Friday, February 5, 2010

Trail 2010: A View From the Periphery

I’ve been writing about the pilgrimage to Juquila.
But I will digress from that for a moment
to write about some absolutely amazing young people.

But let me preface the story about them
with a few quotes
and then,
a few of my own thoughts.

a quote from one of our church’s
most well known saints,
St. Augustine.
“An unjust law is no law at all.”

even the late great
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
quoted St. Augustine
in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
Dr. King also said that,
“One has a moral responsibility
to disobey unjust laws.”

what mainstream U.S.A.
might call justice could be one thing.
But what I,
a faith filled
Spirit led
understand justice to be
might be another thing entirely.
As people of faith,
we constantly find ourselves
going against the grain,
do we not?

And my point of view
is colored by my position
in the periphery.
Sometimes I’m pushed here.
And sometimes I simple choose
to stay in the periphery
because I can see things
much more clearly here.
The voices
of The Beatitude People
are so clearly heard here.
When I leave the periphery
I find it hard to hear them
above all the nonsense noise.
truth be told,
I prefer the periphery.
It keeps me grounded.
The periphery,
for me,
is a Holy Land.

The theologian,
Dr. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz,
speaks of those in the margins
as being optional people,
pushed to the periphery
by those who see them as unnecessary.
it is often people claiming Christianity
who push others to the periphery,
who behave as some
are optional to history,
optional to salvation history.

as a faith filled person,
What do I believe?
of course I believe in the Holy Trinity.
Of course I believe
in the sacraments,
devotions to the saints
and our Most Blessed Mother.
But that is hardly all there is.

I also believe
that some things
are fundamental
to all human beings.

I believe that
food and shelter
are fundamental.

Food, physical nourishment,
is a basic primal need.
We should feed the hungry.
I have no need
to first see their green card.
If they are hungry,
and it is in my capacity to do so,
I should feed them.
This is what I believe.

And I honesty believe
that hunger is about more than food.
But more on that in a moment.

This I believe:
Primal Needs First.
Other things,
I believe,
can wait.
And eating
is a fundamental human right.
Feeding the hungry, then,
is a basic Christian action.

I believe education
and shelter
and medical care
are all
basic human rights.

I believe that words have power.
The Word,
after all,
became flesh.
God spoke
and all came to be.

You may not be standing
in the periphery with me.
And that’s OK.
We must all stand somewhere
and this is where the dialogue begins.
And this being the case,
you may have
a different point of view than I do
because the point from which you stand
is not in the margin with me.
But words,
regardless of which point they originate from,
have power.
I believe this.

While your point of view
may be as such
that you believe her mother
and/or her father to be
please do not call the child
an “anchor.”
She is innocent of any crime.
She did not break any law,
neither a just law
nor an unjust law.
She is not an “anchor,”
but a beautiful child of God.
I believe:
Words have power.
I, myself,
will continue to call this child,
and all children
that find themselves
standing in this periphery,
a Beautiful Child of God.
Because that is what she is.
And because words of power.
And she should hear these words
and know who she is.

Many, many years ago
a friend of mine
was in quite a state of flux.
She wanted so much
to attend college but was so afraid.
Just after she graduated from high school
she learned
that she was an undocumented.
Her parents came to the U.S.
while she was but an infant.
She had always known
that she was born in Mexico,
but never knew
that her family
had never done the legal paperwork.
The end result
was that she did not attend school.
A few years later
she fell in love and married a man
who happened to be a U.S. citizen.
After an entire lifetime in the U.S.,
she finally became a U.S. citizen.
But the years have passed
and she never did attend
an institution of higher learning.
Though I must admit,
we all learned so much
from her experience.
And this experience
is played out time and again
in the periphery.

You may disagree with me
about her parents.
And you may choose
to call them “illegal”
while I prefer to say
that they are “undocumented.”
But regardless of where
you and I stand
in terms of the parents,
the children are innocent.

Had there been some ogres
in my friend’s story
she and her parents
could have been deported.
And that would have been so unjust
because she
would have been sent
to what would,
quite literally,
have been a foreign country to her.
But her brothers and sisters,
having been born in the U.S.,
and were thus U.S. citizens,
would not have been deported,
but sent to foster care instead.
This did not happen to my friend at the time.
But it is happening every day
in the periphery.
Yes, St. Augustine,
I totally agree with you.
An unjust law
is no law at all.

