Friday, June 20, 2014

Franciscan Sisters Work to Ease Hunger, Serve Community in Poor Neighborhood in Ciudad Juárez

The School Sisters of St. Francis celebrate their fifth year of mission at Casa Alexia in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on August 14,  2014. Among their services to the community is the Juárez Food Program, which provides very basic food to 63 families in desperate situations. The basic monthly packet consists of small bags of rice, beans, sugar, oatmeal, noodles, a liter of cooking oil, a can of vegetables, soap, and, when available, a can of milk.

Sister Carol Jean Ory
By Victoria Tester
As you enter Casa Alexia in Jesús Obrero, Jesus
the Worker, the second poorest area of Ciudad Juárez, you will walk past purple coneflowers to stand among the rose and yellow painted walls and the quiet order of the small adobe home of the Franciscan Sisters, a welcome sanctuary after the hectic traffic of Juárez.

Beautiful silence is punctuated by a song from the courtyard where two towering sunflowers climb next to the sisters’ three parakeets, yellow and blue, named after three saints, who, translated into English are: Francis, Clare and Ignatius.

It is a quiet start to a day that Sisters Carol Jean and Josefina have invited me to share – a day that will be overflowing with hard physical work, human voices, human stories, human suffering and human joy.

Serving 63 families
We carry heavy packets of food to those sixty-three families who are served by the Sisters’ efforts:

A mother, a maquila worker, whose six children do not play outside, as most children in Juárez do not play outside, because of the everpresent danger of kidnapping in this city where so many children have vanished.

An elderly couple who are fragile, upset because they may soon be forced to leave their home of 40 years, where at least they have the solace of the green things they’ve planted and the hummingbirds who, like the Sisters, visit.

A thin young mother who has recently suffered heatstroke, who still cannot eat without vomiting. For a place to live for themselves and their children, she and her husband occupy an abandoned house they are making fit for habitation.

Don Pablo, in his 90’s, who we reach only after navigating a labyrinth of dingy cement passages almost too narrow and winding for human passage. His small room is completely filled by his bed, with standing room only for two people, so I crouch in the doorway as I photograph his joy at visitors.

A small thermos of water sits on an antique bureau. The June heat of his room is almost unbearable. He hastily dons a long-sleeved shirt over his undershirt, to make himself presentable for the dignity of a photograph.

He spends his life in this tiny room, the winters entirely in his bed, to stay warm. To live.

Later that day, after Sister Josefina has returned to her ongoing duties at Casa Alexia, where the Sisters do all of their own shopping, cooking and cleaning, as well as ministering to the community, and hosting visitors, the remaining half of the families will be served through a large distribution at the house of a volunteer, in the shade of a courtyard patio.

 'These are my hands'
Of her lively volunteers who rest for a short moment at her sides, Sister Carol Jean Ory laughs, “These are my hands.” Their affection for her, and hers for them, is obvious.

The volunteers work to distribute the food packets, and to divide the cooking oil, in a huge container, donated by a restaurant in El Paso, into the one-liter bottles brought by those who will, carefully, carry it back to their homes. Cooking oil is a treasure most cannot afford to spend their little money on.

Sister Carol Jean checks off names on a careful list of those served. She and her volunteers could serve twice as many as they do. There are those on their list who hope to be added to the program when – this is hard to say, but yes, -- someone dies, or moves away.

More food is needed, or more money to augment the careful, divided purchases the Sisters make in Juárez in order not to draw possibly dangerous attention to their work.

Later, we take a food packet to a woman who cares for her grandchildren in the most humble of any of the circumstances we have seen, her home a rickety, makeshift construction, a dwelling place of the joy of the Spirit.

Last, we visit a woman in a surgical mask, so thin and weak she cannot stand. She is on dialysis, and yet -- she sings.

She sings with Sister Carol Jean and a volunteer, whose little daughter watches from the foot of the bed, learning from these three remarkable women the difficult, and the easy, ways of Love.

Make a Donation
Donations of non-perishable food, or tax-deductible financial contributions to purchase food, are much needed. Even the smallest contribution makes a difference.

 Please contact Sister Carol Jean Ory at or 915-328-6173, or
click here to contribute online or write a check to School Sisters of St. Francis and sent to: Sister Carol Jean Ory, SSSF attn: Juarez Food Program 465 Gallagher St. El Paso, Texas 79915-3133

The School Sisters of St. Francis operate a bi-national El Paso/Juárez ministry. They speak both Spanish and English, and their center in El Paso is Gallagher House, where they can be reached at: 915-595-0965

(Victoria Tester is the coordinator of the San Isidro Bean Project and a novice in the Third Order Society of St. Francis. She took all the photographs included in this piece. She may be reached at:

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