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

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written! My thoughts and prayers are with you.