And now that I have given you
all of this verbiage,
on to the amazing story
of some absolutely awe inspiring youth.

what I see as their ring-leader,
Ms. Gaby Pacheco.
Their website states this about SeƱorita Gaby:
“Gaby was declared a “gifted student” at a very young age and has since excelled at all levels of school. In the process of securing three education degrees at Miami Dade College, she has realized what she wants to do with her many talents and education: use music therapy as a communication tool to teach autistic children and adults. Gaby’s parents brought her to the U.S. from Ecuador in 1993, when she was 7 years old. In 2006, federal immigration agents raided her home, and Gaby’s family has been fighting deportation ever since. The only possession from home Gaby carries on her journey is a Bible, which she reads daily for inspiration.”

See what I mean?
Words have power!
Someone recognized her gifts
and called her a “gifted student”
at a young age and then
she further excelled in school!
Twenty-five years old
and she wants to use music
to teach the autistic!
And she carries and reads her Bible!
You go, Gaby Girl!
I would love to have
a young woman like her
in my neighborhood!
. . . .but as I am oft known to do,
I digress. . . .

You see,
from the periphery
I can see all of the gifts and talents.
But others,
those who stand somewhere else,
might only see the federal agents.

This profile tells us
that Gaby is on a journey.
Gaby, and several other youth
who find themselves
in the same situation,
are walking. .
. . and walking. . .
And walking. . .
Some 18 miles a day. . .
Sharing their story.
Walking from Miami, FL
to Washington D.C.
Walking and talking,
sharing their stories along the way.

Other youth walking include
ranked as one of the top 20
community college students
in the United States. . .
Let me say that again:
Felipe is one of the top 20 community college students
who wanted to serve
the only country he has ever known
in the military
but was not permitted to
because of his immigration status;
who came to the U.S. from Columbia
as a small child with his family
escaping the threats
to their safety.

Of the four youth,
Juan is the only one who is documented.
But having lived a great part of his life
as an undocumented,
feels a responsibility here
and so he, too, walks.

And so,
these young people are walking.
My last “Juquila” blog entry
was about processions
and the Work of the People:
Laos Ergon.
These young people,
these Trail 2010 people,
are walking toward something sacred.
They are in movement,
leaving something behind
toward something more,
something different,
something better,
something sacred.
The sacredness they seek:
to belong.

They are not responsible
for the path their parents took,
regardless of what point of view
you or I may have about their parents.
But they are very proactive
about the path they are taking now.
It is an Exodus from the Periphery
straight to the Center;
and sacred.

And it is a dangerous journey.
If you haven’t spent a great amount of time
in the periphery,
you probably haven’t seen the danger.
But it is out there,
even if you can’t see it.
But I see it.
And I recognize it.
There are people who hate
and act upon that hate
with tremendous violence.
But if you are reading this
from your place in the Ivory Tower,
you probably don’t have a clue
to what I’m speaking of here.
The point from which you stand
may just be
too far removed from the periphery
to be able to see.

I recognize
the valor it takes
for these young people
to do something like this.
Something I dare say is missing
from many a Christian these days.

And I dare to call their journey sacred
because they seek to create a justice.

I dare to call this journey sacred
because they risk deportation
for the sake of a better life,
not only for themselves,
but also for others.

I dare to call this journey sacred
because they have touched me
and awakened me
and moved me to action.

That’s the part
where many a faith filled person fails.
We believe when we are in church in Sunday.
Oh, and maybe there is grace said at the dinner table
or other recited prayers during the course of the week.
But we often fail
in terms of action
outside of our homes
and off of the acre of land we call “church.”
“In what I have done and
in what I have failed to do. . . .”

From the periphery
I see some outstanding
talented youth
on a very sacred journey,
any one of which
I would be proud to have
as my own son or daughter.
I would gladly give them
a home cooked meal
a bed to sleep in at night.
I have no need
to see legal documents
to know that they are good people.
I would feed them and house them
when and if they were to need food and shelter,
because that’s the sort of thing we do
in the periphery.
That’s the sort thing I do
as a woman of faith:
Feed the hungry.
Feeding the hungry
is so basic, is it not?

the truth be told,
I see young people starving for justice.
I bet St. Augustine sees them, too.

