Mike MacDonald of the Diocese of Calgary’s Mission Mexioc greets Mexican children. Facebook photo

Mexican mission a blessing for Canadian

  • January 4, 2023

Mike MacDonald feels “like the most blessed Canadian in the world.”

Formerly an educator in the Calgary Catholic School District, MacDonald has lived most of the past three decades in southern Mexico. Since September 2013, he has served as the on-site coordinator of the Diocese of Calgary’s Mission Mexico program.   

As many other missionaries testify, MacDonald said the way he feels enriched and blessed by the people surpasses whatever impact he has on their lives.

“The people are very noble. They have a very deep faith. Their religion is almost a mix. They have a deep respect for the land, their family and deceased ancestors, and a deep faith in God at the same time,” he said. “I am blessed to be able to share their lives. The fact that they have that trust — that they know I am from Mission Mexico trying to help any way we can.”

Mission Mexico was founded in 2000, which was declared a Jubilee Year by the late Pope John Paul II. Fr. Fred Monk, the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Cochrane from 1998-2007, heard that young girls living in an orphanage operated by the the Sisters of Immaculate Mary in the remote mountainous village of La Montaña were in pressing need of a new dormitory. 

Monk told his congregants that if they could each donate a dollar each week, they could raise the $100,000 required for this construction initiative. The mission was accomplished. 

During a trip to survey the completed project, he toured various neighbouring villages in the company of Bishop Alejo Zavala Castro of the Diocese of Tlapa. A desire was sparked to forge a long-term outreach partnership. 

MacDonald assisted Castro in his ministry for many years. His awareness and connection with Mission Mexico transcends the nine years he has devoted to his current role. 

Asking MacDonald to outline the activities that fill a typical day or week in his life is difficult. He has to be fluid to respond to the needs of hundreds of surrounding villages. 

“The diocese supports a number of projects, mostly in the area of health and education,” said MacDonald. “I go to visit to make sure everything is going well. As well, the Diocese of Calgary has purchased a four-wheel-drive truck. Tlapa, where I live, is called the ‘heart of the mountain,’ and there are 700 villages around it. Most of them are on dirt roads or mud roads with very little access to health and education. With that truck, I can go to those villages and see what’s happening, get to know the people and help any way I can.

“I also link up with other agencies that are also serving this region that is the poorest in Mexico. They collaborate with us, making it possible to have health brigades and dental brigades. My days are very varied. Most weeks I am in the villages for three, four or five days. When I am in town, students come visit us at our office to receive their bursary to study.”

The biggest part is just being there for people.

“Sometimes I think the difference between misery and poverty is simply accompaniment,” said MacDonald. “A family that is looking at a dire situation like hunger, not being able to educate their children or not being able to get health care for their sick relative — if they feel like they are alone in that, it’s a big battle. But if they know that they are not alone, and that others will help in whatever way they can, it gives them hope.”

In November, at the request of Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, who oversees the Calgary diocese’s social justice and outreach ministries, MacDonald spoke to parishes and Catholic schools about the 22-year legacy of Mission Mexico and the impact donors’ financial contributions have had on the lives of Mexicans young and old. A special second collection was taken up Dec. 10-11, just before the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day.

MacDonald was informed by a priest during his 10-day stint in Calgary that the diocese estimates only 66 per cent of parishioners returned to the pews following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions early in 2022. Raising awareness and monies for Mission Mexico is a trickier prospect than it was before the pandemic hit in March 2020. 

Nonetheless, he said the enthusiasm and passion for Mission Mexico was evident among the people who listened to his presentations. He said he is optimistic about the program’s future in the years ahead and is grateful for the show of faith Calgary Catholics bestow to Mission Mexico each year. 

“I think the heroes in this situation are the people in Calgary. I get to see the reality of these people daily, so I can see the difference a loonie, toonie or five dollars makes in their lives, whereas the people up there are doing it on faith. They trust that Mission Mexico is doing good work, and they trust their contribution is going to help a fellow brother or sister in need.”’

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