God will provide rain for the seeds you sow.
The grain that grows will be abundant.
Your cattle will range far and wide.
Oblivious to war and earth-quake,
the oxen and donkeys you use for hauling and plowing
will be fed well near running brooks
that flow freely from mountains and hills.
Isaiah 30:23–25 (the Message)
Rain. That’s what’s on people’s minds nowadays. The dividing line between life and death here is always a slim one, and the big difference-maker is often rain.
The hope is that the rainy season will start any day now. The “usual” rainy season lasts from May to October. And perhaps because the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist is the last “major” feast day before the beginning of May, Saint Mark is associated in the indigenous cultures here with the rainy season.
However, it’s difficult to determine just who St. Mark is in the minds and hearts of the people. Consider the photo below, which I took last week in the church of Xochitepec. Notice the three stone images. The large figure in the middle is St. Mark the Evangelist. The figure on the left is that of a lion—the usual symbol for Mark the Evangelist. The figure on the right is St. Mark—the St. Mark who determines the fate of the rainy season.
Very few people here would be able to tell you what an “evangelist” is. But they all know who St. Mark “the rain-maker” is. And the prayers directed toward him don’t ask him to “intercede” with God so that the people might receive the life-giving rain; the prayers ask St. Mark to provide the rain. I daresay that if someone stole the stone figure of St. Mark the Evangelist, village life would continue on tranquilly. But if someone stole the stone figure representing the St. Mark associated with rain, village life would be totally traumatized.
I love going to Xochitepec mostly because of the great parish priest, Father Juan Molina, MSpS—(his companions Hector and Gustavo are incredible guys too). Those initials after Juan’s name refer to his religious congregation: the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. Juan is a incredible man who has lived in Rome and other “important places.” But here he is now, in his late sixties and “lost” in the mountains of Mexico in the most isolated, hardest-to-get-to part of La Montaña. Several priests and seminarians have told me that Juan is their model of “how a good priest should be”—and the people of Xochitepec and the other 28 villages of the parish would agree. It’s such a blessing to be able to visit Juan, see him in action, and dialogue with him.
|Father Juan on his way to visit a village|
The Missionaries of the Holy Spirit offer a volunteer program for Mexican youth who want to be part of an “insertion experience” among the poor. This year there are four such persons living in Xochitepec with Juan, Hector, and Gustavo; they are Luisa, Beto, Jose Luis, and Pollo. (“Pollo” means “Chicken,” and he refuses to tell anyone what his real name is.)
|Talking with Luisa, Jose Luis, Pollo, and Beto (I'm the old guy)|
Last week I asked Luisa, Beto, Jose Luis, and Pollo what the best part of their experience in Xochitepec has been (they've been there since October). Almost at the same time, they all responded, “The children.” They started telling anecdotes about the simplicity, the sincerity, the generosity, the smiles of the children.
When I asked about the worst part of their experience, there was a bit of a pause and then several answers—but all similar—were spoken: “Powerlessness.” “Hopelessness.” “Helplessness.” “Rage.” They have seen so many situations of need—hunger, sickness, suffering, needless death, lack of opportunity—that they feel overwhelmed (and saddened and angered) by it all. They try to do what they can, but it seems like so little in comparison to the misery that is so abundant in La Montaña. But all four agreed that the opportunity to live with these impoverished people and with the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit has been the best experience of their lives.
So the struggle will go on. Allow me to end with an anecdote. The parish priest, Juan Molina, loves coffee; he admits that he drinks too much of it. He used to have a French press coffee maker that he loved. Unfortunately, the glass container broke several months ago while being washed. I was in the city of Cuernavaca the other day and was able to buy him a new French press coffee maker. Now I’m looking forward to surprising him with his new gift. I think he deserves it. Would you agree with me? I hope so, because I will be telling him that the coffee maker is a gift to him (and his community) from his friends in Canada who support Mission Mexico. Thanks for that support, everyone. God bless.
|That's my hand in the ceremony for petitioning rain from St. Mark|