Fr Tony O'Connor sm writes from Brownsville, Mexico Border: Here, fear of the effects of COVID on self and loved ones, its restrictions on a free and easy life, are leading to consequences in MENTAL HEALTH.
At the same time like in the novel "Gulliver's Travels where half the people crack their egg at the big end and another half at the small end, we have a country completely polarized as if the two halves live in two different worlds, one party standing for the lives of migrants, and against kids in cages, escaping certain death in their homeland; the other for the rights of the unborn; one in a seemingly "dog eat dog" seeking a raw POWER grab "in contrast to the other espousing the old way of chivalry and soul values which do not stand so easily in these times when this stance could be seen as weakness and "fake news". The next stage has to be for the two worlds to "get over it", listen to and understand each other, a tall but necessary order approaching miracle status.
COVID certainly has its dark side and politics too. I wonder sometimes if it is more than that or just how fear and the two worlds that don't understand each other fall into darkness, and for some, real darkness.
I too have been challenged. Both COVID and polarization seem to bring so many to express certain feelings of emptiness. But hope is there as we yearn for the day when "normality" will return, even though it will have to be an entirely new "normality". There will always be some who crack their egg at the big end, whilst others at the small end. But somehow we can and must all "get over it" and get over COVID as well
Here on the border the polarization, Washington and cable news, take second place to COVID. We are close to being a "hotspot" again. A fearful majority are reluctant to leave their homes. Some people, frustrated and with pandemic fatigue forget the protocols. On weekends they have their unmasked "cook ups" with all the extended family. Some youth, daily are out in the streets playing ball, also without masks. Wearing or not wearing masks here is not an egg cracker issue like in other places, at least not here in the Rio Grande Valley.
In the parish we try to meet the challenge. We have planned for the rest of the year to put enthusiasm into small new initiatives including the enhancing of popular religion which in our Hispanic world animates and consoles; to find ways of engaging the people and cheering them up here in the parish and the city, in Matamoros and in the rural villages in Mexico up the river. We all need to laugh, feel good and reach out to others, take each day at a time and heal ourselves and others
- 1. Altar for the Dead November 02
On the 1st and 2nd of November we celebrated All Saints and All Souls which was even more so this year of great comfort to the people with the special altar of photos, pumpkins, marigolds, flowers, fruit, vegetables, candles and all , so comforting especially to those who have lost family members from COVID. On the vigil I anointed in his home a non COVID patient who actually died during the anointing surrounded by his entire family.
2. Todos Somos migrantes ("We are all migrants")
Last year the group"Todos Somos Migrantes " formed to support the asylum seekers in their camp in Matamoros taking food to the premises of the N.G.O. "Con Voluntadpara Servir" (With the Will to serve) run by Mrs. Gladys Cañas.
This ended with the onset of the Pandemic until now when they began a new project with Mrs. Gladys Cañas. Central American migrants in the camp, with the postponement by the US Government of their audiences in the "Tent Court" in Brownsville and owing to the very bad conditions in the camp (rats, snakes and COVID) some seekers feel obliged to risk their lives once again by returning to their country of origin.
The project is to help these migrants to return by paying their bus ticket to Tapachula, Chiapas in the south of Mexico.. The fare costs more or less $130 dollars. From there normally the family in their country cover the cost of the final stretch.
The whole parish has been given notice and are participating.
3. Digital Outreach to unaccompanied Central American Youth
In the latter part of 2019 as the government illegally began deporting and not allowing unaccompanied Central American minors to cross the border, the 11 or so centers began to empty out. Thus by the time of the pandemic there were very few kids. With COVID was terminated for the moment our years of service to thousands of these kids who came to San Felipe for Sunday masses and confraternity as well as groups morning and afternoon during the week Monday to Friday. It was a very worthwhile investment of energies and time and set our community apart as one that gave hospitality to the stranger.
In the last month these centers have begun to fill once again. It is a mystery what is going on. Since some months ago, word has it that the kids will be back in force. At this stage because of the Pandemic the kids are not permitted to come to Sunday mass nor are we permitted as trained volunteers to enter the centers.
So with the four centers of one group (Caliburn) we are setting up a digital mass and meeting by means of our face book once a week with a musical group and some volunteers including Sister Sindy a young Honduran Dominican . This is good to reach out to these kids locked away from their homes and their cultures.
4.Food distribution makes us all happy
Since the pandemic began we have invested much of our time distributing food to those affected by the COVID and the unemployment crisis.
