This month, they are harvesting corn in your partner community San Antonio. They are enjoying sweet corn drinks and tamales and storing all the corn they can for the coming year. The harvest was poor – a late rainy season and a beetle infestation had devastating effects on the crops. When the rains finally did come in spurts, families could no longer save all they had planted. Community members still hope there will be enough to feed their families for the year, supplementing with any extra income from working in sugar cane plantations, receiving remittances from family living in the United States or selling goods at local markets. One family, for instance, supplement their harvest by running a store, a computer center and two small three-wheeled taxis called tuc-tucs.
In addition to their families, community leaders have long-term dreams for their community as a whole. Church leaders still hope to move forward with the construction of a new church. The land conflict that was at a height when members of San Antonio visited last year has died down for the moment, so they are hopeful about moving forward.
A new mayor was just elected and there is hope for a project that would bring potable water to all communities in the municipality. In San Antonio right now, families have running water once every four days – storing water in large basins and bins. As you know only too well here in California, water is an increasingly scarce resource. In Guatemala community organizers are gathering to talk about how to protect people’s right to water in the face of privatization and large-scale industry. As they told me in San Antonio on my last visit after participating in a People’s Tribunal on Water, “Water is disputed territory. The people can get involved now to defend our water or we will be left without. That is what we are talking about – will we get involved or not?”
Water is not the only disputed resource. The community also dreams of becoming self-sufficient in energy – receiving all power from small, local hydroelectric dams and solar power.
Protecting natural resources, defending indigenous territory, sustainable practices, building a new chapel – these are long-term projects that will take years. In San Antonio, they are familiar with this rhythm. They patiently plant the seeds and tend the land as those seeds transform.
There is a popular Catholic hymn in Guatemala that goes, “It is a long walk, through the desert, under the sun. We cannot get far, without the help of the Lord.” It is a long walk toward change.
Nationally, Guatemala made news this year with massive protests and corruption scandals that involved government officials at every level, including the President and Vice President. The protests inspired people to hope for a political system that would one day represent and protect the interests of the general population. On October 25, Guatemala’s next president was elected – a former comedian from a right-wing party. In San Antonio they told me, “What is happening in Guatemala nationally always affects our lives too. The problems still exist and will have to be dealt with. We still need electoral reform. Who knows what will happen next year under a new administration.” It is also a long walk toward justice.
Last year, Danville Congregational Church generously raised funds for a community project in San Antonio. With those funds, there is a similar rhythm. Some of the funds were immediately given to two families in need. Proposals for the remaining funds are being discussed. There have been many ideas – from youth group activities to supporting the school to a micro-lending program for church members. The main priority for the Catholic Church is to establish a sustainable project that that will support its members long-term, while also strengthening the relationship with DCC. Like other dreams for the community, the process is long as they discuss options, consult others, and reach consensus.
This unity is highly-valued and necessary, particularly in small rural communities in Guatemala. The next verse of the popular Catholic hymn is, “United in prayer, united in song. We will live our faith, with the help of the Lord.” In San Antonio, they are protecting their own unity and their bond with DCC in taking time to define their project through a process of consensus. In the in-between, we can continue to deepen the relationship.
Next spring there is a great opportunity to do just that. Families in San Antonio will plant the seeds saved from the corn harvested this year. They have invited a group from Danville to visit them for a special mass to bless the seeds before they are planted.
Many people ask us, “But…what do you do on a Sister Parish delegation visit?” This. We share faith at mass to bless the community’s seeds. We make tortillas (or at least try to make tortillas). We teach the kids Ring around the Rosy (and they love it). We exchange words in English and Maya Quiché, the first language in San Antonio. We learn about the cycles of planting and harvest and of migration and homecoming. And in the middle of all of this, we question the roots of injustice in Guatemala and in the US, and we build bridges to uproot them. You have received an incredibly precious invitation to take part in the daily lives of people in San Antonio and join that long walk as brothers and sisters in Christ. To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God – together. To be open to a love that challenges and changes us.
Guadalupe from San Antonio asks you to keep the following prayer in your heart. “When our brothers and sisters in Danville offer up a prayer to God and ask for blessings for us, we know we have one God. We understand that the same God that gives us life and provides for us here is the same God up there. We know we are truly brothers and sisters, children of God. For important moments, we will pray for you all. I ask that God protects the unity between our two communities.”
After our visit here last here with 5 members of the Catholic Community in San Antonio, we talked about their impressions and what they had learned. They, of course, loved everything, but talked most about the service and the exchange of faith. They talked about how they learned a new way to pray, holding hands, as one with God. For me, this seemingly tiny piece of learning embodies the spirit of Sister Parish. We see both others’ surroundings and our own in a new light. We question our assumptions about the world. We walk in solidarity. We listen. We start to see how we can work together to create a more just world – in our home communities and internationally. As one of my friends said, “Because of our relationships, we become catalysts for change in systems that produce poverty of the spirit and of the flesh”. More than anything, the Sister Parish experience calls on us to expand our definitions of family, faith, and hope. And then act on them.
The concluding verse in the Catholic hymn encourages us to keep walking, though the road is long, saying, “The church is on its way, toward a new world, where love will reign, where peace will reign.”
We are so grateful you are walking with us, treasuring the seeds we have yet to harvest.