Sister Parish Visit

February 10th, 2013 by Jim & Mary Brown

Sister Parish Visit:  December 8, 2012 to December 14, 2012

Travelers:  Mary & Jim Brown, Pat & Bill Pineo, Carolyn Melby, Bonnie Smith, Samantha Harrison.

On the vigil of the Immaculate Conception, Fr. Steve Anderson concluded the mass with a special commissioning ceremony sending the seven travelers off with prayers, blessings, and a special assignment.  Each of them were presented with a cross to wear on their shirt and one to give away to a “new friend” that they met during their travels.  They were charged with the instruction to bring back the story of that new friend.

 

 

On December 8, 2012, these representatives of OLQA parish traveled to Mexico to participate in the celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe with our sister parish in Tekit.  Arriving in Merida, the capital of the Yucatan, the group was met by Ron Van Dyken and Trish Pipkin from the Mision de Amistad, Maty Puch and her son Juavier, and another friend from Conneaut Lake, Robin Copeland.  She arrived in Merida the day before the rest.  Robin is a frequent visitor to the region and spent time volunteering at the Mission after high school.  The group checked into the Hotel Montejo on Calle 57.  This Spanish colonial hotel was one block from the main plaza and the Cathedral del San Ilfonso (circa 1540 ac).

After breakfast of huevos, toast, coffee, and fruit at the hotel, the next day was spent attending mass at the cathedral and slowly strolling the main plaza.

  At the cathedral San del Ilfonso.

On Sundays the plaza is filled with local vendors selling their unique hand-made merchandise and home-made food.  The group explored, made purchases and enjoyed the beautiful and historic buildings.   The evening meal was eaten at Poncho’s, a local restaurant with a varied and delicious yucatecan menu.  The day was complete after a horse drawn carriage ride through the historic district of the city.

On Monday, the group ventured north of the city to visit the Mayan ruins of Dzibichaltun, which translated means:  “the place where writing is on stones”.  With Robin’s experienced help, we boarded a public bus, where for only 10 pesos we took an interesting ride with the locals, who were traveling to and from work.  We spent the day walking through the ruins and examining the Mayan structures.  These temples and altars dated prior to the 1500 century, before the invasion by the Spanish conquistadors.  This site is one of many ruins throughout the Yucatan and represents the cultural heritage of the Mayans.

Bonnie has her OLQA hat on!

 

A few adventuresome members of the group swam in the cenote (sink hole), which was formed by underground water.  This water is purified by running through the limestone ground and is the home of interesting fish and plant life.

 

 

                                                                    Carolyn taking a break

House of the Seven Dolls                 

 

                                                                  Samantha and Pat climbing the ruins.

 

After a long day exploring the ruins, we traveled back to the city on the bus, which was running on Mexican time (2 hours late).  We were very ready for the evening meal which was provided by Maty, Juavier and his girlfriend, who is a caterer.  They brought the food to the Hotel Montejo and we ate in the hotel cafeteria.  It included tortilla, fresh fruit, guacamole, and a memorable three milk cake.  Excellent!

December 11, the day before the feast day, we traveled to Tekit, to visit our sister parish, St. Anthony of Padua.  We were driven there in the Mission van by Ron Von Dyken, a volunteer at the mission.  Ron was immeasurable help to us throughout our visit to Tekit.  He alerted us to local customs and made sure that we were able to maximize our experiences.  Jose Tzuc, our interpreter, joined us and assisted with communication throughout our visit to Tekit.  Most of the people of Tekit speak Mayan, which differs from the typical Spanish language.

Jose introducing Bonnie and Carolyn         The kids loved Sam!

 

We enjoyed lunch at the home of Francisco (Pancho) and were touched by his hospitality and that of his family.  We were surrounded by the children of the family who were friendly and curious about the American visitors. The food was typical corn tortilla with turkey filling, soupa de lima, fresh fruit, and cold drinks.

