DONNA, RGV – Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra says he plans to be an enthusiastic partner for the new 14-acre Plaza Amistad, outreach ministry being developed north of Donna by the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.

Guerra, who attended a dedication ceremony for the project on Wednesday evening, said anything that helps the young people of the Rio Grande Valley stay away from gangs has his blessing.

“I first learned about this project, it must have been a year ago, at a breakfast with Sister Norman Pimentel and Patti Sunday. I said, whatever you need, we are in. I even assigned Division Chief Joe Rivera to the project,” Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian at the dedication ceremony.

“I think Plaza Amistad is great for the north side of Donna. It gives a venue for the youth to let off some steam and be involved in something. It allows the community to get hold of our youth before they get in with the bad crowd. Any time you can do this, I am in. We have seen what the gangs can do to our youths.”

Guerra said he was impressed with the different components of Plaza Amistad.

“A health clinic, classrooms, recreation such as soccer and volleyball, a church, farming, teaching the community how to create a good garden. What could be better,” Guerra said.

“In fact, I am so impressed, when this gets up and running it could be a good venue for our National Night Out, our annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer.”

Patti Sunday is a marketing consultant who has helped develop the Plaza Amistad outreach ministry project alongside Miguel Santos, director of strategic planning for the Diocese of Brownsville.

Fourteen acres of land have been donated to the Diocese of Brownsville for Plaza Amistad by the Bonham Family. The grandfather of Becky and Vicky Bonham, Kenneth Bonham, started farming the land back in the 1920s. The farmland is located on the northside of Mile 13, half a mile west of Salinas Boulevard, north of Donna. Becky and Vicky Bonham spoke about their memories growing up on the farm at the dedication ceremony. They also handed over the deed for the land to Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores.

Sacred Ground

Bishop Flores gave the closing remarks at the dedication ceremony. Here are his remarks in full:

“My hope, especially for the families that are here, is that this land continues to be a place that bears fruit, fruit of hope, and joy, laugher, and learning, especially for our young people. You (Becky and Vicky Bonham) shared so many beautiful memories of when you were children. We want the young people of today to have beautiful memories, of laughter, of learning, and of being able to meet other people and to share their joy. That is what God put us on the earth for. To be able to have that kind of an encounter.

“I think it is an extraordinary sign of your wisdom to recognize that is the greatest legacy we can leave for the next generations, the generations that come after us. The best hope of a people is to leave something really good for the children that come after us. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, people often identify that with purely material things, when really it is the interior joy, the interior sense of purpose and of life that is the greatest legacy. To give them a place where this can happen.

“It is so beautiful that this was farmland, is farmland, and it was made fruitful certainly by the cultivation and the hard work. But, from the stories you tell, it was made fruitful by the love that was here and is here. That is really what makes this a sacred ground before any of us ever step on it. So, thank you very much for having that wisdom to recognize what we want for our children. Because, all the children are our children. That is kind of the vision of a community.

“I do what to thank Almighty God for giving you this inspiration. I want to thank all those who made it possible to reach this stage, to reach this moment, to be able to have this dinner and this blessing and to be able to really appreciate what it means. That is what I am particularly grateful for. I especially appreciate the memories you shared of your grandfather: Kenneth Bonham in 1923. He had such an impact, obviously, on your lives and so many others, such as the girl scouts. He will continue to have that impact through you and your children.

“But the legacy he began in 1923 is a legacy that lives on in that hopefulness, the generosity of his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren and generations on. So, I am very grateful for that and for him. God sees all things and even back in 1923, God knew where to lead, and so we are grateful for that.

“I do want to say that we will be very grateful that we will be able to make prominent on the property the Bonham Family name because it is something that already sanctified the place. It is something people will be able to see and appreciate. And it will also have the title of Plaza Amistad. God wants friendship with us and for us. That friendliness and openness, that makes a truly happy life possible. So, I am grateful for that.

