The Mexican government has bestowed an honour on an Anglican priest in recognition of her work helping female victims of violence in the US. The Revd María Elena Daniel Cristerna was presented with the Ohtli Award at the Mexican Consulate at Eagle Pass, Texas, earlier this month. Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told ACNS that Cristerna was one of 10 Ohtli Awards given to “Mexicans and friends of Mexico, who have dedicated their lives and professional activities, to forging a path for the Mexican community abroad” as part of the 156th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla and Cinco de Mayo.
The awards are given by the Mexican foreign ministry’s Institute of Mexicans Abroad, to recognize and honour Mexican, Mexican-American or Latino leaders who have dedicated their lives and careers to “blazing a trail” abroad for younger generations of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as they strive to achieve their dreams. It is one of the highest and rare distinctions given by the Government of Mexico.
A teacher prior to her ordination, Cristerna was born in Nueva Rosita in the northern Mexico state of Coahuila. She emigrated to the US in 1970, becoming a US citizen in 1984. She has worked in farms, making jeans, selling in stores, as an administrative assistant, teacher, TV anchor, and radio host.
She studied at Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas, and encouraged people to study, even if they were not young. She was elected Counselor of the Instituto of the Mexicans Abroad (2006-2008), where she represented the Mexican community in Eagle Pass.
“She specialises in working with women who have been victims of any type of violence, helping them get psychological support,” Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told ACNS. “She is a big supporter of gender equality and women empowerment. One of her main goals is to empower women through education, and she has been a very good speaker in this matter, at conferences and rallies.”
She has now returned to Mexico where, after ordination in 2006, took on responsibility as assistant rector of two parishes, El Buen Pastor (the Good Shepherd) and The Resurrection in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, in the Diocese of Northern Mexico, alongside her husband, the Revd Miguel Cristerna.
Ohtli is a Náhuatl word that means “pathway” or “camino” in Spanish. The award is a medal, a silver rosette, and a diploma.
Cristerna is exceptionally passionate about the empowerment of women, and recently represented the Anglican Church of Mexico as part of the Anglican Communion’s delegation to the 2018 session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York.
In 2014, she established a Women’s Shelter to provide a refuge and haven for women, sometimes with children, who need to escape from pain and fear in their domestic environment. The multi-purpose shelter provides a place to sleep, eat, and recuperate from physical and emotional wounds. It also hosts prayer groups for older and younger women, religious retreats, and conferences where women can learn about their right to stand up against domestic violence. The shelter also provides a loving environment for children and helps to build up their confidence.