on the needs in her desperately poor neighborhood.
“You are looking into the face of God everywhere you turn around,” said Sandy Katzer, of St. Sabina Parish in Belton.
“People who have absolutely nothing, and they are so happy,” she said. “Now, they are like family to me, and I need to see them like family. I am blessed with good resources, and I need to share them. If a family member needed something to send a kid to school, I would provide that.”
Maria told them of 59 children who need help getting to school. Within two weeks, the members of the loosely-knit Guadalupe Association, founded by Deacon Beaudoin and administered by John Rodriguez of St. Matthew Parish in Kansas City, and Sandy Katzer and her husband, Deacon Dwayne Katzer, arranged for scholarships and other assistance for 56 of the 59 children through direct appeals to parishes.
Parishioners at St. Matthew’s alone “adopted” 25 of the children after Deacon Katzer made an appeal at weekend Masses Aug. 20-21.
And the Guadalupe Association is determined to match the final three with sponsors.
Jesus needs $910 for college tuition and transportation. Ricardo wants to go to trade school and needs $450. Perla, who got a partial sponsorship, still needs $475 for high school tuition.
Deacon Beaudoin, who brought the Katzers into the mission work in Anapra shortly after Deacon Dwayne’s ordination, said the Guadalupe Association has both Catholic and non-Catholic members who strive to meet whatever needs Maria says are in that community.
“It’s not owned by any parish, so it’s not like a ‘sister parish’ thing,” Deacon Beaudoin said. “It’s more like matching people here with people there, community to community.”
Lakeland Community Church provides enough beans and rice monthly to feed nearly 50 families.
St. Matthew’s Parish began providing supplies for a Vacation Bible School at Maria’s request that now attracts hundreds of children daily.
It is a mission that once started, the people who are touched by the plight of the poor in Anapra can’t quit.
“We went down for one summer and couldn’t stop going,” Deacon Katzer said.
The trips also dispel lies about the Mexican people that are becoming widespread north of the border.
One myth is that drug violence is spilling across the boarder into U.S. cities, Deacon Katzer noted.
But while Juarez is one of the world’s most dangerous cities, El Paso is one of the safest with one of the lowest crimes rates for a city of its size in the United States.
“Cities along the border in Mexico become hot spots because the cartels want to control the flow of drug traffic from those areas and into the United States,” Deacon Katzer said. “But they do not want to mess with cities in the United States because that is their market, and they don’t want to mess with U.S. law enforcement.”
The Mexican police and even the military are notoriously corrupt, but even that is a matter of survival, said Jen Beard, a member of Lakeland Community Church who went to the border. Often for police in Mexico, it is a choice between taking a bribe and looking the other way, or being targeted and killed by cartel hit men.
“The police wouldn’t be corrupt if they could survive any other way,” she said.
Schultz said that no matter how bad conditions get in Anapra, the Guadalupe Association will still serve the area.
“It’s all about understanding what the Kingdom of God means,” he said. “I choose to look at the Kingdom of God as a global thing, and for us to continue to grow into that, the least we can do is to be in true relationship with as many people as we can.
“We want people to know there is a call to live life for other people,” Schultz said. “Yes, we are giving them food, and yes, the kids are going to school. But the Kingdom of God is moving forward. That’s what is important.”
Sandy Katzer said that every time they speak with Maria, either electronically or face to face, she parts with the same words: “Don’t forget about us.”
“They want to know that somebody cares, and that there is life beyond the one that they are living,” she said.
Volunteers from the Guadalupe Association are available to speak to parishes or community groups. Donations made out to “Guadalupe Association” can be sent to Deacon Ross Beaudoin, St. James Parish, 3909 Harrison St., Kansas City MO 64110. For more information, contact Deacon Beaudoin at firstname.lastname@example.org, Deacon Dwayne Katzer at email@example.com; or Sandy Katzer at firstname.lastname@example.org.