The following are translations of speeches given by two women – Daisy Flores Gámez and Evelia Quintana Molina – in Juarez during the Pope’s visit in February 2016. Although the Pope’s speech at the border was heavily covered in the North American press and served as the subject of extensive commentary in PPT, these women’s addresses, delivered in Spanish, were key voices that accentuated and framed significantly the Pontiff’s visit. They are some of the few women who have given extended speeches on social issues directly to Pope Francis. They also shed light on his words at these two locations and development of his theology. These speeches, hitherto available only in Spanish, have now been translated into English by Neomi DeAnda and Néstor Medina.
Daisy Flores Gámez spoke during Pope Francis’ visit to Juárez and his meeting with the world of labor. Her husband, Jesús Gurrola Varela and their two children accompanied her on the stage during her speech. Ms. Flores Gámez, as one of two women speaking during a Pope’s visit to Juárez, is significant in a number of ways. She spoke as the representative of the world of work in factories – maquilas – in this Mexico/USA border metroplex to 3,000 people present at this meeting. These factories have been known for maintaining low wages and long hours for workers on both sides of the Mexico/USA border both in the maquilas and more broadly to other parts of society. Beyond the sexist issues faced by women through both church and society, Juárez has also been known as a city of Feminicide where women have been brutally abused, raped, and killed. Daisy’s speech shed a glimpse of hope for a better future for her own children as well as forthcoming generations as she named very specific areas which need attention toward systemic change.
“Your holiness, Pope Francis,
Welcome to this border city of Juárez, which we can honestly say feels honored by your visit. After living through some very hard times, we cautiously tell you that we do not want to just start ringing the bells in happiness. However, we recognize the very interested effort of social solidarity which has allowed us to recover our breath and some confidence. It is an honor and blessing to be able to address you as a family. We are happily married and together with our children, Jeremy and Isabella, we participate in the parish of St. Isidore the Farmer in the valley of Juárez.
We would like to share with you that on this border the economic situation and the job roles we are able to perform make family life and the honest care and attention to our children increasingly more difficult. As persons of faith, some of us have been able to be strong in hard times. However, painfully we know that not everyone has been able to endure this situation.
We ask for your Holiness to pray for us—as Juárez intercedes for you – families who are subjected to unjust networks of the market, as well as systems which are too pragmatic and bureaucratic. We live in terrible working conditions in which we disproportionally spend effort, time, and energy. This makes it enormously difficult to attend to our children as well as to our personal and familial growth. We believe that the decadence and conflict of values in our society often happen because of the absence of parents in the home. Every home and every family should be a school of humanity where essential things are learned: solidarity, appreciation, care for one another, respect, and human dignity. Nevertheless, at least in this city, and we believe many others as well, our homes have become merely places to sleep.
We do not want our children to grow not knowing God and without minimal human capacities. For these reasons we believe we need to do something about it. Because it is in our families, factories, schools, churches and corporations, together with our governing bodies that we should attempt to build a new society as well as a new form of seeing life and relating to one another. We want peace, justice, and fair wages within eight hour workdays in order to dedicate more time to the family. In exchange, we commit ourselves to not continue neglecting our values – the love and formation of our children in all aspects, to continue to participate, as much as possible, in initiatives toward the common good, cohesion and social dialogue.
Beloved Pope Francis, like we the people of Juárez say, “Be careful! If you drink water in Juárez, in Juárez you will stay.” Honestly, we hope for that! This historic visit to our city, blesses us and makes us grateful to God who has always been with us, especially in the most difficult moments we have lived more recently. For this encounter and for your prayers, thank you most beloved Pope Francis, pastor who smells of sheep, Pope of our pueblo.
Evelia Quintana has been an inmate of the Juárez prison system for over five years. She is a single mother of a daughter. She asked the Pope to bless her daughter, and Francis granted her this wish. Ms. Quintana, as one of two women speaking during a Pope’s visit to Juárez, is significant in a number of ways. The violence in Juárez and response by local authorities has led to an overwhelming increase in those who are considered criminals. The prison system has become a place of backlog, abandonment, and hopelessness for many of the inmates. Beyond the sexist issues faced by women through both church and society, Juárez has also been known as a city of Feminicide where women have been brutally abused, raped, and killed. Evelia’s speech shed a glimpse of hope for a better future for her own daughter as well as forthcoming generations.
Before beginning my own thoughts, I would like to welcome all who join us today in the great joy of receiving the Holy Father.
Holy Father Francisco, it is for me an honor to be the voice which represents the thousands of men and women who find ourselves behind the walls and bars of a prison facing legal processes or completing sentences for mistakes or bad decisions we have made in the past which have steered us here. Your presence here in this prison is a call to the work of mercy for the prisoners and their families. It is also a calling for those who have forgotten that there are human being here. While we may be transgressors of human laws as well as sinners, the majority of us have hope in redemption and in some cases the will to obtain it.
It is in these very places where one’s faith and the strength of one’s spirit are tested. From this place, where it does not matter who you are on the other side of the walls; where your cellmate becomes part of your family; where you share at table with strangers who will become part of your days; and where all of us are equal even in what we wear, just as we are equals under the eyes of God.
