|The City of Joy entrance.|
By Erin Rockenhaus
Remember how September 11 changed the way we
look at the world? Suddenly our lives and our country
were caught in a global struggle between two conflicting world
views. We were under attack, and we didn’t know why
or what for. In the following months and years, new
discoveries about terrorist networks around the world only confirmed our
initial suspicions. We were no longer safe and secure, no
longer completely sure of our future, and no longer free
Some people had a different experience of 9/11. At
the same time the twin towers were falling, a corner
stone was being laid in a new kind of city.
This was not a city of material prosperity. It was
not a city in the heart of the world’s commerce
and trade. It was not a city for those who
are rising in life.
It was called Ciudad de la
Alegría, the City of Joy. On my recent mission trip
to Mexico I discovered this hidden city lying on the
outskirts of Cancun and went with the group to tour
and volunteer there a few days.
|The City of Joy AIDS hospice.|
As the tour guide
showed us around the city. He stopped in front of
the cornerstone—September 11, 2001—the irony that almost knocked me over.
“Yes,” he said, “we actually missed the news of the
Twin Towers falling because we were all in the inauguration
ceremony that morning.”
The city started with the inspiration of one
nun, gathering the collaborative effort of eight independent charitable associations,
and the support of generous business leaders. In 2000 at
a meeting of people interested in helping the Cancun community,
Sister Berth Lopez Chavez gave her vision for a “city”
in which all the needy sectors of the population would
find aide. This vision became reality just over one year
The tremendous contrast between the two cities, one falling and
the other rising, does not end there. This city is
not made of highrises but of neat white houses, “homes”
as the citizens call them. The homes are each operated
by a separate association, yet they function in harmony by
belonging to the same Fundación Ciudad de la Alegría.
Bread and Blanket Home is operated by Caritas Quintana Roo
and distributes food, clothing, and household items to the Ciudad
and the surrounding population.
• The Women’s Home is run by
the Sister Servants of the Sacred Heart and gives integral
support young unwed mothers and mothers who are victims of
• The Home for the Elderly serves elderly who are
most in need due to poverty and abandonment and gives
them a place to live with dignity. It is run
by the Discalced Carmelite nuns.
• The Training Center reaches out
|A missionary scrubs down a bathroom in the City of Joy complex.|
to alcoholics and drug addicts using the programs from Anonymous
• The Home for Children gives childcare to struggling working
families and shelters abandoned and unwanted children.
• The Mano Amiga
School run by the Altius Foundation provides a quality education
to children of low-income families and strives to educate the
• The Cafarnaum Hospice belongs to the Sisters
of the Resurrection who care for children and adults with
HIV/AIDs as well as others with terminal illnesses.
• There is
a medical dispensary open to the surrounding populations with doctors
volunteering their services for daily consultations.
• There is also a
free legal service for the surrounding populations.
This city is still
under construction to expand its services to reach out to
Our group spent several days volunteering in the
home for the elderly. It was unlike any nursing home
I had been in before. Some of the external elements
were similar—nurses, nurses’ aides, patient rooms, a dining area, and
a lot of elderly sitting around in easy chairs. Yet,
there was a unique family spirit in this place. Every
day a different group of volunteers arrived to visit the
patients and serve their meals. These volunteers shared joy and
enthusiasm, calling each patient by name and even spoon feeding
those who couldn’t feed themselves. This place was a home,
not an institution.
In my hours there, I got to
know Samuel, who told me his life story, including all
the black spots, almost as if he wanted me to
absolve him like a priest. At least I could listen,
which was more than enough. The next day, I pushed
Nathan around the courtyard in a wheelchair until he stopped
me so he could take off his shoes and let
the breeze come in through his socks. I would have
done the same thing if I were him.
People say that
after the fall of the Twin Towers, New York City
momentarily turned to God and neighbor, and everyone tried to
do something to help. The City of Joy is God
turning to us and inviting us to build his permanent
city, here and everywhere. This is the other 9/11, the
one that changed alienation into welcoming, violence into healing, and
fear into hope.
Author’s note: This June and July, I
spent a month on a humanitarian and evangelizing mission to
the Mayan part of Mexico with the Mission Youth
Corps International Volunteer Program. The account written above is true,
but names are changed to protect the privacy of the
individuals. For information on the Cuidad de la Alegria in
English see: www.cityofjoyfoundation.org.