Third Age: ‘Everything we do is in the name of Jesus’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Third Age: ‘Everything we do is in the name of Jesus’

Members of Third Age at Misión San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights helps seniors and those with disabilities. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of Third Age, a ministry that helps seniors and those with disabilities at Misión San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights, meet before heading out to serve on Feb. 25, 2020. From left are Maria Perez Morales, Tatiana Leiva, Maria Rocha, Esmeralda Pureco and Juanita Perez. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Maria Rocha, Juanita Perez, who is on dialysis herself, prays with Maria Perez Morales during a home visit with the Rodriguez Family from Rolling Meadows on Feb. 25, 2020. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Editor’s note: This article was written before the Archdiocese of Chicago suspended public liturgies and the schools it operates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A half-dozen women started the day before Ash Wednesday kneeling in the sanctuary at Misión San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights. As they do every Tuesday, they started the day in prayer: for the young, for the old, for the world, and especially for priests.

The group — a smaller than usual contingent of Third Age, the senior citizen ministry at Misión San Juan Diego — followed its weekly schedule of starting the morning with prayer, then participating in a fun activity and having refreshments.

At the end of the activities at the church, the group split up, some going with organizer Maria Perez Morales to bring Communion to a homebound parishioner, the others going with Esmeralda Pureco, who helps Perez Morales  by dropping some of the members off at home.

That’s one of the keys to the group, Perez Morales said, with translation help from group member Tatiana Leiva. Someone picks up people who don’t drive or don’t have their own ride to the parish and drops them back off at home.

“We provide transportation,” Perez Morales said. “And everything here is free for participants.”

“No driving, no excuse,” Pureco added.

That includes the T-shirts — light blue with cartoon figures of a gray-haired man and woman — that were handed out in  February. Some days, it includes a Zumba class, a lotería game complete with prizes or a movie screening. This summer, there is a planned outing to Holy Hill and to a restaurant in Wisconsin and another to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“She gets everything donated,” Leiva said of Perez Morales. Leiva isn’t a senior citizen yet, but joined the group to get out of the house after becoming blind. She’s not working now, but would like to be, she said. Until she can find a job, she enjoys the company of her Third Age friends.

Perez Morales also hasn’t reached her golden years, but she wanted to do something for the older people at Misión San Juan Diego. She came to that conclusion after attending the Instituto de Liderazgo Pastoral, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Spanish-language Pastoral Leadership Institute. Participants are asked to go back to their parishes and create something when they complete their courses.

“I wanted to do this because I was here in the U.S. for 25 years, and I didn’t get a chance to enjoy my own grandparents,” she said. “Now I’m enjoying all of these people.”

Since her four children are in their 20s, she had the time to bring the group together.

“God gave me the time to do this now,” she said. “He gave me the idle hands.”

That doesn’t mean it’s not a sacrifice. To be with the group on Tuesdays, Perez has to take a day off from her job cleaning houses.

But Juanita Perez, an extraordinary minister of Communion, makes time to come despite having to go to dialysis and then make it to her job washing dishes in a restaurant. Pureco, who helps drive participants back and forth, comes after working the third shift as a cook at a Denny’s restaurant.

“If they can come, I can take a day off to enjoy my time with them,” Perez Morales said.

Members of the group take strength and inspiration from one another, said Juanita Perez.

“I like to motivate people,” Perez said, with translation help from Leiva. “Then they can do that with other people.”

Third Age member Maria Rocha said it’s more than just inspiration.

“We share our happiness with one another,” she said.

In the summer, when school is out and more of the group members have returned from visiting their family members in Mexico, they also share their happiness and their example of prayer with children in the parish.

“They come here and see us praying for others, including them,” Perez Morales said.

That, in the end, is why people come to Third Age, members said.

Pureco started helping because she would attend morning Mass on Tuesdays and see the members praying together.

“Everyone was smiling, very happy,” she said. “The first thing is prayer.”

Rocha agreed. “I really like this group, because everything we do is in the name of Jesus,” she said.



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