Today was the last day of our service trip to San Juan/McCallan Texas and I am exhausted! It was another blessed morning and another great breakfast.
A large part of this trip is to allow the members of our group to experience the people of the Rio Grande Valley and today did not disappoint. We gathered together at the Church of Juan Diego. We gathered again with Maryknoll Srs. Ann and Pat, along with members of the church community. We prayed, talked and ate. Each component special in its own way. The prayer was about community and an open heart. The talk was from the heart. The food warmed our hearts.
We broke up into small groups to talk to each other and learn about each other. The Q&A started pretty much like any other - "What's your name? Are you married? Kids?" - but quickly evolved into deeper questions and thoughtful answers. "How long have you lived here?" is not as simple a question as you may think! The topic for my little group quickly turned to the church and the faith of faith life of the members of the community. Much like I have come to think of the members of our community as 'family' it was evident that the members of San Juan Diego were a family as well. Mario and I spent time with two men who have been members of the parish for 50 years and who have worked to build up the local church. They are doing an amazing job and are very proud of the programs that they are part of. They take their job of passing on their faith traditions seriously but with a joyful heart. We learned that their children are working as educators and in school administration. We learned that they are proud of their Mexican heritage but are also proud to be in America. We learned that the members of this Catholic community want to grow their community.
After our discussion time, we had the opportunity to break bread (or tortillas) as a group - enjoying another bountiful spread of various tacos, salads, and fruits (including delicious avocados) made by many of the ladies who we spent time with.
After lunch we headed over to view the construction of their new church. We had been hearing about their new church but I was not prepared for what I encountered when I arrived. I was, quite frankly, expecting a church larger than the existing one we met in - but nothing grand. I was mistaken. The new structure is immense. White stucco, tiled floors, a balcony and the most beautiful stained glass. For such a poor community where are they getting the money? With a closer look (and some explanation) it is even more remarkable. Almost all of the furnishings and all of the art were donated. The stained glass windows came mostly from a church that closed in Boston, MA. The pews (and there are hundreds lined and stacked up) are of all vintages, shapes and sizes. The architect has volunteered all his time and manual labor has been provided by the community.
The church is a marvel - but it is only partially completed. There are issues with water pressure - the pressure that is coming into the building is not sufficient for the automated sprinkler systems. Work is almost at a standstill until a solution can be reached. One solution is to install a water pump that will provide the necessary water pressure.
The hugs that we all received (and gave) as we said our goodbyes were at the level that I share for close family and friends - and it felt not only good but right.
Our afternoon was spent at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Respite Center where we now felt knowledgeable enough to jump in and take charge - which was good since they were understaffed today. I realized something as the day went on - even with a short staff and some eager but inexperienced volunteers, each and every person that was cared for felt like they mattered. No just mattered though - that they are loved. The little kids (ranging from a few weeks old and up) played, laughed, had their hair braided, played catch, colored and were, well, they were little kids. Their worries were gone for a little while as our group played with them. The adults had time to shower and eat, shop in the clothes closet and relax for a moment as they prepare for the next phase of their journey.
The day drew to a close with a wonderful dinner to celebrate our time together as a team. As this trip winds down I will continue to reflect on all I learned and hope to continue to blog about this experience and all that comes from it. But for now, I am fulfilled.