The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) often highlights the need to advocate for more just immigration laws and policies, and there is no doubt that this is very important and essential work. However, from time to time, it is equally important to call to mind the heroes who have literally given their lives, often in very unassuming ways, in service to their migrant brothers and sisters. One such giant of mercy left us last November and it would be a shame not to remind members of the CMS community of his legacy, so that others might be inspired to dedicate their lives to serving their migrant brothers and sisters.
In the words of his son Joachim Zwick, taken from the January-March edition of the Houston Catholic Worker newspaper, the life of this giant of mercy can be summed in this way:
Mark Zwick, who 36 years ago, turned a tumble -down building on Washington Avenue (in Houston) into a thriving international refuge for immigrants and refugees, died Friday, November 18, 2016 at his home in Houston after battling Parkinson Disease. He was 88.
In 1980, Mark and his wife Louise, founded Casa Juan Diego, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality where thousands of refugees escaping to Houston during the civil wars in Central America found a safe harbor.
In later years, Casa Juan Diego would expand to include ten buildings and become a beacon for migrants fleeing violence and poverty everywhere. Its name became famous along the foot-beaten corridors that lead to the Texas-Mexico border.
As you ponder these words, you can see why I refer to Don Marcos (as many called him) as a giant of mercy. Obviously, I am not speaking about his height but about his heart. It was a heart of gold, filled with and exploding with mercy in so many ways. At his funeral mass, which was celebrated on November 22, 2016, Maryknoll Father Rafael Dávila said of him: “Mark Zwick passed away at the conclusion of the jubilee year of mercy. Mark died as he lived – as a missionary of mercy.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Mark on a few occasions and even had an opportunity to celebrate mass with him once at the Casa Juan Diego. It was a deeply moving experience. People come together at Casa Juan Diego from all over the world to pray for God’s mercy and guidance along their migration journey. Mark was always present at the celebration of the Eucharist, and I have a sense that this was the deep spiritual secret that kept him going in this great endeavor of mercy called Casa Juan Diego. There is no other human way to explain why he and his equally devoted wife, Louise, could accomplish so much in their 36 years of service at the Casa caring for over 100,000 people from all over the world. Theirs was a life based on and lived according to the Sermon on the Mount. Many good Christians say this sermon of Jesus was an ideal, but nobody could really live up to it. Well if you ever met Mark Zwick you would be persuaded to think differently. Mark was not only someone who talked the talk but he also walked the walk. The Sermon on the Mount, along with a gentle sense of humor was his daily mantra. For the last 36 years at Casa Juan Diego, Mark and his wife Louise, inspired by the example of the discipleship of Dorothy Day, lived their lives in service to their migrant brothers and sisters.
Having said all this I am quite sure that Mark would cringe at the thought of people making a fuss over his life and his mission, and he would certainly shy away from being referred to as a giant of mercy. However, I would be remiss if I did share this small piece of Mark’s story and simply say that Mark and Louise embody what it is to live the gospel of mercy. The jubilee year of mercy might have come to a conclusion in an official sort of way at the end of November 2016, but for places like Casa Juan Diego the journey of mercy continues day in and day out as people continue to arrive in search of hospitality.
Perhaps the good news found in Mark’s passing is that this giant of mercy has not really left us. Let us not forget that in this time of great challenge for all migrants and refugees we can now count on a friend in heaven to put in a kind word for those who suffer just because they are a migrant or refugee.
Thank you, Mark, for sharing God’s mercy with so many thousands of people. Thank you for being such a beacon of hope for all who had the pleasure to know you. Thank you for being an inspiration for all of us who minister to migrants and refugees in such challenging and unpredictable times. May God, grant you eternal hospitality at the big Casa in the sky. Thank you, Mark, for a job well done