Mexico’s Miracle of ‘Reverse Aging’
Renowned Catholic author and evangelist Jason Evert meets thousands of bullied children in a hardscrabble community who seem to be ‘aging in reverse.’
CHALCO, Mexico — Never before had Catholic author Jason Evert seen anything resembling it. In more than 25 years of speaking on chastity to more than two million people throughout the world, what he paid witness to recently at the Girlstown community in Chalco, Mexico, startled him.
He looked into a sea of teenagers who seemed to have aged in reverse.
“I can honestly tell you that I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Evert said a few hours after his short visit. “It took my breath away. … I want everyone to see what I saw.”
What exactly did the Catholic author and evangelist see?
Evert termed it “restorative innocence” — or teenagers who appeared to be getting younger by the years.
Evert knew in coming into the community of more than 3,000 teenage girls that many had been abused by men in a fashion borne of evil. So when he first looked upon more than 1,000 teenagers sitting before him, he didn’t expect such clear-eyed, deep joy. He didn’t expect to see once-bullied teens looking back at him with the pure and carefree eyes of small children.
“I’ve gone into many American high school classrooms and given talks to freshmen and sophomore girls who looked like 23- and 24-year-olds. Many looked like they had already spent a few years in a sorority,” he said. “But what I saw in that gymnasium in Girlstown was a thousand or so 17- and 18-year-old teenage girls who looked like they were 9 or 10 or 11 years old.
“The reason why it was so breathtaking is because I know so many had been exposed to horrible and abusive things — physical and sexual things,” Evert said. “And to see them look into my eyes as the most innocent and pure children brought tears to my eyes. The only other place I’ve ever seen this type of piercing joy has been in cloistered convents.”
The Sisters of Mary community in Chalco, Mexico, and Boystown in Guadalajara — and in communities in five other countries throughout the world — work tirelessly to eliminate the haunting wounds that have become Siamese twins for many of the 20,000-plus children at the authentically Catholic boarding schools founded in 1964 by Washington, D.C., native Venerable Aloysius Schwartz.
Initially, when their chaplain Father Dan Leary came to understand the scope of the same abuse that Evert became aware of, he found himself as stunned as he was brokenhearted. But as time went on, and Father Leary began to understand the weight of the abuse that so many of the teenagers carried with them into the schools, he often found himself to be enraged.
“I always wanted to go around and punch walls,” said Father Leary, 54, who before leaving to serve as chaplain for the Sisters of Mary, was a priest for 23 years in the Archdiocese of Washington.
“Over and over, kids unpacked their stories of abuse and trauma to me. And I just kept thinking, if I ever saw the abuser come around, that I would have had to take them behind the tool shed and have a come-to-Jesus meeting.”
After some time, though, Father Leary understood his anger was stunting his spiritual fatherhood, so he began to pray for guidance on how to practically remove the devastation of their memories. He knew as their spiritual father that he had to reach into and redirect these afflicted souls to Christ through Our Lady. And Scripture came to his soul: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
And it was then that a sacred curative was revealed to the priest.
The Holy Eucharist.
Hyper-tuned to the interior spiritual battles taking place in the students’ souls, it came to Father Leary that the finest remedy would be to provide near-constant exposure to, and Adoration of, Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. He was certain silent time at the feet of Jesus — assisted by spiritual direction and the sacrament of reconciliation — would be the best way to heal their memories and enormous wounds. And little by little, as the summer of 2020 bled into the fall and then the winter of 2021, Father Leary began to watch as thousands of teenagers seem to actually reverse in age. Lined faces softened, ringed eyes brightened, and stooped postures regained their proper form. Girls who always looked into the ground raised their chins to show him clear and joy-filled eyes.
As he watched the darkness of their memories fade, he (like Evert) believes that time in front of the Holy Eucharist had actually allowed the teenagers to appear younger than on the day they arrived at the five-year school.
Evert paid witness to this dynamic one evening when hundreds of girls knelt quietly and reverently before a four-foot monstrance. Candlelight flickered and the room became quieter than the other side of the moon.
“The peace and restoration of these girls through Father Dan’s ministry, the Sisters’ work and the Eucharist is unlike anything I’ve seen in my ministry,” he said. “There isn’t any way these girls could have had the same look of joy and purity when they walked through the gate on their first day here.
“All of this transformative work is impossible without the Eucharist,” Evert said. “Pope John Paul II said, ‘If we were to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our deficiencies. … [He also said] Let Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament speak to your hearts. It is he who is the true answer of life that you seek. He stays here with us: He is God with us. Seek him without tiring, welcome him without reserve, love him without interruption.’”
Evert believes Father Leary’s presence at these 13 Boystown and Girlstown communities in Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Tanzania and the Philippines is of a providential nature.
“I was thinking about how Our Lady arranged the roses in Juan Diego’s tilma, placing them right where she wanted them,” Evert said. “In a very real way, I think Father Dan has been placed into a very specific role, poured out in a special way for these thousands of children so in need of a true spiritual father. He is stepping into massive wounds each day — and relying on the Eucharist to lead the way to their healing.”
Since his time in seminary at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in the early 1990s, Father Leary has always been deeply drawn to the Holy Eucharist and its manner of deepening his devotion to Christ. He said is thrilled to see the same dynamic taking shape in the teenagers spread throughout the world.
“Through the Eucharist, I get to witness the resurrection of children from their afflictions. These are the little Lazaruses. … There is a stunning vulnerability in how they open up to me the stories of their pain to begin their long healing process.
“Their courage often leaves me wordless. … It is remarkable the number of times I’ve heard the same question asked in the process of their healing: ‘Father, how can I be holy now?’ … How sacred, simple and innocent is that statement?
“Truly, these are the little ones that Jesus spoke of — the children that can’t ever be hindered or hurt. The kingdom of heaven belongs to these.”
World Villages for Children (WVC) is a non-profit organization that financially supports the Sisters of Mary as they help children break free from a life of poverty and lead them to Christ. WVC provides food, shelter, clothing, medical expenses, Catholic education and vocational training to more than 21,000 children in Boystowns and Girlstowns in six different countries around the world. To donate to World Villages for Children, please go to: www.worldvillages.org/poverty/.