Fr. Enrique Mireles, S.J. Mission Director
The Tarahumara people know they came from above; their origin is our Father-Mother God. They pass through this world with the mission of helping God to preserve the harmony of creation: a harmony that consists in orderly relations with God, with men and women, as a community and as individuals, and with nature. This relationship in which men and women are united to God is lived by the Tarahumara people through help, cooperation and service. When the relationship with God is broken, it is through celebration and ritual that harmony is recovered.
Last month we experienced a turning point in the recent history of the Tarahumara Mission. Fr. Joaquin and Fr. Javier, two of our Jesuit companions, were murdered inside the Church of Cerocahui. The entire community was devastated with shock, fear and uncertainty. Violence has now surpassed all humanity amongst men. Peace and harmony have been broken and relationships must now be recovered. Even through the pain, we carry Christian hope in our hearts. Once again, the Tarahumara people teach us how to face and overcome this kind of situation through their ancestral celebrations and rites.
During the last month, I have had the opportunity to experience a couple of times the Tarahumara traditional celebrations. The first one was on June 26th, during the Vigil of our Jesuit martyrs, a real Passover with dances and music the whole night before the day of their funeral. The second one was on July 23rd, during the farewell/welcome celebration for Fr. Miguel and myself at Santa Teresita Complex where I truly felt the support of all the people. Both celebrations express the endurance, faith and commitment of the Tarahumara people for recovering the harmony of creation.
I still remember the first time I visited the Sierra Tarahumara and met its people. It was during winter when I traveled with my family all the way from Monterrey, my hometown, to Creel. I was eight years old, and I remember walking long distances and crossing a river by a narrow bridge to reach the Cusarare falls. We were guided by a Tarahumara boy. The weather was so cold, and we were hoping for snow, but it did not come until the last day of our trip when we were heading back on the train. As a souvenir, my brother bought a wooden ball used by the Tarahumara for a race. I was amazed by the endurance of this people.
Twenty years later, my Provincial sent me to do regency (stage of Jesuit formation between Philosophy and Theology) to the Mission of Samachiki here in Tarahumara. It was the fall of 2005. The main purpose during those two years was learning the language and culture. There are very few opportunities like this. Personally, I experienced it as a time of grace, and I reflected on the question: Who can get two years to be among the indigenous people to learn their language and culture? In a world like this, where important things are planning, efficiency and results, having two years to be, to listen and to learn with the Tarahumara people, is certainly a unique and unrepeatable opportunity.
After regency I did my Theological studies in Mexico City and I continued visiting the Sierra Tarahumara during the summer, winter and Holy Week. In July 2011, I was ordained as a priest here in the Mission following the Tarahumara traditional celebration. I have such beautiful memories of those days supported by the Tarahumara community, family, Jesuits and friends. I experienced myself in harmony with God and with the community. I became the parish priest of Samachiki until 2019.
I acquired a myriad of learnings from the Tarahumara people who shared between themselves on a daily basis. There were many challenges to overcome both at the global complex level of the mission as well as in the most daily survival including personal growth, gain in humanization and absolute trust in Jesus Christ who guides each of my steps. Whatever I have managed to do in the Mission is purely thanks to God and the community because I alone cannot do anything. Every step I take, every breath I breathe, every beat of my heart is thanks to the Spirit who encourages me to continue.
This is the context of how I assume my new mission as General Director of the Santa Teresita Complex at Creel. Through the intercession of our martyrs, Fr. Joaquin and Fr. Javier, through the inspiration of Fr. Verplancken (whom I met when I was a Jesuit novice), and supported by the Tarahumara people and the many other people of good will I embrace this challenge. I feel invited by Jesus Christ to collaborate with all of you from the Santa Teresita Complex rebuilding relationships and recovering harmony among God, humans and nature. We sow the seed with our daily work and the Holy Spirit will water this seed.
Many thanks to all of you, our dear friends who support this Mission and I would like to ask for your blessing in this new appointment. Be assured of my prayers for you and your families. May our loving Father-Mother God bless you.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Enrique Mireles, S.J.
Fr. David Ungerleider, S.J.
Fr. David Ungerleider, S.J. has a been a Jesuit since he entered the order in 1969. Although he was born in upstate New York, he has spent most of his adult life in Mexico and is a member of the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus. Besides his undergraduate degrees in philosophy and theology, he completed a Master’s degree in social anthropology and has worked in Mexico City, Tabasco, Puerto Rico, Torreon and now in Tijuana, where he is Assistant to the President of the Jesuit University there. During this time there, he has built a church, public library, gymnasium and Casa Manresa, the first retreat house in the city of Tijuana.
Several years ago, Fr. Verplancken asked Fr. David to assist him with his work with the Tarahumara. For more than a decade now, he has been active with the Mission, helping to assist Fr. Verplancken up until his death in 2004. He then worked with Fr. Gilberto during the year of transition until the Jesuit Provincial appointed Fr. Pedro as the full time director of the Mission in Creel. Fr. Pedro was succeeded by Fr. Guillermo in 2012 and most recently by Fr. Miguel (March 2015). Fr. David has continued to act as liaison and advisor for more than 10 years now. He has been an important and constant support during the past decade of transition and became a close friend and counsel to Fr. Guillermo during his 3 years in this position. In the midst of another transition in the Director's position in Creel, Fr. David will most certainly play a key role as Fr. Miguel assumes responsibility for the many and varied duties of the Director. We are so very thankful for his ongoing spirit and devotion and always look forward to welcoming to the U.S. benefits at the end of each year.
John Brockamp, TCHF of Oregon President
The Tarahumara Childrens Hospital Fund (TCHF) consists of four separate groups working together to support the Jesuit Tarahumara Mission in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. These groups are located in Detroit MI, New Orleans, LA and Milwaukie (Portland), OR. The Mission headquarters is in Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico, with Fr. Miguel Quintanilla, S.J. serving as Director since March of 2015.
The TCHF was first established in Detroit in 1966 as an independent, non-profit, tax deductible organization. Since that time, chapters have been created in Louisiana in 1983 and Oregon in 1998. Our purpose is to raise money and awareness in the United States to support vital services provided to the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico. The 60,000 Tarahumara Indians who live in the Sierra Mountains maintain lifestyles much like their ancient ancestors. Many still live in caves, without electricity or running water. Their dire poverty results in malnutrition, parasites, and many intestinal diseases, which still claim 25-40% of their children before their fifth birthday. The Mission Tarahumara, headed by a compassionate Jesuit priest, provides a range of services to the Tarahumara people. First, a medical clinic was created. Today, it has 75 beds, 2/3 for children. The mission is also responsible for digging water wells which provide safe drinking water for many people. A boarding school has been developed which teaches Indian children about their own culture, the Spanish language, and teaches them skills to make a living as farmers, craftsmen, and teachers of their people. In recent years, outdated and obsolescent oxygen and X-Ray equipment has been replaced as well as heavily used ambulances and rehabilitative playground equipment. All of these projects are funded through the generous help of patrons from around the country and the world.
The Tarahumara people do not have the means to pay for these services themselves. The Mission must rely on the support of foundations and individuals who recognize the importance of both preserving a cultural heritage and ensuring the healthy future of a tribal community. Fr. Miguel Quintanilla, S.J., the new Mission Director, continues the belief in "helping people help themselves". The Mission does not just provide charity today. It trains and uplifts the Indian people so that they can provide for themselves tomorrow.
Please visit the rest of our site for more information about the Mission Tarahumara. Thank you for visiting us and we invite you to stop in at our "Donation" center located at the tab at the top of this page.
John Brockamp, President, Tarahumara Children's Hospital Fund of Oregon
John and Peggy Brockamp of Milwaukie, OR first visited the Tarahumara region of Mexico during an excursion to the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico in the late 1990's. During a brief stop in the small town of Creel they came upon the local church and its priest Fr. Luis Verplancken. After a short conversation, they learned that this priest had been stationed in Creel for more than 30 years during which time he had helped to build a dam, dig water wells, build schools and most importantly erect a hospital to provide medical care for the indigenous Tarahumara Indians. The mission was totally dependent on the financial assistance of patrons and donors in Mexico and from abroad. Fr. Verplancken went on to explain that non-profit organizations had been set up in New Orleans and Detroit many years ago and were integral to the ongoing operation. John, a retired general contractor, and Peggy, a retired RN, were looking for a project to keep them active and involved during retirement. A light went off in John's head and he asked, and then convinced Peggy that they should start a chapter in Milwaukie. 15 years later, the Oregon chapter of the TCHF is proud to follow in the fine tradition set in place by New Orleans and Detroit.