The meal was eaten on the family’s large porch, which also held an altar with a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The altar was adorned with many fresh flowers, candles, and offerings of food to Our Lady.  It was apparent that Pancho held a respected position in the village of Tekit and in particular with the parish of St. Anthony’s.  His neighbors came in and out while we were having lunch and were very friendly.  The children approached us and were interested in everything about us, in particular the crosses that we had on our shirts.  One dimpled girl, Belem, was irresistible and quickly scored a gift of a cross from Bonnie’s shirt.  Samantha gave her pin to Belem’s cousin, Jazim.  His brother, Juan Luis received a cross from Jim.

                       The children were the center of all activity. 

 

Following lunch, Pancho took us on a walking tour of the village of Tekit, pointing out places of historical and cultural interest. Many of the locals still live in thatched roof huts, complete with hammocks for sleeping.  Other homes were simple stucco structures painted beautiful bright and pastel colors.  At one of the huts, a man was selling fresh coconuts for 7 pesos.  Samantha bought one and got to try fresh coconut milk for the first time.  Frequently seen were stray dogs that seemed to belong to no one and everyone at the same time.  We ended up at the cathedral and took our first look at our sister parish, St. Anthony of Padua.  This beautiful old church is the hub of the village and was open to all.  Since this was the day before the feast day, the altar to Our Lady of Guadalupe was decorated extensively and many people were coming in to pray.  Of particular note were the many young people, praying in groups, asking for grace prior to their feast day run.

Getting ready to run.

Next we checked into our rooms at Hotel Pasoda, which was across the street from the church.  This building, constructed before the Spanish invasion, housed a public bar downstairs and sleeping rooms upstairs.  As we checked into our rooms, we were a curiosity to the locals and attracted many friendly smiles and waves.  Already evident in the public square in front of the church, were groups of young people gathering and getting ready to participate in the Antorcha.

We returned to Pancho’s for dinner that evening and found the dining room in his home ready for us.  Once again, his family prepared a delicious meal and served us with great hospitality.  After dinner, songs were led by two members of our group, Carolyn and Pat.  Following the singing, members of Pancho’s immediate family, relatives, and neighbors arrived, taking seats on the porch in front of the altar to Our Lady.               Pat and Carolyn: Life of the Party!

    Approximately 50 people attended this prayer service at Pancho’s house.  We were treated as honored guests.  Pat and Carolyn led the group in songs to Our Lady.   After two hours of prayer and song, the people processed through the town.  The procession was led by Jim and Ron, who were carrying a large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There were many neighborhood parties to celebrate the pending feast day.

        Jim and Ron leading the way.

On the morning of the feast day, we watched teams of runners entering the town square in front of the church.  They were preparing for the traditional run with torches, ending at the church.  Some groups were riding bicycles.  All were wearing specific jerseys indicating their village of origin.  The young people were carrying large pictures of Our Lady or a large crucifix strapped to their back.  All participants were singing or chanting to Our Lady.  Each group went to the church and prayed before their run.  Samantha and Ron ran to the outskirts of the town to meet up with the other team members.

The purpose of the Antorcha is to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe for her role as the spiritual mother of the people.  There were about 25 people in this group ranging from children to elderly.  Pancho and Sam ran with the little children.  Pancho walked with an elderly lady who was supported by him and her cane. They stopped in several churches along the way to pray to Our Lady in front of her altar.  Lunch was in a wonderful park with a playground, foosball tables, and a cenote.  They spent the day taking turns carrying the torch and running to the village, where they ultimately ended at the church.

Samantha running with the torch.

The rest of our group went to Pancho’s for breakfast.

From there we were taken on a tour of the other parishes in nearby villages by Padre Bartolome and Jose.  The first stop was in Mama, at the church of Our Lady of Acincione.  This is a parish that Padre Bartolome also serves.  It is a beautiful, very old church.  Many of the Mayan men spend their day on the church grounds considering the church a comfortable gathering place.

Carolyn and friend.                                Our Lady of Acincione

We then went to the village of Muni, and visited the church of St. Michael the Arch Angel.  Padre also says mass at this church and tends to the spiritual needs of the people. Due to time constraints, we were not able to visit St. John the Baptist, in Sabbache.

