Sunday, August 1, 2010


For years now, Our Savior has been in a sister-parish relationship with San Francisco de Asis in Temascalapa, Mexico. The program is called “Keep the Children in School,” and we supply funds to buy the necessities (uniforms, shoes, eyeglasses, paper/pencils, books…) they cannot afford, and without which they would drop out of school. Some of the young people we began helping years ago when they were in elementary school are now in University. They are poised to make a positive, meaningful difference.
This “report” is actually an expansion of part of this past Sunday’s homily. I began with singing a bit of “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, but I think you’ll be better served listening to how it should really go…

It’s the reality of so many of the families of San Francisco de Asis parish (which includes the town of Temascalapa and the “satellite towns” around it) that their lives are even more “plenty o’ nuttin’” than Porgy’s. He’s got no lock on the door; neither do they, since most don’t even have a door! A piece of cloth is all that divides outside from inside, or room from room. Porgy sings that if others want, “De can steal de rug from de floor/Dat’s Okeh wid me…” But in these people’s houses, there are no rugs: at best we saw concrete poured floors; very often, simply packed dirt. Needless to say, there is no heat in these houses, and “windows” are (where they exist) pieces of clear plastic taped to the openings.

Yet there was an incredible overflow of generous love showered on us when we were there! People with nothing had open hands and open hearts, and we were both honored and humbled by their warmth and gratitude. I want to focus on our last night there, when a fiesta was held.

I was told by Elvia (one of our pilgrims) I really should sing at this event, so I was ready to do a couple of verses, a cappella, of “Pescador de Hombres.” I reckoned that I’d be singing for a group of 30-40 folks, and I was actually looking forward to it. How wrong I was in the estimation.

There were almost 200 folks in the church hall where we were gathering! Children, teens, parents, grandparents, friends: they came from every one of the towns that form a part of the parish. Some of them walked to Temascalapa, a distance of 3-4 miles, carrying food, having to walk back home afterward. It didn’t matter to them: they were coming to celebrate us three pilgrims (we all are called padrinos there!) who represented their sisters and brothers in the USA.

Every single town in the parish represented itself with a performance for us—from musical numbers played on recorders, to traditional dances in full costume, to singing (you have not lived until you have seen 4 pairs of children doing a Texas-style cowboy line dance!). But the special event was on its way: an 11-piece professional mariachi band (which had to cost the Timon, the program’s steering committee, a large amount of money). This group included 4 violins, 2 guitars, a cittarone (a large, ‘bass’ guitar), 3 trumpets and a lead singer. And this was the group, it turns, out, that I had to sing “Pescador” with! They played it (by ear, I think) in the proper key, and I had to get up to sing over all these instruments. The children especially seemed to enjoy watching me sing in their language, though with an American accent.

As the band processed out, we thought the celebration was moving into the food phase. It was, but not just then: a speech of gratitude was made to us by one of the youths now in University, and the children were lined up in front of the three of us, two by two, to offer us gifts—all hand-made, all beautiful, all tokens of thanks—along with hugs for us all. This total was between 90 and 100 children, by the way—all those in the program being helped. It was overwhelming.

The food was wonderful, and all of it was made by the families and carried by them to the fiesta. I said in my broken Spanish that I felt like the Pope (with my memories of how John Paul II used to enjoy the World Youth Days and all the varied performances young people did to honor him). The reply was that they wanted to do this because the priest had come to visit them; it was like Jesus coming to visit.

So I was in persona Christi to them—in the person of Christ. And it was true (as were Elvia and Vivian). We were standing as the hands and feet of Christ from the parish of Our Savior—we were the token visible representation of the love and generosity of Our Savior. In honoring us, they were honoring all the members of our parish whose contributions make up the funds for the project to keep these children from having to drop out of school. And we saw the parishioners of San Francisco de Asis as in persona Christi to us: brothers and sisters, remembering our Lord’s words, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.”

There is nothing left to say except to express the fervent wish that EVERY member of Our Savior might be able to experience the joy of a visit to our sister-parish. May both our parishes continue to rely on each other’s prayers and love.


  1. Being of Mexican descent, and knowing all too well the material poverty; and the out right rejection by some/many in this part of the world is all too often a reality for most persons of Mexican descent; I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to those of you that extended yourselves, and traveled such a long distance to express your friendship and fellowship in such a personal way. May God Bless you.