Amalia* fought with her tears as she told me about the sudden death of her son a few weeks prior in an mining accident, just days after his girlfriend had given birth to their own son. Shortly after that, Amalia’s mother had died. It was her great desire to speak with a priest about these strokes of fate; now it had become possible after the González family had visited her home and put me in contact with her.
Amalia’s visit is only one of many which I carried out during the week before Easter in the town of Madera. There was Josepha, a lady over 80 years old, who could not make it to church anymore: but now she was able to receive the anointing of the sick, and I even managed to bring her Holy Communion after the Easter Vigil, bringing the risen Christ into her humble home. Or José, that bedridden elderly man who could only see with one eye and did not remember whether he had even gone to confession in his life. His wife, equally advanced in age, was so happy to see him receive the sacraments of the Church. Many other impressive experiences must remain unmentioned because they fall under the seal of confession — and they were many confessions that I heard that week!
Every year, thousands of young people, adults and whole families throughout Mexico sacrifice their Easter vacation in order to travel into remote villages and visit people in their houses. These people often no longer have direct contact with the Church, and not rarely they become victims of proselytizing protestant sects. These missions are organized by the apostolic movement Regnum Christi and accompanied by priests of the Legionaries of Christ.
This year, I participated for the first time, specifically with Familia Misionera (“Family Mission”), together with about eight families from the city of Chihuahua who were going for the second year in a row to the town of Madera in the north-west of the state of Chihuahua. Four other Legionaries took care of other groups of families, girls, or young men. I was assigned to the parish of San Rafael. During past years, the whole area had suffered much from the violence of drug gangs; recently, the situation has calmed down, but many wounds are still open. Among the missionary families alone, there were two that consisted of widows with their children who had lost their husband or father under these circumstances.
Fr Ramón Arias, the parish priest in charge of Madera, asked the missionaries to visit all the houses of the town and to take note of the needs for the sacraments: baptisms, first communions, confirmations, as well as the sacrament of marriage for those not yet married in the Church, a surprisingly frequent phenomenon here. The missionaries also invited people during this week to a special program in the parish: daily talks for young people, adults, and couples, along with catechesis for children; then a community rosary procession and at 8 pm the evening Mass. In addition, at the end of Holy Week, there were the various liturgical celebrations and other events: a service with the anointing of the sick in the morning of Holy Thursday, then in the evening the celebration of the Last Supper with Eucharistic adoration lasting throughout the night; on Good Friday living Stations of the Cross through the dusty dirt roads, then the Liturgy of the Passion and Death of Christ, and at the end of the day in the main parish of Madera a rosary for our Lady of Sorrows followed by a silent torch procession through downtown — they have the custom to carry a crucifix horizontally in front of the procession under the periodical strikes of a great drum, in order to call attention to the death of Jesus.
For me as a priest it was the first time that I was able to preside the liturgy of Holy Thursday. I recognized not a few penitents from the days before among those whose feet I was allowed to wash. Now they were able to receive through me not only forgiveness but also the loving service of Christ, along with the exhortation to do the same to each other.
I was impressed by the enthusiasm and joy that the missionary families irradiated. Some of the children were still in grade school and yet participated already with much fervor. Most adults mentioned to me that they can no longer imagine Holy Week and Easter without missions. I had heard often that the missionaries themselves “profit” the most, in a spiritual sense, by giving of their time, effort, and resources to those in need, and I found this confirmed, even within myself. Then there is that deep rooted and spontaneous religiosity of the Mexican people, conjoined remarkably with overflowing warm-heartedness and charity. It was a totally new experience for me when three little girls knocked at my window early in the morning to talk about questions they had regarding confession and faith. This showed me how valuable it is when faith is lived and transmitted naturally, authentically and actively in the families.
I directed daily morning meditations for the adults and gave impulses in their reflection meetings, helping them to see their activity from a supernatural perspective, beyond their responsibility for a smooth functioning of all the technical aspects. Also here, the missionaries were the ones who perhaps grew the most in their own living of the faith.
The highlight of these days was certainly the Easter Vigil. The altar servers, who had been practicing with me intensively beforehand, did their best, likewise the music group of the parish with its not always perfectly harmonious, but for the rest all the more spirited guitarists and singers. Everyone’s excitement could be felt when the light of the Easter Candle and of the many other lights illuminated the dark church while I tried to sing out the Easter Proclamation despite a growing cold and the lack of practice time. The joy of the Resurrection of Christ surged in all hearts and, so it seems, has given new hope to these people marked by so many trials.
* All names except for the parish priest have been changed.
Fr Andreas Kramarz, LC, Ph.D., is priest of the Legionaries of Christ and serves as dean of studies and spiritual director in the Novitiate and College of Humanities in Cheshire, CT (U.S.A.) (for more information, see here).