A mission experience in Mexico

Renessa Tang, DVI Volunteer, shares her preaching mission

Since my last November- December update with DVI, for the past few months I have been interacting at a deeper level with my receiving community and persons who benefit from CCIDD’s service activities. Through this interaction the challenges of living in community came to the fore, something I would rather frankly have avoided. I have realized that in any community it is likely there will be conflict - it is just a matter of how it is dealt with, respecting the dignity and contribution of others. Cultural differences and different ideas as to how projects should be best approached were some main issues. The biblical quotes concerning community came in handy during these times and it was a consolation to remember that even the early Christian disciples had their challenges of living in Christian community. Saint Paul says: "Each part should be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Cor 12:25), for we all form one body. I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought”. The importance of community was further highlighted to me in my experiences facilitating Catholic groups such as Dominican University in U.S.A. in January and most recently John Paul 11 High School from Canada. It was great spending time with the groups who shared my faith as part of a Catholic community, learning from each other and gently correcting each other. ‘Officially’ I was the missionary sharing my knowledge of Catholic Social Justice, issues such as capitalism and sustainability, Guadalupan spirituality and knowledge of social movements with them. However, to my pleasant surprise, I experienced at a personal level, the concept of reverse mission – a principle on which the centre of CCIDD was founded, This time I also was the one being ministered to as well…one group in particular ministered to me in a way that affirmed me as a person. I tend to have a compulsion to want events to go perfect. One of the events in their program didn’t materialize as expected. Though this was difficult for me to deal with, they didn’t care too much when it didn’t go perfect due to a misunderstanding but appreciated the efforts made. I felt truly accepted as a person, not for how useful I was to them or how hard I worked on their program but just for ‘who’ I was. In this way was able to develop a deeper friendship with the group. I had time to reflect more on this afterward when I came across a lecture given last year January to Dominican Friars at Blackfriars Priory, Oxford by Jean Vanier, founding member of the L’ Arche community entitled, “Long Road to Freedom”. Vanier during his lecture describes a culture of a tyranny of normality where success and usefulness are the standards and people have to worry about climbing social ladders and impressing people rather than having time to be compassionate to others. The theme of respecting the dignity of the human person also was highlighted in my service activities. During and after the construction of a room for a single mother with two kids at La Estación Community in February with Mc Master University, the consensus that came out of our group reflection on the service was that we were trying our best to respect the families’ space, privacy and desires for design of the house. At the same time we were establishing a friendship through dialogue with the family about their interests and goals, affirming each other and the family and sharing gifts. Also important was involving the family members in their own project, with us being in a relationship of solidarity/ friendship with them so that they could participate and be empowered instead of them just being passive observers and recipients of charity. Another highlight of service for me was interacting in fun courtyard activities with schoolchildren of a primary school in Jiutepec with John Paul 11 High School. Our presence there – I as a Trinidadian and the Canadian group opened the eyes of the students to a different reality outside of their normal school life. I was also quite moved by my visit to the high school section of an orphanage called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos or Our Little Brothers which was founded by a priest called Fr. Wasson in Mexico in response to a moving personal situation that took place in his own life- his rescue of a little boy from jail who was there for stealing from the chapel’s collection box. This moved him to take custody of the boy and eight others who were in the jail and to found a home for them. Presently the orphanage has a system where the kids are financially sponsored and emotionally supported through visits and letter writing by persons called their ‘godparents’ throughout their time at the school. The orphanage has sprung up in eight other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. On Sunday March 25th, Feast of the Annunciation and also Feast Day of the Dominican Sisters of the Incarnate Word who are part of my receiving community here in Mexico, I had the wonderful opportunity with the more than 600, 000 faithful in Mexico to visit the Bicentennial Park in Silao, Guanajuato for Mass presided over by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. The papal visit was made in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence. A day before the papal visit, Javier Sicilia, poet and peace activist and leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in Mexico (a movement supported by some Dominican sisters here in Mexico and in which Dominican priests such as Fr. Miguel Concha O.P. and Bishop Raul Vera O.P. are involved), personally delivered a letter denouncing the violence and corruption in Mexico to the Vatican. He wanted His Holiness to understand the suffering of the Mexican people, in circumstances where more than 50,000 people have died in the last five and half years since the Mexican government declared its war on drugs in December 2006. Sicilia in his two page letter said Mexico and Central America 'are a body, like the body of Our Lord, which has borne all the weight of criminal forces and omissions and serious corruption by the government,' the illegal arms trade, money laundering, and 'a hierarchical Church which keeps a complicit silence.' It was well worth the voyage to see a Pope in person and particularly His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, despite the long hours of travelling. At 8 p.m. on Saturday night I left Cuernavaca with a busload of parishioners from Cuernavaca and arrived at the parking lot in Silao at about 4.30 on Sunday morning of the 25th March. From there attendees to the Mass undertook a trek lasting a few hours (because of the large multitude of persons attending who were all lined up) to the site were the Mass would be held. It felt like being on pilgrimage and the sight of the large crowd reminded me of the Exodus of the Israelites leaving Egypt (a clip from the movie “The Ten Commandments” we had seen on the bus ride to Silao featured this in touching detail). The groups interspersed the long walk with activities such as singing hymns and prayers including the Rosary and chanted “Se siente, se siente, el Papa esta presente” (He’s coming, he’s coming, the Pope is here”), as the helicopter carrying the pope who was returning from viewing the Christo Rey or Christ the King statue nearby circled over the crowd. Our group reached the site at about 9.30 a.m. just in time to catch a glimpse of His Holiness travelling in his Popemobile greeting the crowd and reaching out to a nearby baby to give it a kiss in greeting. About half an hour later at the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday 25th, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI urged Mexicans to hold strong to the Catholic faith amidst the many problems facing the country. After the Mass and the Angelus he recited a litany of ills affecting Mexico and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: “ so many families are separated or forced to emigrate…so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime.” So far in my experience as an International Dominican Volunteer I feel truly blessed to have encountered so many beautiful and interesting people -to have shared with and learned from them and to have participated in historic activities such as the papal visit here in Mexico. With one more month of my mission left I can anticipate missing the friends made during my DVI journey.