God bless
Gaby, Felipe, Carlos and Juan
and others who join them on this journey.
God bless the sacred journey.
God bless
the periphery.

St. Augustine, Pray For Us.

You can visit the youth here:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Road to Juquila - Part 4: What is a Procession Anyway?

I’ve said it so often throughout this blog:
Liturgy is Life
and Life is Liturgy.
These are not separate entities.
That being said,
what is a procession anyway?

Is it the ministers
finding their way to the sanctuary
during the entrance song?
Is there an order to these ministers?
I remember once discussing
the order of procession
with a gentleman who insisted
that the order was:
cross, candles, ministers, lectionary, priest.
When I suggested he place the lector with lectionary
before the ministers he had a bit of a conniption.
Why is that?
He began quoting the liturgy documents
(which I know like the back of my hand)
and he began telling me about symbolism.
“In my life,” I told this gentleman,
“I try to march with the Word of God ever before me.”
At the time I let it go
because it just wasn’t worth the energy.
I think it’s all because we don’t understand
what a procession is.
Not to mention the fact
that we sometimes get territorial in our ministries.

When one of my niece’s made her first communion
the children were not in the procession.
I think this was only because
it was too much work for the catechists
with so many children.
How sad.
Laos Ergon: Liturgy IS work.
But so many just don’t get it.
The children were, figuratively and literally,
marching onward toward Christ
but weren’t permitted
to march in for liturgy.
we don’t understand processions
very well in the U.S. of A.

We think it’s great
when we leave the back door of the church
on Palm Sunday
only to re-enter via the front door.
And it’s really grand
if we march around the entire church grounds.
But if the weather is bad
we’ll just do a ring-around-the-rosy
inside the church.
We get up and leave
only to return to the place where we started from.

But do we ever dare
to process through the neighborhood?
Or down a major street?
What if we took up the whole road?
Wouldn’t we need a parade permit or something?
Wouldn’t we need to notify police departments
or city hall?
And so what if we did?
Why don’t we do this?
We don’t do this because
we just don’t understand processions.
We don’t do this
because we are afraid to be a witness to the faith.
We don’t do this
because we are just plain lazy.

When I go to Mexico City
I stay at the Hotel Samil Plaza.
It’s right there on the Calzada de Guadalupe.
I stay at this hotel
because I get to watch the processions,
which begin in the wee hours of the morning
and continue all day long.
The people process to the Basilica
of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
People walking
in public
down a major street
and praying
for several miles
journeying toward the sacred.
one of the reasons I love Mexico so much
is because know how to be public about their faith.

In 1985,
I visited Our Lady of Guadalupe for the first time.
This was about one month after that big earthquake
that had just devastated Mexico City.
At the time
we didn’t think
we were even going to be able to take the trip.
I remember being in procession,
walking down the Calzada de Guadalupe.
Some who were in our group complained
that the bus did not drop us off
at the entrance of the Basilica.
They just didn’t get it.
They wanted to visit Her,
but didn’t want to be in procession.
In fact,
I was a little perturbed at the time.
Many of us want to pray the rosary
and sing.
“Pray for us sinners,”
kept being interrupted by quiet grumbling.
At the time,
just after the earthquake and all,
and having witnessed a lot of the devastation,
after having witnessed much of the suffering,
we certainly had more than enough
to be praying about.
And these others just complained.
I sort of felt like they wanted the glory
without the work.
Liturgy IS work.

A procession is a journey toward the sacred.
It is a movement that brings us ever closer to God,
“nearer, my God, to thee.”
A procession is not just the priest and ministers.
A procession is a movement
by the entire Body of Christ.

Perhaps it is true
that in the formal liturgy of Sunday
the formal procession
is made by the priest and ministers.
But there is a procession that begins
when we awaken Sunday morning
and decide to go to mass.
We decide that we are going to move toward the sacred.

For me, the procession to Juquila
formally began
when I got in the car
and drove to the long term parking.
The procession continued
when we boarded the shuttle to the airport.
A major stint of the procession was made
via Northwest Airlines.
Once in Mexico City,
the procession continued via several bus rides:
to Teohuacan, to Oaxaca, and finally to Juquila.
The entire trip
was about a journey toward the sacred.
And the journey toward the sacred
is the stuff of our daily lives.

