María Mercedes Torres Torres is a Puerto Rican teacher from Caguas, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Even though she has traveled to Spain, the United States and Latin America, her work takes place at the Island as a mathematics teacher and a social advocate.
Carmen Julia: María Mercedes, thank you for granting this interview to Profiles in Catholicism.
María: Thank you!
Carmen Julia: Which is your parish? For how many years? And in what way do you contribute to the parochial life?
María: For the past 20 years my parish has been Our Lady of Perpetual Succor. Caguas Diocese. In addition to being the secretary one Saturday a month, I am also one of the readers for Sunday mass.and ehe secretary one Saturday a month, I am also one of the readers for Sunday Mass.
Carmen Julia: In what manner your religious faith influence your work as a teacher, as a social advocate?
María: My faith influences my teaching practice when I try to guide young people to follow Christian values such as respect for our neighbors, be merciful, help others. In my work as a social advocate, my faith becomes action when we visit the infirm, the ill and help them with the groceries or medical appointments.
Carmen Julia: Could you share with us your reflection on the challenges Puerto Rican students face in the classroom and the community as well as today as yesterday ?
María: All time past seems simple. Still our students today are trying to navigate unique and difficult challenges. The scarcity of opportunities for employment and the deterioration of community activities leave too much free time in their hands. Many have become enslaved to technology and resist to think by themselves. Peer pressure is intense and more often than not their parents are not prepared to help them manage these and other challenges. Parents however have a special power: the power of constructive modeling. What we do is by far a more effective model of behavior than what we say.
Carmen Julia: In what way your parochial work contributes to the wellbeing of your students, of your community?
María: The young people who participate in the parochial activities, the workshops and spiritual retreats, constantly come to us for advice and information on their concerns about academic work or familiar relations. My parochial work allows me to be there and help them navigate their concerns in a constructive manner.
Carmen Julia: In what way your work as a social advocate support the wellbeing of your parish, of your community?
María: When we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and help others – especially the aging, the members of the third age, the golden age to procure health services, to improve their individual wellbeing, to be active participants in the parochial life, we are reinforcing their value as a person, as beloved children of our Heavenly Father and minimize the message that unfortunately they often perceive from society: that they are a nuisance.
Carmen Julia: Many have called the current moment in the history of the Island the Great Puerto Rican Depression. .If our Lord Jesus Christ appeared among us at this moment, what would be, in your opinion, the first thing He would do?
María; The first thing He would do is to grant us the wisdom and the mercy to use what little we have to help our neighbors. As He did with His disciples 2,000 years ago, He would urge us to value what we do have and use it well instead of wasting time dreaming about what we do not have. This is the example of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor: to become the help others need.
Carmen Julia: You worked as a teacher at the Gautier Benítez High School, named after a poet and activist, who said, Puerto Rico, “a name dear to the mind as the memory of profound love“. Is Puerto Rico a name dear to those who are forced to abandon the Island in search of better economic opportunity?
María: We are the fruit from this Island; doers and dreamers; we will bring Puerto Rico in our heart wherever we go. I am Boricua. The name is dear even when we may be forced to go away in search of a better life elsewhere.