Originally posted on the St. Joan of Arc blog.
Last summer, we hosted a delegation from our Sister Parish in Tierra Nueva II in Guatemala. We spend ten days together sharing our journey of faith and friendship, and one of our days together always includes the celebration of mass at the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis. This incredible service integrates elements of Native American spirituality and ritual, and our delegates – many of whom are indigenous people themselves – are very moved by it.
Recently, one of our delegates – Maria – sent some notes and gifts to her host families and others at SJA, and a gift to Deacon Joe at Gichitwaa Kateri. It had been clear when we were there that María, a woman with indigenous roots herself, felt a connection with the people of Gichitwaa Kateri.
I decided to catch Deacon Joe after mass to deliver his gift. I arrived as mass was being celebrated, so I lurked out in the hallway so as not to disturb anyone. Having only visited the church twice before, I did not feel familiar enough with the Ojibwe language or rituals of the mass to participate. But lurking in the hall as an outsider did not last. The people of Gichitwaa Kateri are so welcoming that I was greeted with the water blessing, communion and tobacco ritual right out in the hallway! An elderly parish member came out to offer me a sign of peace, a hug, and to hook her elbow with mine to lead me into the sacred space of her church. She cleared a spot for me to sit with her and the other elderly women of the church. She shared her hymnal with me and encouraged me to sing with her, in Ojibwe! When she complimented me on the beautiful Guatemalan cloth I carried, I told her it was a gift from Maria in Guatemala. She immediately insisted that I present the gift to the entire parish at the end of mass and flagged down Father Mike Tegeder. I did my best to convey María’s heartfelt message:
For: the Lakota church of Minneapolis Minnesota,
From: Maria Eufemia Contreras Alvarez
My brother, continue professing the faith in the living God that loves every living thing and that created us for love and that cares for each of us. Blessings and greetings to all. God bless you and guard you always and the same for all around you.
The whole room of parishioners was overwhelmed with gratitude and love. The gift of the cloth was draped over the pulpit (see picture). I was embraced by the parish with hugs and thanks, and I left feeling like María’s act of kindness, all the way from Guatemala, had helped bring me closer to my own neighbors and brothers and sisters right here in Minneapolis. Our Sister Parish relationship changes so many people, in so many unexpected ways – bringing us all closer together in the love of God and one another.