Sunday, January 3, 2010

Adventures in Hispanic Ministry: A Trilogy

1. Bringing hope to Esperanza

Saturday night, I pile into the van with Carlos, the prayer group coordinator, his wife Ana, their three children, and hermano Sebastian. Other members arrive and we crowd into Esperanza’s living room around her home altarcito. Esperanza is a family day care provider and friend of one of the hermanas in our group who has organized this event. She has recently lost two relatives – a 103-year old grandfather-in-law and his 72-year old son. Their photos are on the altar along with an assortment of flickering real and blinking electric candles, an image of the Divine Child, Mary, a cup filled with some sort of liquid offering, a vase of roses, another of purple lilies, a couple of poinsettias, and some odd objects – a little Japanese garden-like bridge, a figurine of a horse-drawn wagon full of produce, and many others whose symbolic significance is only known to Esperanza.

I watch spellbound as Carlos expertly leads us through two rosarios por los difuntos (novenarios, specifically), effortlessly weaving in various popular devotional prayers while barely glancing at his prayer book. He even recites the litany to the Virgin without peeking! This shy accountant turns out to be a proficient rezador – a man in a role that in popular Latino Catholicism is usually performed by women. In between the two rosaries, there is music. We sing alabanzas to the souls of the two departed loved ones and to lift Esperanza’s spirits.

And then Esperanza feeds us: chicken with rice and yucca for the grownups, pizza and juice for the next generation who play video games and chatter with each other in English after standing in silent acquiescent, if not necessarily willing, attention during the prayers. I wonder if these traditional practices will ever mean anything to them. Will they continue them in some way, adapt them to their own needs and language, or scrap them altogether?

2. Escuela

At 7:30 a.m. this morning, over a hundred bleary-eyed members of the Ministerio de Sanación e Intercesión – the backbone of the Spanish charismatic renewal – gather for “school”. I greet old friends in the new year and slip into an inconspicuous corner. “Escuela” is like a regular charismatic prayer group meeting on steroids, followed by the enseñanza (teaching). Today we are getting a refresher on the Renovación’s statutes, the governing rules for this official lay Catholic organization:

Blam!: a blast at political leaders who want to change their country’s constitution to extend their terms in office. Is the speaker talking about Chavez? Zelaya? Who knows? (…but we “are not getting into politics”, oh no!)

Blam!: another blast at those who think there should be women priests…because we are not to criticize our Church, ever. The Holy Father knows best and is always right.

Blam!: a third blast at people who think they can influence clergy appointments by petitions to the bishop, but “they are wasting their time.” Priests are the “property” [sic] of the diocese.

The primary message is that the Catholic Church is NOT a democracy. If other charismatic renewal groups have similar statutes, it’s no wonder the movement was heartily embraced by Cardinal Ratzinger when Pope Paul VI dispatched him to investigate it.

The younger hermanas sitting near me look bored and thumb distractedly through their Bibles. One passes me a note asking for the URL for Fr. Hoyos’ blog. All I want to do is sit and pray for the sick and suffering in the healing Masses just as I do every day privately. This is a high price to pay.

Part of me wants to get up and walk out. The part that wins out, stays and says: “No. It IS possible to be a charismatic and an adult, thinking Catholic at the same time. I refuse to check my intellect and freedom of expression at the door of the Renovación.” I am not going to accept this false, externally-imposed dichotomy between mind and spirit, this definition of “obedience” as silent acquiescence to anything that comes out of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, whether just or unjust. I may be hanging out with the Latino Catholic community but I’m not going to fall into the “así lo quiere Dios” passivity, masquerading as fidelity. And if I ever have to choose between Iglesia Descalza and the Renovación, this blog wins, hands down.

3. Home, Sweet Home

Today at Queen of Peace we are having an early bilingual service so that the Spiritans can get on the road for a meeting of their congregation. I choose to respond in Spanish whenever possible. We get a simple bilingual homily on the Epiphany from Fr. Tim about seeing Christ in the other. Aquí me siento en mi casa. In this church, I am home.

We sing:

“Algo nuevo está naciendo
En mi pueblo está latiendo.
Algo nuevo está naciendo,
Con nosotros va subiendo.
Algo nuevo está naciendo,
Con los pobres va creciendo.”


Something new is being born, beating within my people, growing with the poor. The yoke they bore, the chains they wore, the prison bars they clenched are melted in the fire burning within them. That is what the song says and it ends triumphantly: “Nuestro Dios, SE HIZO PUEBLO!” Our God has been born as one of us, and so our hearts are on fire with a Spirit that will break the bonds both internal and external that hold us captive. You will never hear this song in the Renovación; you won’t hear it in 99% of the Hispanic parishes in this country. But is there a lovelier way of expressing what being touched by God’s Holy Spirit really means?

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