The Rio Grande Food Bank has been receiving greater quantities of extra food which comes our way to distribute. This requires much work and the commitment of our thirty or so volunteers. Distributing to long lines of cars up to four times a week for three or four hours on end in a very hot sun. It is a very significant testimony to one of the corporal works of mercy and is a means of outreach to the community, Catholic and Christian.
Another source of food has been the "Farmer to families' food boxes "with a letter from the White House signed by Trump, possibly the same as the relief checks.
5. Outreach to Mexico and especially the villages up the Rio Grande River on the other side.
Here in the U.S. no body dies of hunger. Poverty in the United States and Mexico are very different.
On the Mexican side and further up the river, food clothing and other basic needs are very seriously lacking. This is complicated by the presence and the restrictions imposed on the poor people by the various cartels which are also fighting among themselves as well as with the military while the locals get caught in the cross fire. Things are pretty spicy, dangerous and bloody.
Martha, for me, "an anointed one from on high" travels to these places and even beyond almost every day. She says she comes from there up the river, and as a child was a village waif , belonged to no one , knew hunger, and abandonment; no family, no home , at the mercy of the elements .She now dedicates her life to feeding and clothing the poor. Her love for them is profound and the protection she must get from "on high" is unexplainable, passing through the ranks of soldiers and cartels as if it were nothing. We are blessed that we can "piggy back" with her by filling up her SUV with food, clothing and other necessities almost every day. This energizes the communities, ours, and those on the Mexican side of the river.
6.Outreach to Asylum seekers in Matamoros
We continue to support the Asylum Seekers by means of the N.G.O. "Con Voluntadpara Servir". We send cash over for the purchase of basic necessities for some of the asylum seekers in Matamoros. Outside benefactors help us as well including "Fidelity Charitable".
There is a custom of praying the rosary each day for 46 days before the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th of December. The rosaries take place in different family homes with neighbors and others of the community.
This can't be the case this year because of COVID. So the host families are coming to the church to pray before the image and the statue of the Guadalupe and the rosary is transmitted by face book to all and sundry who wish to connect.
8.A new way to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th December within the restrictions of COVID Protocol.
The custom here in San Felipe on the 12th of December has always been to meet outside the church at 3.00 am and walk in procession to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Brownsville, a walk of some 150 minutes. It is a great experience.
However this year there is a curfew in place 12.00 midnight until 5.00 am and the bishop is not very keen on processions because of the COVID.
This year we are looking to find an exciting way to replace this age old custom. Maybe an event in our parking lot with music and mariachi's and matachines (Mexican dancers) at 5.00 am when the curfew ends and a celebratory mass in the church at 6.00 pm. I am sure we will come up with other novelties.
Crowd size will be good since December the 12th this year is a Saturday.
9. The cultural practice of the pre-Christmas novena "Posadas"
The custom here of the "POSADAS" meaning LODGINGS, is a famous and popular one. From the 16th of December until the 24th a different family in the community hosts each night in their home. The visitors (neighbors and members of the community) with Joseph and Mary wait outside and call out to be given lodging. The family inside answers and so goes the ritual. Then when all are inside and the ritual prayers completed, the host invites the visitor to tamales and "champorado".
With COVID, this is not possible. So we hope to invite the same actors to the church, then inside or outside act out the novena rite with much movement and joy. Don't worry, tamales and "champorado" will be surely be there along with the traditional Mexican dancers the Matachines and maybe Mariachis.
"Champorado" is a hot drink (chocolate, brand "la Abuela") milk concentrate with maize flour thickening.
10. Proyecto Juan Diego.
Since a change of the Directory last month, "Proyecto Juan Diego", formerly our "Proyecto Digna", handed over by Seifert to the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul we have been able to work with them as partners in community project. We worked with them in August and September in promoting the census, and getting out the vote. They have been able to reach out with us to COVID and "shut in" families of the Cameron Park Community taking the food that we have given them access to.
11.Proyecto San Patricio.
What was the main building when San Felipe was St Patrick's Mission has long required a new roof, a face-lift and general renewal?
COVID had slowed all down. Finally we have an architect who has drawn up plans. Hopefully we can begin contracts and maybe start building in January.
The building is very much run down; lots of rats and possums, leaks and smells. But soon it will be all new again and when we get over COVID, the kitchen section and dining room area will be a great boon for the people as they get together and eat in a new normality, including our Central American minors when they return.