By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
A breadth and depth of liturgies and fiestas marked the four days of my fourth pastoral visit to the Saltillo Mission of San Miguel and its high desert ranchos with Msgr. Mike Flannery. It was Divine Mercy weekend within the Octave of Easter, a time when the universal Church is joyfully encountering the crucified and risen Lord in the outpouring of his loving compassion. Shortly after arriving on Thursday, I celebrated Mass in the church of Divina Misericordia, functioning now for two full years since its consecration. The Novena to Divine Mercy which begins on Good Friday, is observed throughout the Octave of Easter, a week that brings to fruition that which was promised throughout the Holy Week commemoration with the Sacred Triduum. Indeed, our crucified Lord is truly risen and his mercy endures forever. This living hope was apparent in the devotion of the faithful before, during and after Mass, providing a fitting start to the pastoral visit.
The marathon began on Friday with our departure to the ranchos at 7 a.m. Our first of three Confirmation Masses that day took place at the Church of San Francisco at 9 a.m. It was inspiring to see los jovenes, (the young people), with their padres and padrinos in formal church attire awake and eager to celebrate Confirmation. The fiesta afterwards teemed with an abundance of freshly made foods and soup. From there we set out for the rugged desert landscape to visit the families of five more ranchos to celebrate two more Confirmation Masses, as well as three shorter prayer services. As is the custom, when the van approached each rancho the driver would lay on the horn for a good five minutes to alert the people that the missionaries have arrived. Upon driving up to the church the bells are then rung to welcome anyone who may have missed the vehicle’s call to gather for prayer.
It is stirring to accompany these dedicated priests, catechists, drivers and young people who serve in various liturgical ministries: altar servers, chorus, readers and sacristans who travel to the margins of the Saltillo Diocese a few times each week. This is not a novelty for them.
A full day of riding in the high desert of the state of Coahuila is a riveting experience that penetrates bone and marrow. This is where roads are not roads but scarcely navigable trails over long stretches. But the high desert landscape is captivating and ever-changing. For some tracts it is shrubbery and cactus plants whose April blossoms soften their thorny defenses. One species of cactus plant sports a red hue that is enchanting. After a time, the landscape shifts to large palm-like trees sporting creative configurations that in the shadows of dusk or dawn one’s imagination could easily see threatening contortions or entertaining caricatures. At times on narrow passes one could look up at jutting ranges or look below at a scary drop-off into a canyon.
Always there was dust, stirred up by the constant drum beat of tires upon rutted surfaces that did not favor reading or napping. However, with the mission always before us, it was all worth it, or as one says in Spanish, vale la pena. Our Friday test of endurance ended at 8:30 p.m. at El Cuervo, a Hunting Lodge on 10,000 acres of land, that is home to a variety of desert wildlife to where hunters come from all over Mexico to test their skills in the wilderness. It’s actually a very comfortable lodge where we have been treated exceptionally well by the owners over the past three years.
We left El Cuervo bright and early on Saturday as dawn was breaking over the desert for a two-hour ride to La Capilla del Ejido la Brecha. With Bishop Raul Vera, the Ordinary of Saltillo, on hand to celebrate the Mass we blessed and placed La Primera Piedra, the first stone, the first step to a new church on the site. Named for San Jose, Modelo de los Esposos (Saint Joseph, model for married men) the target date for the consecration is May 1, 2019, the feast of Saint Joseph.
Following another fiesta, we drove on to Presa San Pedro where we celebrated Confirmation with 24 candidates, the largest number on this year’s circuit.
Arriving back in Saltillo by late afternoon Father Mike and I, along with Padre David and Padre Evelio, the dedicated priests of the San Miguel Mission, had a leisurely dinner with Bishop Raul Vera.
On Sunday morning, the feast of Divine Mercy, we stayed at home so to speak and celebrated two festive Masses for this Easter day of Mercy. The water flowed at our 9 a.m. Mass with the renewal of our Baptismal promises, followed by the Baptism of seven children after the homily. The final celebration of Confirmation greatly enriched the 1 p.m. Mass at which Bishop Vera preached and concelebrated. His prophetic homily will not soon be forgotten by all in attendance, a passionate plea to anoint our societies with the oil of greater justice and peace.
Unwinding now and back to thinking in English I recall the final words of the Gospel of John for Divine Mercy Sunday. “These signs of Jesus are recorded in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, so that believing, you may have life in his name.” Life in his name abounds in the Saltillo Mission and we, the faithful of Jackson and Biloxi, are an important part of this journey of faith. Gracias a Dios.
Tomorrow is a day of rest before traveling to Aguascalientes for the Diaconate ordination of Adolfo Suárez -Pasillas in his home parish. A pleasant tiredness has settled in.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz