Fr. Stanislaw ZOWADA & Fr. Jesse ESQUEDA
Fr. Stanislaw ZOWADA has recently been appointed pastor of this huge parish in the La Morita section of the city of Tijuana, Mexico, just south of the United States border. Born in Poland, Father Stan has been part of the US province since his ordination in 2000. Fr. Jesse ESQUEDA is a young Oblate (ordained in 2014) whose dream was to serve the poorest of the poor. He gets to realize that dream in the La Morita. Fr. Jesse served as a youth minister in an Oblate parish in California before joining the Congregation. In the Friends Helping Friends newsletter, they speak about their work which they share with several other Oblates.
Our parish serves an area of around 200,000 people and includes fifteen chapels. Each chapel has many ministries, including a religious education program and a youth group. In our parish there are over 260 catechists and hundreds of children and youth who participate in these programs. We have to drive to all of these chapels for Masses, holy hours, confessions, Bible study sessions and other parish meetings. Two of these chapels can only be reached through the use of a 4×4 truck, due to the horrible dirt roads.
About two years ago a family (mom, nine siblings and fourteen grandchildren) left their home state of Sinaloa because their father, the primary provider, had been murdered and the rest of the family members were threatened. They left their home, family business and everything they owned and moved to Tijuana. Five of the siblings are deaf; thus, it is almost impossible for them to find employment to support themselves and their children. One of the family members recently died of cancer and the oldest brother is currently fighting leukemia. This family is living in dire poverty and enormous emotional pain. Situations such as this are common within our community. Many families leave their home state due to violence or poverty. They come to this border city seeking a better life. Our parish provides health service, food assistance and spiritual support for the many families who migrate to this city.
We are blessed with great youth programs. Currently over two hundred and fifty teens and young adults are part of our youth ministry. The heart of our youth ministry is the weekend retreats. These weekend retreats provide a transformative experience for our youth. After the retreats, the youth receive formation, mentorship and leadership training. They are then empowered so that they can be positive role models in the community. Many of them left a life of gangs and drugs and are now actively serving their communities. A good number of our young adults are now college students with a bright future ahead.
Giovanni, for example, joined a gang at a very young age. After 10 of his friends were killed due to gang violence, he decided to turn his life around. Two years ago he attended our weekend youth retreat. That retreat transformed his life. He is now very active in our youth ministry and plans to enter the seminary to become a priest. Please pray for him!