Story and photo by Fr. Abe Feliciano, SDB
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Over the course of a nine-day stay in Tijuana in Baja California, Mexico, members of the Salesian Youth Movement in the Eastern United States lived an intense experience of Salesian community, prayer, and reflection while serving migrant families, adults, and young people along the U.S.-Mexican border. The group consisted of 27 college-aged young adults from Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia and included representatives from nine Salesian high schools (Don Bosco Prep, Salesian, Mary Help of Christians Academy, Don Bosco Cristo Rey, Archbishop Shaw, Academy of Our Lady, St. Petersburg Catholic, Immaculata-La Salle, and St. John Neumann). The program was organized and led by Guilherme Lopes, SYM coordinator for the province, and was animated by a team that included Jessica Giglio, program coordinator for the Province Office of Youth Ministry, Bro. Simon Song, and Fr. Abraham Feliciano, who served as chaplain.
The Gospel Roads participants were graciously hosted by the Salesian community of Tijuana, with Fr. Richard Alejunas of the New Rochelle Province, currently on assignment in Tijuana, serving as the on-site coordinator. Several days were spent at the Desayunador Padre Chava, where an average of 1,000 homeless and poor men, women, and families are lovingly provided by the Salesians and a volunteer staff with a hearty breakfast as well as myriad of other services that include showers, haircuts, medical care, and assistance finding employment.
The Gospel Roads young adults helped prepare and serve food, received the guests and prayed with them, washed dishes, cleaned the kitchen, and helped organize various storage areas of the Desayunador. For many of the participants, one of the highlights of the experience was the chance to meet, speak with, and learn the stories of some of the staff members of the Desayunador, the majority of whom are former beneficiaries of the Salesian work.
In addition to serving at the Desayunador, the group spent a great deal of time serving at three of the five Salesian oratories in Tijuana: St. John Bosco, Mary Help of Christians, and St. Francis de Sales. Service activities included painting, cleaning, sorting donated goods, and planting trees around the playground and fields of St. John Bosco Oratory. Each night, after the long days of enthusiastic and loving serving, the group prepared its own evening meal in the Salesian residence and then spent time in small groups where they practiced lectio divina while reflecting and discussing the principles of Catholic social teaching in light of their experiences.
It cannot be overstated how hospitable and welcoming the Salesian community of Tijuana was, and the Salesian family spirit was palpable throughout the stay. One of the highlights of the experience was the Friday evening spent with some of the members of the Salesian Youth Movement in Tijuana. Another aspect that bears special mention was the incredible zeal and energy of the Gospel Roads group. Their desire to serve and make a tangible, lasting impact on the Salesian presence in Tijuana was notable, and remarked upon by both the SDBs and the laity with whom the group served. Many of them are already looking forward to the next Gospel Roads experience! More important, all of the participants have grown in their awareness of the needs of our brothers and sisters along the border, and are committed to being agents of change for a better world, full of God’s love.