This experience is transforming us. At the beginning of this trip named prison, we feel exposed, vulnerable, alone. Physically and emotionally a part of us has left; but it is from within ourselves that we will find the fortitude of how to interpret or how to live this experience. In this grey world where every day seems the same and one is not the owner of one’s present, the plans for our futures become uncertain. Nevertheless, you own yourself, your desire to persevere beyond your solitude and venture to change the course of your life.
Get up! May your companion be a book that lets you travel through its pages. Inside this center the religious activities constitute a primordial element in our treatment toward reinsertion and they become the personal and familial space of reflection and realization of the magnitude of our acts. Today, we are happy that the current conditions of our center have allowed us to have access to our religious activities in an environment where we are not discriminated for practicing them, and we are encouraged to observe them.
Our legal situation generates for us occasions of hopelessness and sadness. It is therefore understandable that for us inmates there is no greater treasure than the human contact with our loved ones. For this reason, we are thankful for our instructors’ gesture to educate and to guide us. We can educate ourselves. We depend on the time to attend classes to not repeat being victims of ignorance. Let us take workshops that will help us to overcome our past and to improve the way in which we visualize our surroundings. May we learn a skill which will equip us to confront our freedom with dignity.
Not all has ended here. It is just a pause in our lives, a time to reflect about how one wants to live and how you wish your children to live. Let us work so that our children do not repeat our story. On a personal note, the great blessing of seeing my daughter grow and become a young lady with long hair and huge eyes which I triumphantly see from the moment the visitors’ door opens in the prison and allow her to enter. Her smile and seeing her run to my arms give me a little life. An “I love you mom!” from her beautiful lips will give me the strength with which to survive the following days in prison. If life and our acts placed us in darkness, maybe it is not so we die in it; rather that we brighten it with our faith and our desire to change.
Similarly, for many of us the Word of God has led us to understand that the walls of our spiritual prison have been raised by ourselves, by our vices, by our misdirected passions. This experience converts us to patient and persevering beings. These two great virtues make us exceptional. Let us use it to our favor. Let us work on ourselves that our future may become itself the project of our lives. Let us strengthen our spirit so that anywhere we go we take love. In this way we will witness God because God is love.
The day I was given my sentence, someone told me, “No longer ask yourself why you are here. Better, ask yourself for what reason are you here?” One day I found myself sad to be far away from my home without my daughter and family. In my interior I thought, God I accept your will. And I said, “God, I only ask that you help me see that your plans are better than mine.” And it was at that moment that I received the response of the reason why I am here.
“Holy Father, the only importance that I have for me to be the one who addresses your holiness is the uniform I am wearing today as an inmate in this reinsertion center with a population of more than 3,000 men and more than 200 women. I am sure that your visit will be historic. A visit that an inmate receives is converted into nutrition for our faith and hope to quickly return home and be reunited with our loved ones. We feel profoundly blessed for covering us with your presence; to our country of Mexico; our state Chihuahua; and especially to the City of Juarez. Holy Father, we would like to thank you for making us matter and for bringing God’s tenderness and caress to those of us who are isolated. To those of us who beseech God’s and society’s forgiveness because we are part of it and of course part of the Pueblo de Dios (people and place of God)!
His Holiness speaks our language and is from our beautiful continent which makes him very close to us. And today His Holiness has become one of us in prison, as he appropriated for himself the words from Holy Scripture, the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews that reads: “Remember the prisoners as if you were prisoners with them.” Thank you for remembering us, for your simplicity, for your humility. I know that you more than anyone understands us. We ask you to keep in your prayers our families who are victims of aggressions because of our actions and of course, the victims of our actions because we are all in need of the presence of God in our lives, so God’s mercy does not abandon us. Holy Father, know that this afternoon in every one of us, you have planted the seed of hope; and you can count on the prayers of all of the prisoners of the Republic. The only thing I have left to say to you Holy Father, is blessed are the feet who come in the name of God.”
Bios of translators:
Neomi De Anda, a Tejana scholar/activist and Catholic Lay Marianist, was raised between El Paso and Corpus Christi, Texas. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Human Rights Center Associate at the University of Dayton. She holds a Ph.D. in Constructive Theology. Her research interests include Latinas and Latin American women writers in religion 1600 – 1900; Christology; Latin@ Theology; theology and breast milk; the intersection of race and migrations in conjunction with the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative Racial & Immigrant Justice Team; and developing a border theology in partnership with the Hope Border Institute. She has been awarded the Louisville Institute First Book for Minority Scholars grant and fellowships from the Hispanic Theological Initiative. Neomi gives much credit for her work to her roots at St. Pius X Catholic Community in El Paso and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Néstor Medina is a Latino-Canadian theologian. (PhD. University of Toronto) His work intersects with culture, religion, race and history. He studies religious practices and traditions among Latinas/os in the US, Canada, and Latin America. He has published articles on Liberation Theology, Latina/o Theology, and charismatic movements. He is the author of the award winning Mestizaje: (Re)Mapping “Race,” Culture, and Faith in Latina/o Catholicism. He has been awarded the Louisville Institute First Book for Minority Scholars grant and fellowships from the Hispanic Theological Initiative.