Friday, February 15, 2013

Experiences from MACC, Part 2

Greetings in Christ,

In my last post I wrote about some of my experiences at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio. I would like to continue that train of thought as I reflect on my experience down near the border city of Brownsville, Texas.

Many immigrants who come north in search of a better life end up in small communities called “colonias,” which are usually formed on rather desolate patches of land offered by developers, in exchange for a financial commitment on the part of the one purchasing the property. It is then up to the immigrant, who usually has little or no means, to build a home, and remain current on the obligation to repay whatever loan they have taken on. The monthly payment may not seem like much, usually a few hundred dollars, but to one who has nothing but the clothes they are wearing, it can seem insurmountable. The newly arrived sometimes end up living in tin shacks with no plumbing or running water, and only over the course of many years are they able to slowly construct something that resembles a house, as we know it.

Las Milpas, the colonia that we visited, had undergone significant growth and development since it first began in the early 1970’s: there are paved roads and public utilities now, and most homes have at least some minimal modern conveniences. Many of the residents, however, are still struggling. A community organization known as “Arise” has done a tremendous job of helping the residents in learning their rights, learning processes of government, and helping them to adjust to their new circumstances. One of the principles of Arise is the idea that “we will not do for you what you can do for yourself,” which seems to uphold St. Paul’s admonishment to the Thessalonians: “In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10). In my brief time there, I did not meet anyone who was unwilling to work.

Most people who come north in search of the American dream do not want to be dependent on others, except only God, but circumstances sometimes mean that they need our help. Thus Paul’s teaching must be held in tension with what Christ commands in the Gospel according to Matthew: that we must welcome the stranger, give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked…(cf. Mt 25:35-37). As Catholics, we are ‘both/and’ people, and so we must reflect on how best to incorporate both of these teachings into the fabric of our Christian lives.

I do not know what the political solution to America’s immigration difficulty is, and I would not even pretend to address that issue in this forum. But God clearly wants us to both care for ourselves, and for one another. I hope that during this Lenten season, we might take some time to prayerfully consider how best to do that.

May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent, and may whatever emptiness you gain by your sacrifices, be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit!

Peter Bucalo

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Seminarian Experiences MACC

Greetings in Christ from MACC:

For my first ever blog post, I thought I would reflect briefly on my experience of the last two weeks at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas.
As part of our formation, all Second Theology seminarians at St. Meinrad are required to attend the “Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century” program, a two week course offered after Christmas break, in between Fall and Spring semesters. I was a bit unsure of myself when I arrived, but settled in quickly after being greeted by one of my Archdiocese of Louisville brothers, who has returned to seminary after some time out for additional discernment. It was comforting to see his smiling face as I started to unload my car.

It was an intense two weeks, including six hours of classes every day, as well as daily mass and communal morning and evening prayer. We covered everything from Hispanic culture and spirituality, to immigration issues and pastoral care. We concluded with a little fiesta, and an awesome performance from a local Mariachi band, that totally “Rocked the MACC!” It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. I feel closer to my seminary brothers, and closer to Hispanic faith and culture. It was time well spent.

One of the most profound insights for me came during our three-day trip down to the border territory near McAllen. We stayed at the hotel at the Basilica Shrine of the Virgen de San Juan del Valle, spent some time with Fr. Amador Garza (a St. Meinrad alumnus) and attended the Vigil Mass for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It was a wonderful example of the Church embracing a variety of cultures, as the Basilica had a Mariachi band providing liturgical music. Though our Mass was in English, the cultural influence was nonetheless palpable; it was electric. One of the most beautiful moments for me was the late arrival of an elderly Hispanic couple of modest means, who came all the way down to the front row, and managed to get settled in just in time for the Eucharistic prayer. They were meagerly dressed, and clung to each other as they knelt for the consecration. I couldn’t help but think of the Epistle of James, which reminds us that, “if a man with gold rings on his fingers and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Sit here, please,’ while you say to the poor one, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?” Though they were poor, their humble faith and sincere piety provided an example for even the richest among us.

Another powerful experience came when we visited Las Milpas, one of las Colonias near the border, and met some of the struggling immigrants who are trying to build better lives for themselves in their newly adopted country. I will offer some thoughts from that day on my next post.

El Senor este con ustedes (I hope I have that right),
Peter Bucalo