At the end of the tour, Padre took the group to a shop in the town of Muni so that we could buy the local wares.  The shop was filled with hand embroidered clothing specific to the Mayan culture.  We all had an opportunity to select items to take home to friends and family.  We were all amazed that Padre took the time to let us shop on this very important feast day.

We returned to Tekit and had lunch at a home/restaurant of Lupita’s.  It was her birthday and a party was planned for her.  She was serenaded by a young man with a beautiful voice playing a guitar.  As the celebration continued, she decided that she wanted to dance with Jim.  The dance went on an eternity and Jim was meeting the challenge quite well.

         

Bonnie was so taken with the spirit and hospitality of Lupita, she gave her cross to her.  We had a great time and felt so welcomed.

That evening, all the runners were pouring into the town square in front of the church.  The entire area (several acres) was filled with families, runners, children, and dogs.  In the time leading up to the feast day mass, groups of runners cheered and sang to Our Lady, young people took the microphone and sang, Pancho led prayers, and we all prepared ourselves for the mass.  When Padre Bartolome arrived, he gave a special welcome to “the friends from Conneaut Lake”.  Mass was beautiful and the singing went on and on.  Visitors from other villages brought gifts to the altar.  The gifts consisted of food and other necessities to give to parishioners in need. The mass concluded with a procession around the square led by youth carrying a large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It is difficult to describe the emotion in the crowd.  Everyone was engaged in joyful worship to their “very own” Lady.

Pancho leading prayers             People filling square for mass

 

Waiting for mass to begin       

The evening ended on a spiritual and emotional high at Pancho’s home.  At the dinner, he honored us by presenting Jim and Ron each a torch that was carried during the run.  The night ended with heartfelt good- byes expressed by the travelers and hosts.

The morning of December 13, we checked out of the Hotel Pasado.  The cost for 2 nights, 4 rooms was $2000 pesos or $155.00 dollars.  We paid our bill and proceeded to Padre Bartolome’s for breakfast.  His assistant prepared a wonderful meal and Padre served us.

Breakfast at Padre Bartolome’s

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After breakfast, he took us on a tour of the church office and told us (via Jose) about the services provided by the church.  One room was filled with the gifts that were brought to the mass the previous night.  Volunteers had already started to divide the donations into boxes for individual families in the town.  There was also a gift shop with items for children priced very inexpensively.  The similarity between what they were doing and what our own Samaritans at OLQA do was hard to miss.  It was at this time that we presented Padre with the gift bags that we had prepared for the children of the parish.  He stated that he would distribute the bags over the Christmas holiday.  We also presented him with an afghan, which depicted scenes of the Conneaut Lake area, as a token of our appreciation of his hospitality. Padre escorted us into the church and he took a seat at what was obviously his pride and joy, the organ.  He told us the story of how he first saw this organ in Mexico City and immediately wanted it.  However, the cost of the organ ($20,000) was out of the question for his parish in Tekit.  Having heard about the organ and Padre’s desire to have one at St. Anthony’s, a local “town official” donated the deposit of $5,000. Many fundraisers later, the balance was paid off.  We were treated to a concert by Padre Bartolome, which included singing by the group.  Thank goodness for Pat and Carolyn!  Carolyn also played the organ beautifully.

Carolyn and Padre at the organ.

 

It was time to leave Tekit to return to Merida.  In 2 days, we had bonded with the people of our Sister Parish.  We felt the kindred spirit of people united in faith.  It seemed very likely that we would return and encourage other parishioners to have this experience.  We expressed our gratitude to Padre Bartolome, Francisco (Pancho), Jose, and Ron and encouraged them to allow us to return the hospitality. For that group to make a trip to Conneaut Lake would complete the circle of our cultural and spiritual exchange.  There are obstacles to this plan, but possibly they are not insurmountable.

December 14, 2012 the visit was over and the group headed to the airport to fly back home.  What a blessing to have this experience together.  We hope to share this experience with our own parish community with pictures and words.  But we realize that the best way to understand the faith and commitment to Our Lady, in the hearts of the people of Tekit, is to witness it firsthand.

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