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Feature Articles

The Face of God's Mercy at Santo Niño
By S. Janet Gildea

Nena hugs S. Janet Gildea

The following article is reprinted with permission from the Oct. 3, 2016 Global Sisters Report.

Helping Luci lower her daughter down into the bathtub, I prepared for the big splash. The tub is conveniently placed at waist height for the mothers of our Santo Niño Project in Anapra, Mexico, to assist their handicapped children without bending over. Nena is a big girl, turning 15 next month. The syndrome from which she suffers has caused mental regression and progressive motor impairment due to frequent seizures. As Nena heaved down into the water there was indeed a huge splash. Luci smiled and poured cups of warm water over Nena’s head before applying the shampoo. Her daughter paid little attention, lost in her world of repetitive hand movements that made little spurts of water up into her face.

I am always amazed at the way the mothers care for their special children. Many of them never receive the positive reinforcement of even a smile of recognition or a spontaneous hug. Their children do not cuddle or coo. But with extreme fidelity these mothers attend to the unspoken needs of their daughters and sons.

On this day as Luci continued with Nena’s bath she suddenly stopped. “Madre Janet, will you keep an eye on her for a minute?” she asked while she hurried away. She went in search of baby wipes and not finding any in the box by the tub she retrieved an old striped T-shirt from her bag. Using her teeth she quickly tore it into several rags and then she was up to her elbows in the bath water, cleaning up a bowel movement in progress. Nena continued her splashing, completely undisturbed by Luci’s maneuvers, and Luci’s expression was just as tranquil. She finished bathing Nena while telling me about her son (in prison), her younger daughter (having early adolescent behavior problems), and being turned down for a Saturday/Sunday assembly line job because of poor eyesight.

Left, Luci and her daughter Nena

“In about 10 more work days — I think that’s next Friday —I can call immigration to see if they approved my border crossing card renewal,” she continued. Several months ago a border agent stopped her at the port of entry because her card was damaged. Nena had chewed on it. Luci was given a warning and told that she had to apply for a new card — the process taking several months to gather the documents and money required. Luci crosses from Juarez to El Paso, Texas, purchasing items for neighbors and friends for a small delivery fee. This is how she supports her family, in addition to the small stipend she receives as a mother-therapist at Santo Niño.

Luci called one of the other mothers to come help us situate Nena in the sling for the hydraulic lift to get her out of the tub. It required the three of us to get her to a standing position and then onto the table where Luci gently massaged lotion all over Nena’s body. She diapered her daughter and propped Nena’s heavy leg on her thigh and struggled with the socks and shoes. She was done and I was exhausted by her effort. Luci helped Nena to her feet, beaming into the distant eyes and carefully arranging her wet hair. Nena drooled and then smiled. Luci lit up and kissed her.