“I do want to say that my intention is that we have so many things we would like to see, like we have already mentioned, that we are going to see developed. The walking trail, which is a particular favorite of mine, and the gardens that children can tend. I used to help my Grandmother with her garden. She taught me how to pick green beans and how to avoid rattlesnakes. Because part of what God desires is that we never lose contact with the Earth, which he gives us as a gift to take care of.

“But the vision here is that it be a place that shows that people and the land and God are the ingredients for what is truly noble and best in life. That this be a place where you can encounter and enjoy knowing other people. That is one of the ideas behind all the different things, the gardens, the walking trails, the medical clinic, the classrooms, and so many other things that are so possible, the sports fields. I have always thought, ever since I got to the Rio Grande Valley, it’s been almost eight years, we need soccer fields, we need baseball fields, we need places where young people can go enjoy life and not be afraid. There is too much fear that young people live through. I know when I was little I did not experience as much fear or stress as our young people fear today. It is just a fact.

“We will have a chapel. We will make a plan to do that. It will be a place for the Church to do what I think the Church does best, which is gather people in the knowledge of a love of God and the love of neighbor. Which is why it is a natural for me that the Church would gather her people and then open up the doors, as the Holy Father Pope Francis says, so that we can have a welcome for the beauty of what it is to be human, that we were meant to live in community, and not isolated. There is so much isolation in the world today.

“Because of the generosity of 14 acres we can make this vision. It is going to take the work of a lot of people. I am not going to say, mañana, all of a sudden. It is going to take a lot of work, different organizations. But, one of the true signs of charity, charity is not just giving somebody something. The gift of charity, understood in the Scriptures, is about giving of yourself so that other people can learn to give of themselves.

“And so, it is my hope and my intention and because I am the Bishop I can say these things, is that the chapel be named after St. Francis of Assisi, because St. Francis is everybody’s favorite saint. I have an uncle who is a very devout Baptist and he loves St. Francis. He is also the saint of the respect for nature, for what a gift it is and for a great love of Christ crucified. Our people, not just here but in many places, live the mystery of Christ crucified. And he is also the saint who teaches us to laugh at the beauty of God and his presence among us as a sign of joy. So, that is what we will aim for.

“We want a community that helps the community. And so, if the A&M University and UTRGV and the different… we hope that young people will learn here. That university learning is not just a thing you do with books. University learning ought to be about how to help people and how to relate to them in a human way. People are not problems, people are gifts. And so hopefully…. it is going to take cooperation and I am very appreciative of the cooperation we have already received and that these different activities, where everybody is welcome, for the sporting fields, for the gardens, for the walks, for the strollers, or just to enjoy the beauty of it. To me, that is part of the Catholic vision of life. We weren’t put on this Earth only to help Catholics. We were put on this earth to help everyone because we are Catholic. That means, for example, through Catholic charities, we don’t ask people what religion they are, we don’t ask them if they have any documents. We ask them, are you hungry, are you thirsty, do you need a place to stay.

“So, to me it is a perfect partnership and I am very grateful God opened the door. We have to take a few risks because we really haven’t done this before. This is all kind of new. The Church, the businesses, local community organizations, the more the merrier, working together as a community of communities. It will be a model, I think. The hard work of a lot of people. It could be a model for the whole country. We don’t have to wait for somebody in an office somewhere else for us to do something good that is good for our people. It is a different vision and something I really believe God will bless.

“So, thank you very much. I do want to take a special moment to thank the entire Bonham Family but also to thank Miguel Santos, who worked very, very hard on this project. Bishops, we don’t know a lot of stuff, but I think one of the things God wants bishops to do is to get to know people who do know a lot of stuff. And Miguel is one of those. And also, to thank Patti, she keeps moving things forward. I am very grateful for her cooperation, energy and vision. She knows more people, my Goodness, her Rolodex must be huge. And I am grateful to all of you who have been here, to help share that vision. Something beautiful has happened. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta would say, something beautiful for God.

“God bless you.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the dedication ceremony for Plaza Amistad. Part Two, featuring the memories of Becky and Vicky Bonham, will be posted later this week.