Faith, Evangelization and the Indigenous Community
There are some very unique challenges to evangelization within the indigenous Mexican community. On April 29, Fr. Eleazar Lopez Hernandez, a theologian from CENAMI (Centro Nacional de Ayuda a las Misiones Indigenas) presented a workshop for volunteers in Campesino Ministry in Fresno. He is himself Zapoteco from Oaxaca. He spoke of the faith of the indigenous people particularly of Oaxaca. His insight on the spirituality of indigenous people in general and specific reflections on particular groups as the Trique, Zapoteco and Mixteco gave a context to evangelization that challenges our understanding of the place of faith in the lives of our indigenous Catholics in our diocese.
There are difficulties in extending a welcome to the indigenous Mexican because of issues of migration, instability, poverty and language barriers. As Fr. Lopez indicated it is a community extremely loyal to the Catholic Church, yet its members may have very little in the way of formal religious formation. Many come from communities with infrequent presence of clergy in their communities. The faith is commonly celebrated in feasts of their villages and devotions to particular saints.
The indigenous community needs special attention, beginning with recognition of their loyalty and faith. We have significant numbers of Zapoteco and Trique who have become part of the outreach of Campesino Ministry within the diocese, but the overwhelming group is Mixteco. Before establishing programs of evangelization we need to appreciate the roots of spirituality among these peoples and the experience of Catholicism in their communities in Mexico.
Community on the edge
On May 13, I celebrated Mass to honor the feast of St. Isidore, the patron of farmers with a Mixteco community. A fiesta followed the Mass with food, traditional music, entertainers and dance. Many at the Mass were in a shaded area, not close to the altar. I found later that many on the edges of the celebration of the Mass do not speak Spanish. They speak Mixteco. When the Mass was over, many of those not speaking Spanish came forward with candles and flowers to offer their prayers before the small shrine to San Isidro.
The community shows great reverence, but the faith is separated from the sacraments. This large community that probably exceeds 40,000 workers and their families in our diocese are devout, loyal to the Church but not at home in our Catholic community of the diocese of Fresno.
Needing missionary outreach
It is not enough to invite people to our parishes. People of migration are on the edge of American society. The inadequacy of immigration reform causes much isolation in the migrant community, but the isolation also can come from within the Church. Too often people of mobility approach our churches for attention and immediately encounter barriers to participation within the church. The indigenous community often has limited proficiency in Spanish, let alone English. Often people feel lost and isolated. Welcome is the first priority of our ministry. Then we need to take steps to invite and involve them in our parishes.
The Campesino Ministry Council is working on norms for sacramental preparation within the context of migration. The first norm is recognizing the face of Christ in the poor.
Rev. Michael McAndrew, C.Ss.R.
Multicultural and Campesino Coordinator