Up Front and Personal

A Moving Experience At Mexico’s Las Niñas

by Melany Casique Cruz 

I had no initial understanding of why I was going to Mexico. My parish pastor, Father Christopher M. O’Connor kindly extended an invitation to Giselle Ladino (a member of the parish) and I, sometime in late October. There was a lot of initial indecisiveness that delayed the decision—part of it was fear—but ultimately we were both in. I did not expect that by the end of the two weeks, I would be saying some very hard goodbyes. 

“La Villa de las Niñas” can be found at the edge of the State of México in Chalco de Diaz Covarrubias. Although at the edge of a traffic-filled street, on the other side of the gates is a love-filled community of girls from some of the poorest areas in Mexico and Sisters of Mary who care for them. 

Giselle and I were left with very few words when walking around the villa, but the one that was repeated constantly was “wow.” The self-sustaining nature and maintenance of “The Villa” is evidence of the great work being done there for the girls’ education but also spiritually, as the sisters’ spirited an environment that made sure the girls were being fed in their schooling, skills and souls. 

During our first week we were invited to go on a trip to Six Flags, which took me pleasantly by surprise. The sisters were taking the girls who had stayed at the Villa during their winter break on fun excursion. 

This trip was not only filled with stomach-turning rides but marked an important part of the trip—this is where Giselle and I would meet the girls we got especially close to, making our mission even clearer. 

Our work mostly took the form of helping during healing services. Father O’Connor introduced a new form of prayer to the girls and Sisters of Mary. In brief, from the altar that was in the middle of the room, extended 10 mantles that connected the girls physically to Jesus in the Eucharist. 

The girls were invited to sit in a circle around the altar, and when it was their turn, to hold the mantle and pray for healing—mirroring the story of the bleeding woman who believed that if she touched Jesus’s clothes she would be healed. 

Giselle and I would take turns giving brief testimonies about our experiences in healing with this form of prayer, and then be there for the girls— to pray, comfort and to make sure that they knew that they were loved. 

Over the two weeks I was there, we did about 25 services that covered all the girls in year two, each being different in their own experience. Each one held on to the mantle strongly. 

Some held it in their hands, close to their chest, holding it to their face or leaning into the mantle. Needless to say, there were tears, but even more love and healing. 

As an older sister, it was hard to watch young girls in so much pain, but their genuine longing for Jesus in their lives was moving. 

After the healing services, our little team would gather to pray in one of the chapels and give all the sadness to the Lord because we knew Jesus was working with all these girls and He makes all things new. 

A blessing in disguise came when we were presented with the opportunity to substitute as teachers in a couple classes. 

With only a couple of minutes notice we were brought to a classroom and prompted to “teach English” but were also told that it could be an advising and talking session. 

Ultimately, we did end up giving them a 50-minute English class, which the girls shyly participated in, but were all the more excited to get to ask us questions. At the end of our time, Alejandra Fernandez (another member of our four-person team) led us in a moment of reflection with the question: “What stands out to you about the Catholic Church?” 

It was truly powerful to hear their answers, but one in particular stood out to me. She answered that she was in awe of God and of how He humbles himself for us in the Eucharist. 

I remember looking at her and smiling. I was moved by her answer but it also made me proud to be Catholic and be able to call them my sisters in Christ. 

At the end of the two weeks, it became clearer why God had called us to meet these girls. I am still amazed at their openness to love so openly in such a short amount of time, and how much they are willing to give without having much. 

I treasure the written notes and drawings that express their gratitude without them knowing that they have gifted me the same thing. 

I am abundantly grateful to God, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father O’Connor and the Sisters of Mary for allowing me to serve “Las Niñas” and to see them love God so profoundly—whether in the beautiful singing of the girls and their choir/band Studentina, or the way they recite their prayers, or in their smiles and laughter. 

La Villa de las Niñas is a blessed community where Jesus lives, and they have taught me to be open to loving everyone who comes into my life, even though it might only be brief, just like “Las Niñas” have done for me. 

Melany Casique Cruz is a parishioner at St. Mary’s Winfield in Woodside.