New Life in Oaxaca

Situated in a very mountainous area in the southern part of the country, the region of Oaxaca enjoys a very rich ecosystem and many natural resources, which are coveted and exploited by foreign enterprises. It is also the birthplace of corn: this is a very important in understanding our people. This particular grain, so widespread now, did not ever exist naturally. The latest discoveries show that corn was created by the Indian populations of this region from an "ancestral" grain called tezontle. A process of genetic manipulation lasted about 200 years .and the culture-civilization-identity of the "Corn-Man", as the southern groups of Indians still call themselves, was born. Lately, grains of corn 10,000 years old were discovered in some grottos, mysterious witnesses to the intelligence and sense of scientific observation of these people who were capable of creating their mother-culture, which is now a gift for the whole world. Unfortunately these multi-coloured seeds, central for Indian life and culture, are very much threatened by transgenics.

Despite modernity, this Indian world, the scientific and the mystical, holds onto its deepest roots and a good part of its rites and traditions, which are always oriented towards community and sharing. We can admire the creativity as well as the beauty of their handicrafts which are made out of all kinds of materials and every colour imaginable. A good example is the huge "Guelaguetza", acknowledged worldwide, which, with its historic music and dances, gathers together the history and rites of the seven regions of Oaxaca. It takes place in July and it is an impressive show of gaiety, sounds, and colour. The dancing groups afterwards share the products of their different regions with the crowds of spectators.

It is good to present, first of all, the human and spiritual wealth of the people of Oaxaca, because the contrast with their daily life is striking. They live in great poverty and on the margins of societybut are courageous and always keep moving in order to survive, either toward the capital of Mexico or even further towards the United States, risking their lives to do so. There is also the more local movement of inhabitants from either the coastlands or mountainous regions. Often hunger and violence prevail in their villages, which have also been forsaken by the government, and so they abandon them. The ones who move to Oaxaca-capital hope to find work, doctors, and schools for their children. It is among this group that our community is located. Our neighbourhood, "Vicente Guerrero", has existed for 20 years and numbers 20,000 people. It is the oldest and largest of the numerous "Colonias" that came to settle around the city garbage dumps. The conditions are precarious: dirt roads, no sanitary services, no drinking water nor telephones. The people come from all over Oaxaca, so 6 or 7 different languages are spoken. But what they all have in common is having been uprooted, their insecurity, and their lack of opportunities to study, work, or take care of their health. Jobs are often temporary and many go from door to door to resell things, fruit, vegetables, or some gadget for the house.

These "Colonia" are more and more numerous and each has its own chapel (often made of sheets of metal),and are part of St Bartholomew's parish. If you include the regular parishioners, our parish would total 35,000 people. It is interesting to see how these chapels help to bring together people, who did not know each other. The present pastor, Fr Jose, organizes frequent get-togethers and regroups people for the celebration of various commitments in order to build parish unity. It's a huge challenge! What is a big help is that a certain number of women and men accept to get involved and be trained .as ministers of the Word, Eucharistic ministers, and catechists. Besides, they are so religious that they know spontaneously how to unite their deep faith to the Word of God to the commitments of daily life. As in many places certain denominational groups try to attract followers at any cost.

There are three of us little sisters in our community, all with a deep desire to continue to journey with this beloved people who welcomed the first little sisters here six years ago and have brought us so much since then.

Our  houseOur house

Our particular stage in life invites us to "pull our lives together", to pray at greater length. We no longer have outside jobs, but thanks to God we are all still fit. Maria Refugio stays more at home and is available to whoever or whatever happens. She receives the visitors, cooks, and does a little sewing. Friendship with the people of the Colonia and the parish is growing. It's a joy to be part of this human community. The young people also come quite easily to get together with us and share about their lives.

The parish is getting a lot closer to these young people too, facilitating their coming together with outdoor events such as camping trips. A small music school gathers 20 children. A group of teenagers have formed a brass band. They are all very enthusiastic! This new discovery of their talent gives meaning and hope to their lives as young people and is a beautiful alternative to violence and drugs. The sensitiveness and support of Jose, along with the participation of many others, makes it possible to include groups ignored until now: the deaf and dumb, the blind, the marginalized, and patients from the nearby hospitals.

In our neighbourhood, we just had a workshop on non-violence. Because of the extreme violence being experienced presently in the country, it is important that we learn together how, in daily life, to recognize our own violence and, with others, to confront it.

Here, Jacqueline Isabelle shares her experience at the heart of this reality:

Quite often I find myself on the dusty or muddy paths, depending on the season, of the Colonia Vicente Guerrero or of Guardado where we lived in the early years, simply to meet up with one or the other family with whom we have become friends. On Sundays after Mass at Guardado, I take communion to Senora Gonzalez (85) who is blind and lives alone. Once a month I also participate in the parish council meeting. As for work (but much less often than before), I continue to prepare chilies and peppers in vinegar which sell very well. I also make caramel-coated peanuts, which are much easier-to make and lighter to carry! On Tuesdays, I go to a home for the elderly in the city of Oaxaca. With them I discover just how much communication and tenderness can circulate even without words when words are no longer possible. I touch first-hand there the solitude and total dependence which cost us so much, as well as all the fears we have. Those visits are a privileged time for me, an intense moment of friendship, silence, and prayer, too.

As for me, I spend quite a bit of time listening to people in difficult situations who are searching for moral support. We three live and perceive this "ministry of consolation" as a sacred space which asks for a respectful and attentive presence and which also shakes us up in our protected situation. Those tears, so often full of faith, feed our prayer, as an offering and a commitment. They remind us that the path of our own conversion is also a commitment of solidarity

Working with clayWorking with clay

I also like to work in the yard and transform the "ground with pick and hoe until it is suitable for cultivation. That allows us to enjoy vegetables and fruits grown without chemicals. The good climate and well water work miracles!

I have also had the desire to share and hand over the knowledge of popular natural medicine which I had been able to practice in Ciudad Juarez, because it rightly belongs to the people and is their heritance through the searching and wisdom of their ancestors. A group was formed as the people already know and use plants and ancient rites to heal. One such usage is the breathing in of mezcal (a kind of brandy) which impresses me immensely. I like to imagine the breath of God giving life to human beings.

For two years now we have had the opportunity and joy to get to know more about the Mayan Calendar. We did this with a group of friends who have studied it in depth. It is a marvel of mathematical precisions beginning with a study of the stars. Its mathematics predicted that in 2012 we would reach the end of a long cycle of "galactic synchronization", a solar cycle of 25,920 years. It is easy to perceive this change of era: in the activity of the sun, our planet, and physically in ourselves. The Mayas had described this epoch as a time of "movement and conflict", inviting humankind to move toward a superior dimension of human consciousness, toward universal harmony. I am struck to see the similarities with the thinking of Teilhard de Chardin. It is a call to live an active hope in which it is up to each of us to connect with the Energy of Love which is working everywhere to open up a new path before us.