Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sister Parish Relationship Off To a Great Start

Last Thursday I joined three other persons from the TOR parish of St. Gerards (Mike Haasl, Annetta Willars, and Irene Gomez-Bethke) on a trip to San Rafael, Mexico, to begin laying the foundation for a sister parish relationship between the Church of St. Gerard and the Church of San Rafael. The trip was made possible by the generosity of the Knights of Columbus and the Ladies Auxiliary of St. Gerards along with the coordinating efforts of several members of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls. Special thanks go out to Sr. Michelle L'Allier and Sr. Pat Forster, who is a pastoral associate at San Rafael. Once on the ground in San Rafael, Sr. Pat and the community there went to great lengths to help us adjust. Sr. Pat also put together an itinerary full of opportunities to meet the community members and to take a great deal of time speaking with the sister parish committee members of San Rafael. To give you an idea of what we experienced on our trip, I will tell you about our first full day at San Rafael. To begin the day we were given a tour of the small puebla (village) of San Rafael by a parishioner of San Rafael named Antonio. The city is along the Pan-American highway and bases some of its business on the traffic that moves through the area. Small "tiendas" (stores) line the highway and sell all kinds of different food. The area along the highway is also dotted with "depositos" (bars) which truckers and those passing through also frequent. Another major part of the economic life of San Rafael is agriculture. Antonio took us to see a very large tomato greenhouse, potato fields, and a place where eggs are cleaned, boxed up, and shipped. Later in the afternoon we met the parents of one of the new postulants of the Franciscan Sisters (Aurora; they have another whom we also met named Isabel) in an even smaller village ("pueblacita") called Mescite. Don Martin Tovar and Dona Maria Roble (Aurora's parents) offered us gracious hospitality and showed us a DVD of a cooperative farm effort that Don Martin leads. Thanks to his efforts and those of local farmers, this cooperative has become large enough to receive support by the government. Don Martin and Dona Maria's house, though humble in size, is filled with a great deal of love and warmth. When Don Martin's grandchildren returned home from school that afternoon, we watched as each of them went up to their grandfather and grandmother and kissed both their hands and cheeks. It was truly a gesture of great reverence, respect, and deep affection. Later in the evening the sisters held a welcoming party for us. Around forty people attended the fiesta. It is evident that the Franciscan Sisters (who are referred to by the people of San Rafael as "Madres" or mothers) are greatly loved by the people and have established a strong and hopefully lasting presence. As a sign of this presence and dedication to the people of San Rafael, they recently erected and blessed a new building. One parishioner of San Rafael told me that this building speaks to him of the hope that San Rafael can develop into a town of greater prosperity. The people of San Rafael face many challanges and we heard about this from the people who attended the party. Some spoke about the prostitution that plagues the town and wanting to see this come to an end. Others spoke about how they would like to see a more stable economy established, one less tied to the growing season. All of those at the fiesta radiated the hope that San Rafael can be transformed into a place that will be more safe, secure, and prosperous for their children and grandchildren. The people of San Rafael know that this will take a great deal of work to establish. I found out that the parish recently conducted a Eucharistic procession which passed by those places reputed to be houses of prostitution. From this example of faith to Don Martin's efforts to the hope strived for and spoken to by all who attended the welcoming fiesta, I was filled with great inspiration at the mettle and the beauty of the people of San Rafael. Unfortunately, my stay was cut short by a medical emergency and I had to return to the US after only one full day at San Rafael - but what a day! To the people of San Rafael I say "Que Dios le bendiga ahora y siempre y espero que vaya a visitarles en el futuro proximo." Pat, TOR