Saturday, November 3, 2018

Death Does Not Have the Final Word

Death does not have the final word
In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life: the lives of those loved ones who preceded us into the great unknown. It is usually quite a festive time because, the belief is, the souls of our loved ones return to visit their families. It is a time for music, cempasuchitl (marigold) flowers, pan de muertos (bread of the dead), copal incense, candles, music, drink, ofrendas (altars in the home), food shared, and accompaniment in the local cemetery (often all night). This celebration often begins in late October, when family members go to the tombs of their loved ones and place a path of flower petals on the ground so that their loved ones can find their way to the ofrendas in the home.
A few of those candles are mine, for my deceased loved ones
As during most years, I was invited by several families in different villages to accompany them as they celebrated the presence of their loved deceased. I tend to not take many photographs during these visits, because I too am present to my deceased loved ones; I don’t want to seem to be a “tourist” or just an "observer."
A display for this time of year in the main square of Tlapa (where I live)
This year, though, it has been difficult to celebrate this feast day. First, six days ago, the father of one of my dearest friends in Tlapa, Martha, died from cancer. Martha and her husband Ramiro are compadres of mine who operate a small restaurant, and they were aware that Servando (Martha’s father) wasn’t going to be around for a long period of time. Yet, as most of us know, death always comes as a bit of a shock. Burial was this past Sunday.
Ramiro and Martha: my friends for almost forty years
But shock turned into what Martha terms a “shattering blow” when, just yesterday, her 46-year-old brother, also named Servando, was murdered. Servando was a taxi driver for many years in Tlapa, and he was shot several times yesterday as he returned from delivering passengers to a nearby village. No one knows anything about the motive; all that is known is that Servando’s wife and five children will now have to try to get along without him.
Servando father and Servando son: I will miss you, my friends
Tomorrow morning I will be present for Servando’s funeral Mass and burial. For me, one of the most amazing parts of this double-whammy experience for this family is the faith exhibited by Martha. Yes, she is “shattered”; but it is also Martha who posted the image that is at the top of this blog: La muerte no tiene la última palabra (Death does not have the final word).
Servando Senior was buried on the feast day of St. Judas Thaddaeus, the patron saint
of lost causes. Hopefully the struggle for justice here will never be lost.
The violence here in the Mountain has reached terrible proportions. Every day there are killings (usually very gruesome). Kidnappings, extortion, disappearances, robberies, etc., are more and more common. Very seldom is anyone brought to justice for these crimes. This may be due in part to the fact that many people do not even bother to report crimes to the police or governing authorities; too often, these authorities are perceived to be acting in collusion with the criminal. In 2017, Mexico ranked first among the 19 Latin American countries surveyed in the “Global Impunity Index.” In Canada, I daresay that “impunity” is a word that most people have never even used.
"When I do not walk in the clouds, I walk as though I were lost." - Antonio Porchia
The Mountain is a place of great beauty, great poverty, great hope—and it is the latter that Mission Mexico attempts to concretize and make more real and more extensive. Next week I will be flying to Calgary, and I will be bringing with me requests for support during 2019 from different individuals and groups. As I spoke with these people during recent weeks, it was sometimes difficult to not cry. One's location on the thin line between success and failure is often determined by only a few dollars per week. I think especially of so many students who have to rent a place in the city if they want to study; it is difficult for most of us to realize the sacrifices that these young people make in pursuit of their dreams.
Floriberto, a student at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain (supported by
Mission Mexico), wrote a letter of thanks to the parents of Alex Graf, a young man
from Medicine Hat killed in a highway accident in 2014; Alex's family and friends
established a welding shop in Alex's memory at Floriberto's school.
In the Diocese of Calgary, several churches and parishes offer ongoing support during the year for Mission Mexico. Other parishes and schools make a special effort to assist during a special collection in mid-December, around the time of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Ahead of time, I would like to thank all of those people who help to coordinate these efforts and all of those people who support these efforts. I am blessed in the sense that I get to see the fruits of this solidarity among the very impoverished indigenous peoples of this Mountain of Guerrero. Gracias. And remember: Death does not have the final word.
Thanks,Diocese of Calgary, for keeping the darkness at bay.

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