'I have finished the race ...' - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Lent 2024 newsletter


Rick Dixon, U.S.-Mexico Border

Pedro running a marathon

Pedro running a marathon in 1979

During this Lenten season, Pedro Pineda Sanchez has been on my mind. He passed away on Feb. 3. He was 78. I have known Pedro since 1984. I met him in Mexicali while volunteering with the non-governmental organization Los Niños, which worked with disadvantaged children.

One of the orphanages where we worked, Oasis del Niño, had 120 children, from newborn babies to age 12. Pedro’s wife, Josefina, helped the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by washing clothes and doing other chores. We Los Niños volunteers became close friends with Josefina, and through her we met Pedro and the entire family.

Pineda Sanchez family

The family in 1984. Back row, from left: Abuelita, Mari, Josefina and Alejandra. Front row: Ricardo with his dog, Pedro, and Juan Carlos.

The couple had come to Mexicali in the early 70s to visit Josefina’s great aunt, who founded Oasis del Niño. Pedro found a temporary construction job, and when it was finished he found another one and then another. Work being scarce in their native central Mexico, the couple decided to stay here and five of their seven children were born in Mexicali.

Pedro had purchased a small piece of land and was planning to build a house, but returning home from a construction site one night with a friend, who had given Pedro a lift, they were involved in a head-on collision. His friend died instantly; Pedro remained in a coma for six months.

I’m not sure whether the family adopted us or we adopted them. Perhaps a bit of both. We helped with food provisions and construction on their house; they shared with us bread from the heart, the brick and mortar of life together. So many nights of playing dominos, laughing, learning Spanish — and Josefina’s mother, Abuelita, taught us about desert plants. It seemed she boiled anything that grew — for food and medicine.

Pedro’s health improved, and though he would never walk again, he maneuvered around the house on his own, supporting himself from the back of chairs or walls. Outside, he used a wheelchair and his favorite place to go was any makeshift, dusty field where kids played soccer. Before the accident, Pedro had coached several youth soccer teams and participated with youth in long distance races, including marathons.

On the seventh night of the novenario, the nine nights of rosaries and prayer that begin the night after the funeral Mass, I arrived late. Full house at the family home, the only chair available was in the front row just to the side of the urn with Pedro’s ashes. At Josefina’s insistence, I sat down there. Directly to the side of the urn was a photograph of Pedro running a marathon.

After the prayer, I talked with Junior, who now teaches high school chemistry and grew up a few doors down from Pedro’s family. I mentioned the marathon photo to Junior: the stride, both feet airborne, hands floating, fingers slightly curled in, face relaxed. Junior nodded his head and said, “Pedro, like most people here, had to work way too many hours to make ends meet. The amazing thing is he always had time for us. He never lost that stride.”

P Juan Carlos with Rick

Padre Juan Carlos with Rich at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

Juan Carlos, the second son of Pedro, celebrated his father’s funeral Mass. He said his father taught him about teamwork and how to maneuver a wheelchair over the dirt roads of the neighbor-hood. “Sometimes I’d have to lift my father out of the chair and carry him while one of my brothers or sisters followed behind with the chair.”

Juan Carlos is now continuing his father’s legacy, pushing the community, advocating for more recreational facilities and libraries, one of which we have already set up on the second floor of the religious education building.

Juan Carlos has also begun construction of a soccer field, just behind the church where he is the pastor. After nearly 40 years, it is a joy to be back in Mexicali, working with him in the spirit of his father.

Please consider supporting my mission work at the U.S.-Mexico border with a donation through the link below.

I invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 


Rick Dixon
Rick Dixon is a Maryknoll lay missioner working in several migrant ministries at the U.S.-Mexico border in Mexicali, Mexico.