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Stories from the Sisters : Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Tri-Province Development Program

Stories from the Sisters

by Sr. Janet Grim SND

I’ve been accompanying the Mexican people here in Guadalajara for 16 years. Mexico is considered part of the North American continent and would very much like to enjoy the economic standing of its northern neighbors. The country is certainly gifted with all the natural resources which should qualify it as one of the richest areas in the world. However, it suffers, as does all of Latin America, from corruption which invades the political, judicial, educational and economic life of the people. There is overwhelming poverty both in intensity and quantity and the gap between the rich and the poor grows greater and greater each day.
I am fortunate to be connected to the Mexican Jesuits here in Mexico. I teach English and French in their seminary where I meet many young religious, both men and women, who are in formation and who are studying philosophy. This school is the first stage of their education as religious; their theology will come later in their formation. In the past few years we have had just as many lay people studying with us as religious. The school is a privileged atmosphere with highly motivated students and language classes as small as 3 and 4. I rarely have more than 8 students in my language classes. All of us at school, teachers and students alike, are encouraged to engage in apostolates which put us in contact with the needs of the poor. This contact with the poor helps us to direct our relations with each other, our teaching methodology and our curriculum content to this reality. Classroom theory is informed by the practical experience of apostolates and the learnings are rich.

The apostolate I’ve been involved in since my arrival here is parish work. I’ve participated in various pastoral services in the course of the years, always for the same diocesan pastor. He is truly a pastor of the poor, unlike a lot of the diocesan clergy here in Guadalajara who seem to be ultra-conservative and very much on the side of power. Guadalajara itself is probably one of the most conservative dioceses in Mexico. There are two very different churches here: the church of the poor which concerns itself with people’s needs (shelter, food, health, etc), believing that faith in God has to do with one’s relation to others; and the “other” church — and I don’t know how to name it — which is concerned with confessions, the quantity of communions each Sunday, robes for the acolytes, Benediction, novenas, holy hours, etc.

At present I am part of a team of six, assisting the pastor, among whom are the young Jesuits in my classes. I am involved with the Base Community groups (called CEBs). These are small groups formed by the people living on a block and they usually meet once a week. They follow a methodology all their own which comes from the documents of Medellin and Puebla: SEE, REFLECT, ACT, that is SEE and share aspects of one’s experience of life, REFLECT on it in light of the Bible, and commit oneself to an ACTION (as a group) as a result of the learnings and a call perhaps heard in the seeing and reflecting. Evaluation and celebration also enter into their activities periodically.

The purpose of these groups is two-fold: first, they are a means to conscienticize folks as to the reality they live in. That is, that they begin to see that their reality of poor salaries, poor educational opportunities, poor government services (water, electric, etc), fear of retaliation if they complain, is not what God wants for them, that such an existence is anti-gospel. The other hope of these groups is the formation of community. Most people live in isolation, trying to mind their own business and not wanting to risk who they are by sharing their experiences and how they feel. Their needs are great and it is only in helping one another that their suffering becomes bearable. The pastor just can’t respond to all the needs. Just about everyone is Catholic, at least 95% of the population. The Base Communities can help people to live in solidarity with their neighbors and be willing to accompany each other in their journey so that they feel support.
The Base Community structure struggles. People are slow to accept responsibility for their faith. They still want the priest to give them that faith in his Sunday homily. They want it to come from the quantity of rosaries they say, the number of Masses they go to, rather than from their lived experience shared and deepened in conversation with the gospel and others. Adult Christianity is not easy!
In spite of all the problems and injustices within the fabric of the country with its corrupt systems and the influence of two different Catholic churches, the people have a lot of hope and they love to celebrate life. I am truly grateful to be part of their struggle and for the opportunity to share life with the Mexican people who teach me so much.

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