Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Distress and Eustress during Holy Week in the Mountains

I know that “eustress” isn’t the most common word in daily conversation, but the word came to me as I listened on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) to more than one hundred young people talk about their experiences of living a week among some of the poorest people among the most isolated villages in the mountains of Guerrero.
A young "missionary," Araceli, visiting a family in Llano Grande.
Araceli, from Tlapa, is in her last year of study for a teaching degree,
thanks in part to a scholarship from Mission Mexico.
I remember that I first read the word in a book called Healing the Heart of Democracy, by Parker J. Palmer. In the book, Palmer made a distinction between “distress”—which is negative and destructive—and “eustress”—which is positive and a prod to growth.
Vladimiro—a near-perfect example of "eustress" rather than "distress"
 There was no doubt that the hundred young people from the states of Puebla and Tabasco and from Mexico City and Tlapa had “suffered” and “sacrificed” during their week in the mountains. The travel (breathing in dust on the back of trucks), the food (beans—and often only beans—every day), the sleeping arrangement (straw mat on a dirt floor), the language barrier (the youth spoke Spanish; many of the people in the region spoke only me phaa), the lack of comforts (no cell phone or Internet here), etc.
Palm Sunday procession in Xochitepec
But, amazingly enough, everyone was thrilled that they had had this experience among the indigenous poor. As one young man put it, “I kind of bragged before that I was Mexican. Now I’m not even sure if I know what it means to be Mexican. I never knew that people actually had to live like this in my own country. If these impoverished people live in Mexico, maybe I live above Mexico.”
Dani and Isa (from Tlapa) with children in Loma Macho
The youth had arrived on Palm Sunday to different villages in the parish of Xochitepec. I spent the full week in the parish, visiting different groups each day to be sure that all was going well. It was a week without seeing a paved road—and occasionally walking, driving and wading through rivers, and even crossing a swinging walk bridge (with missing boards) above a steep gully at one o'clock in the morning. The truck was continually in four-wheel drive, and I never got beyond first or second gear. The days were long—usually leaving in the dark and returning in the dark. But it was an amazing experience.
Mike crossing the swinging bridge in Rio Velero
The people in the villages were thrilled to receive these groups of four or five young “missionaries.” The young people interacted with the children, the youth, and the adults. They were encouraged beforehand to visit every single family in the village where they were staying. It was these family visits that most impacted them.
Children from Loma Macho learning through coloring about Jesus' life
So many families had sick children or sick mothers or sick elderly—yet this was just “daily life” for the people. The young “missionaries” felt impotent in responding to so many needs. Many had gone to the villages thinking that they would be “bringing the Word of God” to the people (in fact, one group even had that motto on their T-shirts); on their last day, these same missionaries articulated that the Word of God was brought more to them than to the people.
Eleuteria, Monica, Lizbeth, and Sara. Monica and Lizbeth are sisters
and lived in different villages during Holy Week. Monica is a university
student in Tlapa, thanks in part to a scholarship from Mission Mexico.
Another impactful experience for the young “visitors” was the re-enactment in the villages of the events of Holy Week. Without the presence of a priest, the villagers still relived the events of Jesus’ last week of life. The “re-enactment” wasn't always exactly faithful to the gospels—for example, one village washed hands at the Last Supper, not feet; another village used tortillas and Pepsi, not bread and wine; another locked up on Holy Thursday night the young man playing the role of Judas instead of the young man playing Jesus;—but everything worked out fine.
Jesus meets his mother in this Good Friday reenactment in Llano Grande
In the Holy Week issue of the newspaper that the diocesan seminary here in Tlapa distributes, I wrote an article about Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. In that article I mentioned the importance and the beauty of reenacting the events of that week, but I also stressed that, as disciples of Jesus, we can’t forget what led up to the events of that week. My final paragraph went something like this (it reads better in Spanish than in English, I think):
Father Hector walking to Rio Velero (he got us lost walking;
I still think he deserved to slip in the river and get soaked)
“Paraphrasing something written by José Antonio Pagola in his book Volver a Jesús (Turning Back to Jesus), we must remember that what was for Jesus the objective, the rationale, the heart of his message, and the passion that drove his life was the kingdom of God. We followers are invited not only to turn our lives over to God; we are invited to ‘seek the kingdom of God and its justice’; we are invited to collaborate with Jesus in working toward a world with greater justice, dignity, life, and love for all.”
Easter Vigil service in Xochitepec
I think that this was one of the “lessons” learned by the young “missionaries” during their Holy Week experience in the mountains. I think it is one of the reasons why Father Fred Monk started Mission Mexico. I think it is one of the reasons why so many good people assist Mission Mexico in its efforts to live and share this gospel message among the impoverished people here. Let’s hope that the future will show more signs of this kingdom of God in the mountains of Mexico—and in your life and in mine.
Driving in the early dawn (okay, maybe just a little
before the early dawn)


  1. Gracias Mike por compartirnos aunque sea un poquito de lo que se vivió durante la Semana Santa en la Montaña.
    Valiosas aportaciones de los misioneros. Ojalá que ese espíritu se mantenga firme y sirva para dar a conocer otra cara de México.
    Así como eres de intrépido, "rodando" por los caminos, que Dios te bendiga y te cuide siempre.
    Te mando un abrazo desde el sureste mexicano.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Mike..a true Easter celebration. The faith and hopefulness of these villagers puts us to shame. May God keep you and them safe and may their quality of life continue to improve. Mission Mexico is doing
    incredible things. Love, Nena

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.