Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Before in Tila Chiapas, MX, Parroquia San Mateo, I’ve been an intermittent ayudante-observador for a span of 14 years.  Esta vez ando en medio de ellos – this time I walk in the midst of them.   Back and forth each day of the Novena, enveloped in the processions between barrios y iglesia, I walk pray take a few fotos, and find myself looking over heads of many {seldom elsewhere my vista} and most of us all at my same level, in this moving sea of believers.  Short strong young men in the lead carry the image of the black crucified Christ [Jan. 15th, the day we celebrate Martin Luther King].   Whole families surround and proceed the holy image, carefully step by step marching adorned with their best dress, or sometimes t-shirts, and flowers everywhere.  The oldest smallest women carry the tallest banners.

It’s a daily visitation pilgrimage—in the morning down to a barrios’ host household, in the evening returning to the parish’s ancient sanctuary at the peak of this small city.

The accounts testify to a miracle here 300 years ago.  A life-size image of the crucified Christ had been thrown out, abandoned, and when re-discovered and a commitment made to restore, was miraculously made completely new in shining black beauty overnight.   The people believe Jesus wants to be near them, and so they come as close as possible up the stairs behind the altar to touch his feet if they can, to be healed of their cares and offer their promesas.   As a church they pray for the justice that will re-unite the broken world-wide community of rich and poor.  The roots go deep, as there was a Mayan plaque on the site well before the conquistadores came and the church was built.   Their confirmed family faith in Jesus continues their love for their mountain communities.

Mayan plaque from Tila, now enshrined in parish yard of the neighboring town of Bachajon

I see many faces that look at me now in the crowds at mass in the homes and streets, smiling recognition from back through these years.  One Juan Incino comes up to behind church to say we took a photo together four year ago—he is one of the traditional Chol dancers—wizened face of many lines, white rough cut suit, woven belt.  I begin to recollect and it pleases us both.   Later they have to cover their homespun clothes with visqueen plastic cut from a large roll.  It’s raining but they’ll dance on in religious procession.
Traditional Chol dancers make ready for procession in rain
Padre Heriberto’s sermon praises the youth group [such groups thriving amazingly in most Chiapas churches] and they are there at the start of the main mass of the day with gritos-chants protesting-praying over the deaths of their fellow students.  43 murdered and disappeared, no bodies yet found, in the state of Michoacan, far away yet close to their hearts.  Those students were in a college that promoted social justice, city of Ayotzinapa, and presumably got in the way of the local government linked to narcotraficos.  Our drug habits have taken a terrible toll on Mexico.   Our youth group cries out as they process in down the main aisle lead by a spirited young woman:
  Somos el futuro,   de Latinoamerica.  
  Somos estudiantes,   porque nos asesinaron?
The names and faces of the murdered students appear on posters all over the inside church walls, continually prayed for.   The assassinations happened last September, hundreds of miles away from Tila.  How many of us have ever before heard of Ayotzinapa?

Young handsome assistant pastor Padre Bernabe preaches the next day, inviting all without the gravest of sin to communion, including those who have been excluded in the past because of church marriage legal problems.  They’ve already opened the doors to those in need of the healing real presence of Jesus.  Are personal sexual problems more grievous than those who put money and power before their God they ask?
Ermundo stops me in the street—heard I was here again announced at mass—eager to ask me theological questions about how he can come closer to God.  He has a list of ten or more detailed questions in his notebook.  Gracias a Dios he only asks a few, and they all point to the above.  Trying to be attentive, but not really the authority, I answer—read each Gospel slowly from beginning to end as a prayer, over weeks or months if you need, and there meet Jesus.  Too many read the Gospel in snippets, as if sound-bites.   Its one of the same messages I give to the young men potential fathers-to-be who come to our Blue Water Pregnancy Care Center—to become closer to Jesus, who resolves the dilemmas.

esus Hernandez Perez.  I see this three day old child in the arms of his young mom and dad, not in the clinic but in the sacristy waiting for mass to begin.   He hasn’t taken the breast at all since birth, only a couple of sips from a dropper, and in a quick exam I note his skin has no bounce, he doesn’t react well—dehydration—and I feel a cyst-like object in his abdomen.  They’ve been both to clinic and the poorly staffed clinic here in town.  He is a twin, the other one doing well.   With Padre Bernabe we pray all together, and they promise to go that day to the hospital in Yajalon, 30 miles distant.   We’ve yet to hear how he’s doing, if he’s still alive.

There is so much to do in a place like this far away from one’s home.  My experience in medicine gives me something to contribute, and I share this with Pancho, who has been here before me, lives in a local village, grew up speaking Chol, and will be here long after the line of outside helpers.   It takes an effort for me to translate some of the Mexican medicines and diagnosis into my idiom {and has been on every visit} but something good is accomplished each time.   The Dispensario Chol will be a little bit better, at the very least from our compatible medicines that made it through customs once again miraculously.  The Mexican government insists its people need no medical help.   Pancho is a physician assistant, as I have been, though there’s no comparable certification available to him.  He was well trained by a young Dr. Demostenes, another Chiapaneco, who with his family spent 13 years in Tila helping to organize the Dispensario, and a whole system of health promoters out in the mountain comunidades.
A younger Pancho, with Abelardo one of the promoteres from out in the comunidades, at the Dispensario Chol--part of San Mateo parish in Tila

My constant work while on these journeys, as I believe it is for any visitor-helper in foreign countries, is to understand the language, and what’s going on.   It’s a puzzle always needing a new piece, vocabulary, grammar, plain old comfortable comprehension when it can be had.  Difficult especially in groups when everyone else is at their own speed.  It’s {their word} a rompe-cabezas.  One’s head tires of the effort.  The only real solution is to live in country from many months to years {and there, removed as much as possible from other English speakers}.   So a word to the wise—study, practice, read as much as you can.  The weapon of the peacemaker is to learn a foreign language.  The weapon of the soldier is the gun.  Be a peacemaker.  Get in training.

