Hi again from Western North Carolina. As you all know too well, Ash Wednesday and Lent have arrived with such unexpected speed. We just finished all of the Christmas activities in the parishes, and we had to begin planning for Lent.
What is new? Several things.
First, I would like to mention a remarkable meeting that we had on February 7 at St. Eugene’s Parish. It was a clergy meeting for all the Christian ministers in the area -and some of their collaborators- to talk about how we can support the Hispanics in our region. The group that organized the event (And Antonio was one of them) helped us grow in consciousness of where we stand as individual persons and also where our church institution stands with respect to the present situation of immigrants.
I was very moved by the African-American ministers who were there. They have had experiences of fear so similar to what the Hispanics are now going through. All the African-Americans present at the meeting seemed to speak from a very peaceful place within themselves. There was no judgment nor anger nor resentment. They talked so matter of factly -and clearly- about compassion. As I said, I was very moved by them, and I took the first step to put myself in contact with them. I felt “called” by God -a very strong pull- to learn more from them, to experience their culture and spirituality. I have never really lived or worked with African-Americans before (except for a few days in a parish in California). This might seem strange to all out here in the South and on the East Coast, but I have lived my whole life basically in Mexico, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Other events that I would like to mention have been the activities for Lent:
Antonio has continued to empower the Hispanic youth with an activity that they have invented: the “Vigils” (las Vigilias). These are all-nighters. They start at 7 PM and they finish around 6 AM the next day. While all the parts of the Vigils are done by the youth, the attendance is for families. They are very creative in how they bring everyone to reflect and pray about the issues that the Hispanic families are actually facing. And, on the other hand, the Vigils present a very meaningful and joyful time for the youth to get together. I went to the first part of the first Lenten Vigil and the youth from at least some 5 parishes were giddy just saying Hi! to one another.
Another activity has been the “Peregrinacion” (the Pilgrimage) which is focused especially in married couples. The Pilgrimage has three parts (one every 2 weeks in Lent and each one lasting only 2 hours). There is -of course- child care so that the parents can attend. The first stage of the Pilgrimage was called: “Walking to the Place of the Miracle”, the second is called: “Walking to the Forgiveness that Heals” and the third is called: “Walking to the Holy Table”. These 3 stages are an adaptation of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. We start out with songs and prayer, prayer-sharing, then walking and singing (men go one way, and women another); then a talk by laymen and women, followed by sharing and reflecting in group; then more walking and singing to another place and another talk with reflection groups; then everyone comes together walking and singing into the church for the last prayer (contemplation), sharing, and the final moment with the symbol of the particular stage of the Pilgrimage. I have to admit that it was great to see these laymen and women sharing their experiences and promoting a reflection with all those participating. So far so good. This might become some kind of “model” for adapting our spirituality in a very simple and popular form.
Another activity was a meeting with the Directors of Religious Education of the 9 parishes of the Vicariate. They were having difficulties with working with the Hispanic catechists. The meeting was “Spirit-filled” and their attitude was not only changed, but also a real desire to work with the Hispanics was born. This was a major moment in the process of Hispanic Ministry here in the region. The directors were very moved by an Hispanic catechist who works in the trailer camps. They realized that they had to be more missionary and to empower the Hispanics to reach out to their own community. They also became very much at peace as they realized that the integration between the two cultures is a process, a slow process, and that they were very capable of asking both groups to work together to solve whatever problem or situation that could arise. I have to admit that they are a great group of Directors, and it is a blessing to work with them.
Well, that should be all for now. I’ll bring you up to date after Holy Week.God bless.