The Franciscan missions in Patzún have deep roots, traveling out in many directions. Two of the deepest and earliest are found in the stories of Padre Justi and Sara Merdes. I didn’t take this photo and I think it was before my time which dates back to 1994. Padre Justianio Babuin was a Franciscan priest from Italy. I believe that he came to Patzún to serve as missionary priest in 1954. In those days there were very few Guatemalan vocations so it was necessary for priests to come from around the world. By the time I showed up in Patzún, Padre had been the face of the Catholic Church for 40 years! Sara, originally from Pittsburgh, lived in Corpus Christi Texas. She accompanied her local priest on a trip to see his old friend, Padre Justi. Sara told me that she noticed many children spending their time at the church building. The kids apparently had no families to care for them so Padre did the best he could, mind you he was shepherd to the flock of 50,000 in the municipio – town plus 22 aldeas (outlying villages). Sara, a woman of modest means, knew this was not good enough. She wanted, more correctly demanded, an orphanage and a clinic. Deciding to fight like a Christian, Sara walked the streets of Patzún until she found open land a few blocks from the church. She got on her knees and prayed to God for an orphanage and a clinic that she would call Corpus Christi. Dedicated to her deceased daughter, Janet, you can see the buildings of the orphanage and clinic in the reflection off Padre’s plaque. I spent hours on my first visit listening to and talking with Sara. She was there with a surgical team from
Houston. It is the only time I met this remarkable woman. I got to know Padre a bit during those last few years of his life. He died of cancer in ’97 or ’98 as I recall. Padre Justi remains the most respected man in Patzún to this day. When the Franciscan Sisters who operate the missions want to let someone know that I am to be respected they introduce me by saying, “He knew Padre Justi.” Rest in peace, Padre Justi, servant of the Lord.
These are the facts as I recall them. Sara is still living so we can hope to get it right. Here is a recent story about Sara: http://www.faithinpractice.org/docs/sara.pdf