¡Buenos días a todos! This post will be the last installment in my chronicle covering Metropolitan Athenagoras' historic visit. On Monday, June 25th, we finished our last day in Guatemala, and on Tuesday, we crossed into México to visit the communities that are just over the border. The metropolitan spent two days in México, but I accompanied him only for the first day. On this day, we went to a large and energetic meeting in a town called Tziscao, about one mile over the border.
Early in the morning, we split up into two groups: Fr. Andrés took Metropolitan Athenagoras through an entry with a stronger border patrol and the rest of us took a rough back-road to an entry point without any patrol. A number of us hadn't brought our papers for official entry, so this road offered us an opportunity to enter México without problems. I found it rather ironic, in light of the current political debates in the U.S., that we were sneaking into México as illegal immigrants! True, we weren't actually immigrants, but I still couldn't help laughing when we crossed over illegally, especially when I saw the sign at the border: The United States (of México).
The community in Tziscao has about eighty families, but even more people from communities all around Tziscao came to join the reunión that day, swelling the numbers to over one thousand people. Considering that the reunión was held on a weekday, when the men have to work, that number is even more impressive. When the metropolitan arrived, he was greeted on the main road by throngs of people from different areas: excited community leaders holding up welcome signs, fistfuls of confetti, and enthusiastic youth groups that chanted “¡Que viva el Arzobispo! ¡Que viva!” After climbing up the hill, we arrived at the meeting house and the people erupted in music and songs. Speeches followed, interspersed with more music and cheers, and the reunión wrapped up with the communities handing gift after gift to the metropolitan and to others who accompanied him.
After the reunión, we had lunch together, eating a type of fish that is very common in Guatemala and the areas bordering Guatemala: Tilapia. Then, after a brief rest, the metropolitan left to spend his last day of travels in Toquián, another community in México. I stayed behind and enjoyed an afternoon with three priests from Guatemala and their families and friends. We took a leisurely walk along the edge of Lago Internacional Tziscao, admiring the gorgeous water and enjoying one another's company. What a relaxing way to finish the very busy time accompanying the metropolitan!
[The photos in this post are all in the above slideshow--click here to enlarge]
Although I only spent one day in México with Metropolitan Athenagoras, I continued visiting other communities in México and Guatemala in the weeks following the metropolitan's departure. I will dedicate another post to those travels, but here are a few words right now about the communities in México. For want of time, the metropolitan was only able to visit two of the locations in México, but in the whole country there are about 52 Orthodox communities under Fr. Andrés. These are concentrated almost entirely in Southern México, especially in the state of Chiapas where Tziscao is located. A great number of the people in these communities originally came from Guatemala, so the communities here are a natural outgrowth from the Guatemalan Orthodox Church. Both Fr. Andrés and Fr. Evangelos have told me that the parishes in Southern México have at least has much potential for growth as the ones in Guatemala, if not more. Within a span of only five years, the total number of communities in Southern México has grown from under twenty to about 52 today, and more communities are still seeking to enter the fold. Moreover, in México there are some good potential candidates for ordination, which could begin to meet the desperate need for more priests to serve the expanding communities.
As a final note on the historic visit of the metropolitan, the communities in México repeated what so many others have said: “now we know that we are not alone.” In my subsequent visits to México, I heard many of the Mexican catechists express their concerns over the pressures that they face, especially from the Roman Catholic Church. Like many of the Orthodox in Guatemala, they feel under attack by their Christian neighbors, and in two cases in México, the Roman Catholic Church actually succeeded in shutting down churches that were under Fr. Andrés. I cannot fully evaluate the situation, but I do know how the people feel: attacked, isolated, and poor. They take great courage in Fr. Andrés, who has sacrificed so much of his life to fight for them, and now that Metropolitan Athenagoras has come to visit them, they take great hope and courage in the support of the broader Orthodox Church.
Please continue to keep the Orthodox Church in Guatemala, México, and all of Latin America in your prayers. They are looking to us for solidarity. Please also consider ways that you can help them with material supplies and with education (perhaps God is calling you to visit Guatemala to teach?). Before I left for this trip, many people gave me liturgical materials and monetary donations for the Church here; I will gladly receive any more donations once again after I return, and I will ensure that they are sent to Guatemala (probably through Fr. John Chakos, who frequently flies to and from Guatemala). Finally, thank you so much for all that you have already given, your support, your prayers, your interest and encouragement, and your love!
While this is the end of the chronicle of the metropolitan's visit, keep an eye out for an upcoming post covering my subsequent travels to other, smaller communities. I'll give you a small taste of daily life here in Guatemala, plenty more photos, and I'll give you a bit more information on what the Church looks like here in the land of Guate! ¡Nos vemos pronto!