And if we are moving toward something
it also means
that we are leaving something behind.
It means that once we reach the intended destination
we will be forever changed.
And changed I was.

I witnessed some outstanding young people
on the Road to Juquila
who truly understood what a procession is.
About three hours into the bus ride up the mountain
(around 8:00a.m.)
We came upon a major group of youth,
several hundred I would venture to say,
making their procession via bike.
It would take us two more hours
to arrive to the municipality
and I wondered how long it would take them
and what physical state they would be in
once they arrived.
But the youth quickly slipped my mind
once we arrived.
I was so excited to be there
and so happy that I didn’t give them a second thought.

As we walked through the neighborhood
the sound of fireworks could be heard.
The tradition is
that as a group of pilgrims entered the area
they would shoot off fireworks
to announce their arrival.
The fireworks marked the end of the procession
and the arrival to the sacred.
Upon hearing the fireworks
someone at the church would ring the bell
to welcome them into the church proper.
What a beautiful thing!
This wasn’t a church bell on a timer.
This wasn’t a ficticious church bell
on a CD with speakers.
This was an actual church bell
rang by someone whose ministry it was
to welcome the pilgrims.

We witnessed several such large groups of pilgrims
with fireworks and bells
while there at Juquila.
After a few hours
we decided to leave the church
and go have lunch
as none of us had breakfast that morning.
It was now 2:00p.m.

As we were leaving the church
the bicyclists arrived,
some six hours after we had first seen them.
I had already cried several times
during our stay in the church
and about the church grounds.
But upon seeing them
I realized that this group of youth
really knew something about sacred journeys.
I cried in thanksgiving
for this wonderful group of young people
who perhaps,
without evening knowing it,
witnessed to me that day.

In Xochimilco there are bike taxis.
In Mexico City,
Dominio’s and KFC deliver via bike.
A bike isn’t a means for exercise or a past time.
A bike is a means of transportation
and even a means for one’s livelihood.
And this being the case,
a bicycle is a sacred, sacred thing to many.

These young people
got off of their bikes
as they arrived near the back of the church.
They hoisted their bikes over their shoulders
as they went up the stairs.
One of the older boys took his bike up
and then returned to help a younger girl,
who I guess was only about eight years old.
But he took his bike and then came all the way back down
to help someone else.
It didn’t matter that he was tired.
Someone needed his help and freely offered it.
He assisted someone in arriving to the sacred.
When they arrived to the main entry
they walked their bikes into the church
with church bells tolling to welcome them.
Now that is a procession.
That is liturgy:
Laos Ergon - A work of the people.
And you know,
sometimes it’s hard work.
Sometimes it is very, very hard work, indeed.
And sometimes
we are called to help someone else
to do their work.
These young people know what a procession is.
And this was only the procession.
What of the rest of the liturgy?
Yes, true liturgy
is work indeed.

I would later learn
that many travel for days on foot
to reach Juquila,
camping out in the mountains
as they make their way.
And while I, myself,
encountered many obstacles
on the Road to Juquila,
it is nothing compared
to what others must overcome
as they make their sacred journey.
I began to realize
that I have much to learn
about recognizing
and embracing the sacred work
that is all around me.
I have much to learn
about the work that is liturgy.

There are those,
who, perhaps,
would make the argument
that I confuse “pilgrimage” with “procession.”
You know,
I really don’t think so.
All of life is a pilgrimage.
We are in procession
through the whole of our lives.
During the whole of our lives
we are in constant movement
toward the sacred.
At least, I hope that we are.

Liturgy and processions
are not just the stuff of Sunday.
The movement toward the sacred
is the stuff of our daily lives.
Every day we move
just a little closer,
nearer, my God, to thee.

Processions are sacred.
Work is sacred.

Laos Ergon:
The Work of the People.
What a beautiful, beautiful thing is Liturgy.
Yes, a beautiful thing, indeed.

About the video:
Just a little something I recorded with my digicam (not my video cam), as we were about to leave Juquila. If you listen closely, you will hear the fireworks going off as this group of musicians and pilgrims near the church.

- - - - - - - - - - -

About the photos:
The first two photos are of the front of the church, Santa Catalina Juquila.
The second photo is of the church bell.
The third is of a truck, whose driver was also making procession, with a small statue of Our Lady leading his way!