Friday, August 29, 2014

Seventy-plus Years of Carrying the Cross

Then Jesus said to his disciples:
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.”
                                                       Matthew 16:24 (NRSV)

These lines from next Sunday’s gospel (August 31) came to me yesterday morning as I left Don Hipólito’s house and accompanied him in the early morning as he walked—if one could call his slow, painful gait “walking”—to the same small church that he has walked to almost every morning for the past seventy years.
Hipólito walking to the church in San Marcos yesterday morning
Why was he going there? Because in 1944, when he was twenty-two years old, he was chosen to be the village “cantor” in San Marcos. Literally, “cantor” means “singer,” but Hipólito’s responsibilities involve a lot more than singing. In an isolated village where the parish priest might show up three or four times a year, he is the community’s religious representative before God.
Early-morning view from the doorway to the one-room house of Hipólito and Simona
What does that mean? Hipólito prays for the sick; he intercedes for a good rainy season; he looks after the saints in the parish church; he officiates as people are married or buried (these marriages may not be “sacramental” in the eyes of the Catholic Church, but they are definitely considered binding and are certainly “sacred” in the eyes of the villagers).
Some of the saints in the church of San Marcos
And why the painful gait yesterday morning? Because ninety-two-year-old Hipólito had been walking home—barefoot—in the dark the week before, and he had stepped on a piece of broken glass. He had made his own poultice of plants and was hopeful that this remedy would soon work, but so far, it didn’t seem to be having much effect.
Hipólito's foot yesterday morning. Ouch!
It was an honour to accompany Hipólito as he greeted (in Latin and in his native na savi language) each of the saints in the church. The “greeting” lasted over an hour and involved candles, flowers, incense, prayers, and song. Hipólito apologized for singing out of tune, but he said that he just hasn’t been able to recover the good voice that he had before he lost two of his front teeth.
Hipólito (accompanied by his future replacement?) greeting the saints
Staying overnight at Hipólito’s house was also a great experience. He and his wife, Simona, used to live high on the hill overlooking the village, but since their house was severely damaged last year, they now live at the lower end of the village. They have a dirt floor, no running water, no bathroom (not even outside), no table, no bed. But they do have hearts that surely reflect Jesus’ own, and they share the best of what they have and who they are. It was easy to think that they truly live Jesus’ invitation to “deny themselves and to take up their crosses and follow me.”
Hipólito and Simona enjoying breakfast
Their reality has touched other lives too. I had gone to San Marcos on Wednesday with Edith and Oscar, for a meeting of the twenty families or so whose houses had been destroyed or badly damaged during heavy rains, landslides, and earthquakes in September of last year. Edith is Hipólito’s granddaughter, and she has been spearheading an effort to raise funds in Mexico City to assist these families in rebuilding their homes and their lives. Oscar is a young man from Switzerland who is working among the poor in Guatemala, and he visits Edith several times a year. Is it love? Of course it is!
Edith helping Oscar to get ready for the day
One of the main fundraisers in Mexico City is the purchase of post cards depicting the lives of the people in San Marcos. When disaster struck the area last September, a number of journalists and photographers went to San Marcos to document the lives of the people. Many couldn’t believe their eyes; these Mexico City Mexicans had no idea that so many of their own people lived in such marginalization in the twenty-first century. 
My supper on Wednesday night (Simona stirred the chile sauce into the atole with her fingers)
Edith helped to coordinate a solidarity effort by many of these photographers: they donated their best photographs; postcards were made; these were (and are) offered for sale to the public. Besides the financial assistance for the people of San Marcos, the photographers want to raise awareness that there is still a lot of work to be done to create a Mexico for all Mexicans.
Hipólito and Simona's new (wooden) house; the one on the right belongs to a neighbour
PS: Hipólito reminded me of the words from Sunday’s gospel. His wife, Simona, reminded me of the cover of the tabernacle in the chapel of the Tonantzin Guadalupe Diocesan Seminary where I live here in Tlapa. Am I the only one who sees a similarity in the following two photos (and is tempted to draw a halo around Simona’s head)?

 Have a great weekend, all. God bless. Thanks for supporting Mission Mexico.

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