February in La Luz Parish saw the beginning of the Lenten Season and with it lots of activity. We began this season of penitence with Ash Wednesday, which is an important day for the people here. Ash Wednesday here in Mexico is like Christmas and Easter in the United States: everyone goes to Mass to receive their ashes, even those who do not go during the year. For me, it was quite an impressive scene. We had many Masses in the parishes and the surrounding chapels and every one of them was full. After the Masses, there were services of the Word and distribution of ashes every half hour, and these too were full to the brim. It was an interesting witness to the spirituality of the people here. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the two days when the most people go to Church, especially in the poorer communities, such as the community of La Luz. The people resonate with the Cross and the suffering Jesus because their life situations encompass much suffering: lack of food, poor living conditions, struggles to make ends meet.
The ashes they receive are a symbol of the destitution and difficulties of their lives. In the sufferings of Jesus on Good Friday, they see their own sufferings. It is a connection that is logical and in many ways beautiful, since they are able to connect their own lives to the life of Jesus. But at the same time, it presents a problem because for the people here, sometimes they do not see past the ashes or the Cross. The ashes represent a condition of perpetual destitution; the Cross a weapon of destruction from which they can never escape. They can miss what these things lead us to: the Resurrection and the hope it brings. Attendance at Mass on Easter Sunday is lower than the attendance on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Furthermore, the people who come to Mass on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday only come to receive their ashes and venerate the Cross; they do not receive communion because this is not an important part of their spirituality. There is a lack of realization that the reception of Jesus in the Eucharist is a reception of the Crucified and Risen Christ, a Christ that can help them overcome the crosses of their sufferings in order to experience the Resurrection and the fullness of life it brings. The priests and staff of the parish are working to implant this important aspect of our faith in the people so that they see that the path does not end with the Cross and ashes, but that these lead us to the glorious truth of the Resurrection.
As part of this effort, the parish is beginning a project of evangelization to invite more people back to the Church and deepen their faith in Jesus. This project began with an animated retreat in the parish with a group that belongs to the Renovation Movement in Mexico. This movement focuses a lot on the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and uses praise and worship to animate people in their faith. It is a movement that is very strong here in Mexico and something the people flock to in order to nurture their faith. About 350 people attended the six night retreat, which included a lot of singing, talks from the retreat team and time for prayer. This retreat served as a type of "fuel" to help begin this project of evangelization.
The plan is to have a team of parishioners who make visits to every community within the parish boundaries to reach out to Catholics that have fallen away from the Church. They will go door to door sharing their faith with the people and seeing how the parish can best serve these people and their needs. After the visits each day, there will be a service in the community led by the same team that gave the retreat in the parish. This group will give brief witness talks about the faith and lead the people in song and prayer in order to help spur the faith of those who have fallen away from the Church. After a week of these visits and services in each community, small prayer groups in the houses will begin as a type of follow-up. The hope is that after some time in these groups, the people can foster their faith to the point to which they can return to the Church and join us in the celebration of the sacraments and the life of the parish. There are 30 communities in the parish, so this will be a project that will last almost a whole year, but we are very excited here at La Luz to begin and pray that God will touch the lives of these people so that they return fully to his flock, the Church.
Mr. Ryan Pietrocarlo, C.S.C. is completing a pastoral year as a seminarian for the Congregation of Holy Cross. He is currently assigned to Nuestra Madre Santisima de La Luz in Monterrey, Mexico. Ryan and his fellow seminarians post twice each month to the Spes Unica Blog. Ryan graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in biochemistry prior to joining the Holy Cross formation program. He is from East Rochester, New York.