Sharing one’s faith in God is the well-spring of this understanding, and covers over a mountain of mistakes.   The trust engendered by the language of prayer helps make a holy spirit of cooperation, even when there is cultural cross-connect, which is bound to occur.   The fact that I came this time, more as a prayer pilgrim to Jesus, Nuestro Senor de Tila, unsure of how best to be of assistance now, and in the future, for them, and in my own life, has blessed us all, made me closer to them, and to our God.

There is more hope in these mountains now than when I was here 14 years ago in a time of deep army dominated armed conflict.  Justice is slowly gaining ground.   Padre Heriberto, gran luchador [local champion of the struggle] para La Justicia, has our Pregnancy Care Center t-shirt—justice and respect for life are indispensable to each other.  Gracias a Dios, God is with us, and speaks to us in the faith of these indigenous people who care for the earth, and want to help us heal and conserve God’s creation.
Many clear mountain streams run through the comunidades de Municipio Tila

Water color and illumination by Kathy Brahney

Monday, January 12, 2015


Kim Jong Un, leader of N Korea, & Dennis Rodman, former Detroit Pistons basketball star

Kim Jong Un - from the Interview

The USA Today story headlines “Obama imposes sanctions on N. Korea for Sony hack.”  Their arms industry is now the specific target of our sanctions.  And the specific insult of a film which made a parody of assassinating N. Korea’s current dictator was the initial provocation for their internet attack on Sony’s industry.   You must attack our most vacuous movies to make us finally embargo N. Korea’s armament makers?

Why were we comfortable with any of their weapons business in the first place?   They have long been an avowed enemy and a prime part of the “axis of evil.”  Evil except when they were helping Pakistan build a nuclear weapon, when Pakistan was our erstwhile ally allowing our troops access to Afganistan?   And who knows how many others of our friends and enemies they’ve been helping with guns and bombs.   Our government for decades has just been giving N. Korea a wink and a nod.

The business of war is a crazy amoral adventure, for the benefit of profiteers and political strategists.   We point powerful fingers at impoverished N. Korea for promoting war, as if we didn’t.

This Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus by John the Baptist—a voice crying in the desert, “Repent, repent.”   Here in Tila at the parish of San Mateo in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico the indigenous faithful are celebrating the 300 year old miracle of Nuestro Senor de Tila, on January 15th.   They have new hope that some space has opened up for peace and a new justice, from out of a time of conflict here between rich and poor, and between political factions.  Violence has diminished, but good work and opportunity are still scarce.    As in the USA the birthday recognition of Martin Luther King approaches, champion of Gospel nonviolence, on this same Jan. 15th, may the miracle of God’s mercy and justice continue to convert all corners of the world.

One of the three big processions a day, thousands of people, for 5 days leading up to Jan 15 the biggest procession, in a town of 7000 inhabitants, some do come from miles around.

Martin Luther King's national holiday birthday celebration in the USA
 also -- Jan 15th
His dream yet unrealized.
His first principle of organizing for justice with nonviolence
on a previous billboard in Port Huron, MI.

Monday, January 5, 2015


The Epiphany, the Gifts of the Magi, the Three Kings pay homage prostrating themselves before the Savior, born in a stable, baby lying in a manger.   These are foreigners rejoicing at finding the unrecognized King of the Jews, unappreciated Son of the Eternal God of all creation.   Most importantly these humble Wise Men do homage to God’s merciful Incarnation; then they offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  What could these mean, given to a baby?

They’re never mentioned by the adult Jesus, whose gift of self so transcended these treasures.  What was their fate?  The gold, riches of the powerful, are sublimated into the rising smoke of purely offered incense, nothing left on earth in the end but the buried perfumed ointment of the tomb.   Perhaps each one was just meant to presignify, gone as soon as received, the passing human nature, redeemed only in the Resurrection.  Three Wise Men bring signs that our real presence will be in the eternal love of Christ—a place beyond all knowing, surely beyond all worldly gifts.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Mt 6:19-21   How difficult these words are for us, who live in the land of Homeland Security.  God grant us the grace to be humble Magi and give good gifts generously, justly, with divinely inspired detachment.


My language was over-strong.  We don't really know what the Holy Family's neighbors and extended family thought of them, what murmurings did or did not occur.  As Fr. Joe Gagnon pointed out to me, we've no evidence they were thought of as foster father, unwed mother, bastard son.   We do know, however, from scripture's testimony that on the contrary, they are to be forever honored as the most holy and dutiful of families.  Joseph had made good to cover scandal by taking Mary as his wife.  He and Mary had taken great risk however, in so many ways in their society, by accepting God's gift of the birth of our Savior--by becoming the Holy Family so quickly outcast into Egypt.