Juan Carlos Rodríguez, cmf
Spanish-speaking Mission Director. Zürich
We are a Claretian community with three missionaries, dedicated expressly to the Spanish-speaking people who reside in any part of the Canton of Zurich (one of the 26 in which Switzerland has divided administratively; the most populated and with more than one thousand seven hundred km2).
Three Claretians continuing the uninterrupted chain of more than 50 years of missionary service. An ecclesial platform with headquarters in the cities of Zurich, Kloten, and Winterthur; twinned by the faith that unites us and drives us to promote a culture of encounter and dialogue of life. A family that celebrates in eight places of worship with brothers and sisters of more than twenty nationalities.
We live in gratitude. If we were not there, we would certainly have to call for the presence of other agents. Because someone must always be there for those in need. And each and every one of those who are urged to leave their homeland in search of a more dignified life, need it and we owe it to them.
In the beginnings of the Mission, it was men and women from Spain; little by little they came from countries and cultures of Latin America until today, in the day to day of the Mission, it is a majority presence.
We have a vocation of home, from the beginning. Because the first thing an emigrant needs is warmth. Undoubtedly. And this country is cold (certainly less warm than Spain and, much less, than the nations of Central and South America). And these people are very formal but not so warm, expressive, spontaneous or affectionate in their dealings. And because even the language is cold and hard. And the warmth of home is what they have received from the beginning. The forms and offers, resources, and initiatives have been changing, but – in all of them – there has always been a desire for closeness, cordiality, and familiarity.
And, from the home-style, this principle of action springs up: without more questions than love allows, without more legality than that required by mercy. Aspiration, ideal – not always achieved – as a conscious banner and as an assumed criterion.
The Mission has been the cradle, in this line, of the collective of support to the undocumented. The cause of the brothers and sisters with an unregulated and unrecognized residence has always been an ever-present concern and they have been pampered “like the apple of the eye”. Their struggle has become the struggle of the whole Mission. In their initiatives, in their projects, in their demands, there has been no lack of support and help. In the Mission’s facilities, for many years now, there has been a program of talks in Spanish on the information of interest, especially for the new arrivals, for those who have been here for a short time and are unprotected. Year after year, the informative cycle addresses with specialists topics on the types of residence permits, the school system, access to housing… and the dialogue is opened and doubts are clarified and bonds and links and alliances are created. Behind this is the support of organizations such as SPAZ and the Integration Office of the city of Zurich, and other institutions with which we join forces in their favor. In recent years we have been fighting for the recognition of the Züri City Card in the city of Zurich, another fight that will have very positive effects for the more than 10,000 people who are estimated to live here in the city without residency status, most of them women who work in the domestic sector and in the care of children and the elderly and who are among the most helpless in society. In the collection of signatures, in the fall of 2018 to launch the initiative, there was no lack of close collaboration. Now it is up to us to give visibility, spread the word, make the concrete steps being taken present on the networks, and keep up the tension until the finish line.
The Mission’s headquarters in Zurich, well located in the city, has a secretariat, which is the first smile of the Mission for those who arrive. How many come and go. They come because they know us because they have been told about us because other institutions direct them… There have been periods of a constant trickle morning after morning, afternoon after afternoon… Asking, searching, begging… To find a place to sleep… to translate a letter into German… to fill out a form… to see where they can eat for free… to see where to go or call in search of some work… There have been hard times, very hard times. In 2014 more than 700 people, in 2015 more than 800, in 2106 more than 900… And the numbers do not tell the whole truth. Behind them, there are always difficult stories, complicated trajectories, and needs, of course! many needs. And the possibilities and resources of the Mission are not enough for everything we would like. But to each face, to each personal story, we have offered something of us… The dedication of the three secretaries, of the group of volunteers, of so many people who offer a hand… deserves a simple recognition; and also the institutional church of the Canton for its support. To a lesser extent, the same is true of the mission offices in Kloten and Winterthur.
Reality speaks and sometimes shouts. And it is from listening that intervention designs are born. The wonder of the small that is the seed of light, even if it comes wrapped in the misfortune it calls for. This is what happened a few years ago. The suicide of a young Dominican produced a very strong commotion and unleashed a movement of restlessness that clamored for a response. In the most crowded of the Mission’s celebrations, in the most capable church, a “Mass for Life” was held. At the exit of the temple, a group of volunteers passed a questionnaire to detect challenges and needs. It was the germ of a project: the creation of a support network for the Spanish-speaking community. A group of specialists dedicated to the task gave shape to the proposal. Training courses were held. A map was drawn up with support points for people and institutions, initiatives, and offers for vulnerable people. URBAMAPP: a service hosted on the Mission’s website, a map to guide, a network to help. And more challenges were detected, more challenges from the migratory mourning. And the Family Accompaniment Program was born. Eliana Cevallos and Edna Pariaug-Peláez, lead the team that is integrated into the dynamics of the pastoral action of the Mission and works in coordination with the team of Missionaries. A program of prevention, support, and accompaniment. With courses and workshops (a dozen in the 2019 course through which more than 200 people passed) and with weekly attention (with more than 170 face-to-face sessions and more than 30 online).
The seeds continue to grow and a new project is already underway that wants to focus especially on young people and the elderly and that, after the experience of the pandemic, has as one of its goals the creation of a virtual community to provide information, support, and guidelines for accompaniment and integration.
Our main concern is the people and the vicissitudes of their migratory path. That is why we have also been an active part, since its beginnings in 1990, in a publication that would give voice to their problems, create opinion, and denounce unjust and ideologically interested policies that denigrate, deform or manipulate the crude reality of migrants. VENTANA EUROPEA, a magazine that embodies the common project of all the Spanish-speaking Catholic Missions in Europe. It has just released its 122nd issue in print and has been a tenacious and committed medium that has given visibility to the sorrows and joys, hopes and sufferings, desires and dreams of thousands of men and women who have been forced to leave their countries of origin in search of a better future and a life with more dignity.
We are a family that promotes communion and cares for the cultural and religious roots of the Spanish-speaking faithful, supporting the expressions of their devotions, feasts, folklore. Claiming their right to preserve and continue to cultivate their identity signs, in a movement of reciprocity with the culture that receives and welcomes them; especially significant expressions are the processions of the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles (Peru) and the performances of the Drum Band and Pipe School of “As Xeitosiñas” (Spain).
In the day to day, in the little things and in the great challenges (which sometimes overwhelm us) we feel encouraged and pushed by the missionary style of Claret; that style that opens our eyes to discover the needs, that warms our hearts to respond with closeness, that empowers creativity to undertake new initiatives that allow us to conjugate those verbs that Pope Francis often reminds us when he speaks of migrants: to welcome, protect, promote and integrate. This is where we are. That is what the Mission is all about (www.misioncatolica.ch).
Juan Carlos Rodríguez, cmf
Spanish-speaking Mission Director. Zürich