The following was shared during mass at St Joan of Arc church in Minneapolis, MN on the last day of the South to North delegation visiting from Tierra Nueva 2, Guatemala. Read the St Joan of Arc blog for a day-by-day account.
My name is Rita Nohner and I am a long time parishioner at St. Joan of Arc. Since my husband Jeff and I first traveled on delegation to Guatemala in 2006, we have been actively involved in this very powerful ministry, which is grounded in solidarity.
This solidarity fosters mutual understanding and a commitment to peace and justice among people in the United States and Central America. Delegation travel to the North and South with home stays is an essential aspect in enhancing awareness and understanding, and nurturing closer relationships.
This week we have been experiencing a South to North delegation with the women you see before you. Miriam and Alba, our delegates, will share with us their experiences from this past week, and Carrie Stengel, our amazing Sister Parish director, who lives and works in Guatemala, will translate for them.
We are sure their story will inspire and move you.
This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the relationship between St Joan of Arc and Tierra Nueva 2 in Guatemala.
When the first delegation from St Joan of Arc arrived, they visited us in our homes. We had never had this experience, having someone who was not family visit us. Our friendship grew, we talked about what we could do together and we fell in love. We even made engagement rings.
We remember when we came here; we saw how the women of St Joan of Arc were active leaders in the church. We saw how they spoke in public and they inspired us. I remember Auri telling me: “We need to learn how to do that.” At one point, Mindy from St Joan of Arc volunteered as our audience to prepare for a presentation. Over time, our relationship deepened, and we started the women’s project to train women in our community. Women who used to be depressed, some who did not often leave their home, they now come to the women’s group. Those who received the workshops years ago are now the leaders of the group. Now we see the women of our community serving in the church and speaking in public like I am today.
This relationship has helped us grow in our faith. We have prayer partners and our shared Bible study. We are comforted to know that you pray for us and that we pray for you, we are connected through prayer and the presence of Jesus in our lives. This week when we went to Mass in the morning, it was so intimate. We felt very close to God and all of you. We did not understand everything that Father Jim said, but the mass was like having a very good cup of coffee, or eating a plate of tortillas with beans and cream: it is not much (mass was not very long), but it is delicious and just what we needed.
This week we saw how people here care about what is happening in the world. People raise their voices for all of us at the peace march on the Lake Street bridge. We met with the Welcome the Stranger ministry and we served with the Mobile Loaves food truck. We heard more stories about what is happening on the US-Mexico border. We want to raise awareness with our youth about migration and we want to give bread to the hungry in our community too. Now we have more tools and ideas. Our experiences here give us strength to continue working even harder in our community.
I want to share that on this trip, the most powerful experiences have been our moments of sharing prayer and sharing our lives. Together with us, you enter into our pain and our joy. Alba’s husband, Juan Carlos, died 3 months ago and here we have cried together. When someone dies in our community, you feel the same pain, and we feel the same when someone here passes away. We fondly remember Father George Wertin, Bob Heberle and Efrain Juarez and the others who are no longer with us.
With our host families, we felt such a warm welcome. They wanted to give us their very best. In families there are always difficulties, but we could see how much love they have for each other and we felt their love. We didn’t feel like strangers, but like people who had met before, known each other for a long time. We didn’t feel like we were far away from our families.
Our relationship fits like a ring on a finger. We have adapted to our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, with a lot of respect. As in all relationships, there are disagreements, but we have always known how to handle them. This is how our relationship has lasted 25 years. St Joan of Arc never said, “They are poor, we will just do what we want”. Instead, you taught us that we can make our own decisions and that we have the right to do so as human beings. The relationship is not about serving us. It is not that one of us is better than the other. We complement each other. What one lacks, the other will give with all our love, like a marriage.
We believe this is what God wants from each of his children. God wants us to love each other and to let this love bring us closer to God. God gives each of us a nudge towards action. We may not always do it immediately, but he nudges us again so that we go back to living as God wants. God wants us to change the world we live in now, a world with so much impunity, violence and poverty. You do your part here and we do our part in Guatemala. The hope for a more just world is inside each of us. Through our relationship we realize that we are not poor. We are not alone. We are one. We are all part of one whole.
Thank you for these 25 years of sharing.