Twenty-three teenagers at Girlstown in Chalco, Mexico remained.
They stood quietly off to the side two weeks ago as more than three thousand classmates boarded the buses and cars that would take them back to their families on mountainside villages, in small towns, and within the tangle of the inner-city Mexican streets. For two weeks, these three thousand girls would experience Christmas at home. Perhaps there would be no gifts under trees – or even a tree at all – but Christmases, thankfully, would be spent at home – and that was enough for them.
The 23 girls who remained at Girlstown Chalco knew home was not a safe place for them at Christmas. Unspeakable pain unfolded for them in their homes. This Christmas, they had no place to safely lay their head. So the religious community from the Sisters of Mary World Villages for Children happily welcomed them to stay with their community over Christmas break.
And these 23 became the Sisters of Mary’s Christmas presents.
Because Girlstown in Chalco is built to house as many as four thousand children, it seemed to these 23 they were suddenly standing alone together on the moon.
Realizing the magnitude of the isolation, the sisters consolidated the group. Adoration, masses, prayers, religious movies, meals, board games, basketball and soccer games, etc were done as a unit – and the moon seemed smaller. They were happy.
Many of them cried as they opened gifts of diaries, candy, and other small items on Christmas morning. Chaplain Fr. Dan Leary asked one of the 23 why she was crying. “I’ve never opened a Christmas present before,” she said.
Then Fr. Dan looked around; many of the other 23 were crying for the same reason.
He had an idea. Because the majority of the remaining children endured a destructive home life, few knew how to ride a bike. Moms and Dads never thought to teach them – or there wasn’t money for a bike. Fr. Dan set a goal – everyone would learn to ride a bike over Christmas!
The priest began to notice that several of the girls struggled to steer, pedal, and maintain balance. Their hesitancy and fear quickly led to quitting the training altogether. Then a sister whispered something into Fr. Dan’s ear: These are the ones who’ve suffered the most abuse.
It was a eureka moment. So Fr. Dan worked with more tenderness, patience, and compassion.
“It was like the bike chain of their memories had to break and fall off,” Fr. Dan said. “When they saw they could overcome the possible pain and fear, they got their bearing and pedaled off. I guess it’s a metaphor, but the chains started to fall off the bike. Now they are bike riders – but something tells me it is far deeper than that.
“We noticed their fear was rooted in the trauma of home experiences. Letting go on that bike may have been one of the most liberating experiences of their life. In a sense, the bike chain was all tangled up. They were frozen in their fear and couldn’t move. All we can do here is work to free that binding, as much as we’re able.”
SAFE, YET SUFFERING
In other news, on the night of December 16th on the other side of the world, the Sisters of Mary at Minglanilla, Philippines, were helping the children to begin to prepare for bed when winds and rain lashed the school. It was the beginning of Super Typhoon Odette, in which 160-plus mph winds ravaged Cebu.
Parts of dormitories were destroyed, forcing the students and the Sisters to restrict everyone from entering the dormitories. The students were forced to stay and sleep in the corridors and classroom areas.
The situation was hard, but was lessened by the cooperation of all. Thankfully, the students and Sisters remained safe although there is property damage to windows, roofs, and the grounds.
The Sisters need your help now more than ever. Your donations will not only help repair the Boystown buildings but also the surrounding communities. Now through tomorrow, December 31st, your donations will be doubled by our generous benefactors. Please consider giving using the link below to help: