St. Joan of Arc delegates visited their sister community in Tierra Nueva II from August 1-11, 2014. Four participants gave the following homily at their church the week after the delegation. See delegation photos.
Meghan: Sister Parish exists to foster mutual understanding and commitment to peace and justice among people in the United States and Central America. We believe the Kingdom of God is already present but not complete and the liberating Gospel calls us to work together to build this Kingdom. Because of the relationships we build, we become catalysts for change in the systems that produce poverty of the spirit and the flesh.
Cathy: Buenos dias. Me llamo Cathy Burrell. Good morning. My name is Cathy Burrell. I was fortunate to be one of the ten delegates to have the experience of building relationships with the people of our Sister Parish.
I was staying with Lisa, another member from our delegation, with a host family in Tierra Nueva II. Because the home was built on the edge of a ravine, it had four levels. Steps were carved out of the earth or made from cement blocks. The rooms had dirt floors and tin roofs and nine people lived in the home. In order to get to the toilet you needed to walk down some concrete steps, which were not firmly secured. When you sat on it, you looked out over the ravine. When it rained, you got wet.
Our host mother talked easily to us while Lisa and I helped her make tortillas and Lisa translated. I don’t know if we were helping because she reformed almost every tortilla we made. She cooked them on a large wood grill using corncobs for fuel. Her hands were calloused so she was able to flip the tortillas with her hands. She shared how her mother abused her. She sadly shared how her second oldest daughter had been a victim of violence and the case was currently being heard in court. When dinner was ready, Lisa and I sat at a small table in the kitchen while the rest of the family sat on plastic stools holding their plates in their laps.
The next morning I got into the kitchen before Lisa. Using my meager Spanish, I said “Tengo hombre.” I was given the funniest look and I quickly realized what I had said. I had told them “I have a man.” I quickly corrected myself and said “Tengo hambre”, “I am hungry.” We all laughed.
Right before 6:15 mass on Sunday, our host mother gave Lisa a bag. Inside were two bottles of Diet Coke and small packages of crackers. On Saturday, when Lisa and I walked to the church, we had stopped by a small store and we each got a Diet Coke. Our host mother remembered that. I have type 2 diabetes and she had seen the same package of crackers in a bag that I had carried with me. I have never in my life been so moved by a gift. Her gift was given out of love, kindness and sacrifice.
Meghan: From Henri Nouwen: “Gratitude is essential to ministry. Gratitude basically means to receive the gifts of others – to say thank-you for being you. If someone is so present to you that their eyes fill with tears in seeing you or hearing your story, there is great strength and comfort in that. Ministry isn’t always about what the task is, but who you are. You are not what you do, but who you are.”
Jenny: Good morning St. Joan of Arc! My name is Jenny and I was one of the privileged people to go on this Guatemalan delegation (hint hint my grandparents dragged me there). But by the end of the trip I was so touched by many people on this delegation but I think the people who touched me the most where the scholarship students. They inspired me so much.
I used to take my education for granted and I’m not proud of that because I knew some people out there didn’t get an education. The scholarship students though were extremely happy and thankful that they even got this opportunity to learn and have a good education. It made me thankful for what I have and I was so surprised to see people my age wanting to learn.
But I was also touched by the way made me feel like I was an old friend. I remember the welcome party the second day I got there and I was so unsure of so many things. I was thinking “should I stay here and sit with my grandparents” or “should I go up and talk to that girl that looks my age and talk to them” or “could I communicated with them because my Spanish isn’t that well” etc… But at the end of the welcome party all of the scholarship students and a lot of other youth were asking me for pictures with them. This moved me so much and it made me feel extremely special.
Meghan: From Judy Cannato: “Receiving love brings us to a place of vulnerability. That is why it is so difficult. We may think we can exercise a bit of control in loving another, but there is no control in being loved. The ones who truly love us reveal to us how genuinely loveable we are. And nothing feels more vulnerable than that.”
Therese: Hi, my name is Therese Frederick, and I have had the privilege of being on the delegation to Tierra Nueva II in Guatemala. Our relationship with our sister parish in GUA is based on solidarity. I want to share two stories that helped me understand this word; solidarity.
The first day in Tierra Nueva II we met with their Sr. Parish Committee. There were many items on the agenda but first we were asked to do a quick check in with news from our parishes, starting with them. We never got to even one agenda item nor to us sharing about SJA news; they shared so deeply and intimately from their hearts of what is going on in their lives – their worries and burdens; but also their belief in keeping their eyes on Christ to help them through and the hope of change to come. Stories emerged about the immigration problem – kids trying to get to the US to earn money for their families; US ‘security’ dollars allowing for more police which is leading to more corruption with less protection, abusive family situations…to name a few. The 10 delegates from SJA sat there in awe; we were on holy ground. The trust these brothers and sisters had with us goes beyond words – This, my friends, is solidarity.
My other experience happened with my host family. When I stepped over the temperature was a good 105 degrees inside and there was not a bit of air moving. My first response was, “I cannot do this, it is too hot, I won’t be able to breathe, I need light, and I’m going to get fleas.” I paused and went deep within myself; “I am here to walk with these people – if I sleep in a 105 degree home so be it; if I get fleas, so be it; and I found great peace. What happened next was incredible; the mother had lost a son to an act of violence and there was an altar and wall built to his memory – she shared her story and we cried as one (one mother of young man to another mother of young man); such intimacy and trust…. My Spanish is minimal but an understanding of the language was not needed; hearts were sharing. We may have only had a short time together but God moved powerfully – this again was holy ground…..
Meghan: From Max Warren: “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”
Jenny: I got so attached to all of the youth there, not just the scholarship students. I swear I think I’m going to write every last one of them. I cried on the last day of seeing them and knowing that I won’t see them in what seems like forever. But they will always be in my hearts and also I will also be in theirs. I want you guys to pray for all the youth there because so many don’t finish school because they have to work to support the family.
Therese: One of the four pillars of Sr Parish is Solidarity, as compared to charity. When preparing for this trip I was having a very difficult time wrapping my mind (and heart) around this concept. I now understand I have a piece of Guatemala deep within me. And oh……. No fleas!
Cathy: During our goodbye mass our host mother and I both were crying. She looked at me, tapped her chest and said “Mi corazon”, “My heart.” I tapped my chest and said it back to her. We do not speak the same language but we were able to communicate how much we meant to each other.
Before this delegation trip to Guatemala, I was told that it would change my life. I am changed because I now carry the hearts of the people of Tierra Nueva Dos within me.
Meghan: Our mission in Sister Parish is to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Guatemala. We build relationships, not buildings. We bear witness to the injustice that our family in Guatemala suffers, partially as a result of our own country’s exploitative policies. We act to educate all around us, to fight for policy changes, to work for reconciliation and to build the kingdom God intends. Frederick Buechner wrote: “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. We must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.” We invite you all to join us – as delegates or hosts, as advocates, as members of this wonderful family – as we journey together toward a shared future united in God’s love.