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Our Pilgrimage to Nuevo Progreso

nuevo-11Pilgrim Jen Hund has been writing to us from the small village of Nuevo Progreso, while visiting our sister parish La Transfiguración.

Day 1

On our journey to Nuevo Progreso, we saw lush greenery, pineapple fields, and the hustle and bustle of local commerce – semis carrying double loads of materials along with fruit juice and tamale stands along the highway.

The turn off onto the dirt road led us into the hills, over rivers and streams, past fields, and after an hour, to the village. We drove up the hill to the church, and as we passed nearby, we heard fireworks overhead. The congregation of Nuevo Progreso welcomed us warmly with baskets of confetti and a sign “Welcome Brothers” that hung on an arch made of palms We were about an hour later than we’d hoped, but that didn’t faze them a bit. They dished up plates of chicken and mole negro (a sauce with a lot of ingredients that takes time to make so it’s only served on special occasions), bowls of fresh fruit, and cups of horchata (a rice drink) for us.

After lunch Shannon celebrated mass with Deacon Jose Luis and Father Daniel. Then we gathered in a circle on the patio of the small church and took turns saying something about our visit, giving thanks for friendship over great distances, and describing the love we feel for each other through smiles as well as tears. One of the last men to speak, Abel, told us how happy he is that we are here, that he understands the great distance between us (and he wasn’t talking about physical distance, but rather the distance described by some political discourse in the media), and that he hopes we continue to visit in the future, no matter what happens.

For some of us, this was the first time meeting the people of Nuevo Progreso, and yet we felt like family already. We witnessed the passage from Matthew 18:20 that “whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.”

And our night wasn’t over when we arrived in Acayucan. We stopped at San Juan Evangelista and met adults and children who had prepared us a delicious meal of flautas, tamales, and a few salads, and played a CD of music traditional to Veracruz. One young boy stepped to the front of the room and read a speech he had written in English and Spanish, welcoming us and thanking us for visiting. Perhaps children at CCC would enjoy corresponding with him to both practice Spanish and English together!


Day 2

When we arrived today, we were once again greeted with smiles, waves, clapping, and joy. Some of the women were already preparing lunch – mixing mashed potatoes with chicken, filling tortillas, rolling them into taquitos, and frying them up. In the meantime, some women joined Brad to prepare the oranges for marmalade. He did a great job adapting the recipe when he discovered they’d be using an open fire for the entire process ☺

Shannon spoke with a group of men from the church about the Episcopal church and gave them information and answered questions.

Audrey led the kids in art projects, including painting wooden butterflies that Anne Tordai gave us, drawing on paper with colored pencils and markers, making name tags with CCC lanyards (thanks Fred!), and decorating tote bags with puffy paint.


“I saw God every where and felt God presents constantly.   Although there were unbelievable scenes and situations.  Example, when most members in Nuevo Progreso Oaxaca  participated in designing a tote bag not just the children.My trip to SE Mexico was magnificent.  I did feel like a missioner in the annotation of a missioner, however, I was also a seeker of knowledge for others I encountered in the various villages.

I would highly recommend this experience for others!”

Pilgrim Audrey McFarland

Once again we were treated to a delicious meal of taquitos, empanadas, Jello, and agua de jimaica — a delicious drink made from hibiscus flowers.

After stuffing ourselves, we thought it would feel good to take a walk. Some walked to the bottom of the hill to see the water purification system and learn more about it while another group stood in the back of Martin’s truck and drove to see the jungle and the stream. Hector, who is 11, was our tour guide in the truck bed and listed off some of the animals in the jungle: tiger, toucan, boar. He didn’t have to tell us about spiders, because when we walked down to the stream, we saw a whole bunch of them suspended on webs hanging above us. He quickly pointed out some small fish and also discovered a snail.

When we returned to the church, the women and men joined in the art projects, beautifully decorating tote bags with everything from flowers and cows to rainbows and Minions. Felipe and Mark worked together to construct a kite, and even though they didn’t speak the same language, they used a love of building things with their hands to communicate.

We ended the evening with learning and practicing some new songs for worship as well as a silly song that included all of us singing, dancing, and laughing!

Day 3

Once again, the folks of La Transfiguracion announced our arrival with a bottle rocket. We kept busy with lots of activities!

Veronica taught all of us how to make paper flowers, and while we did that Don Felipe got a tree branch that he cleaned off and put into an empty paint can lined with tin foil filled with sand and topped with larger decorative rocks. When we tied the flowers onto the branches with pipe cleaners, it looked so beautiful! We can’t wait to get people together and make one for our celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The kids enjoyed making little pets (mascotas) out of pipe cleaners and putting emoji stickers on them for faces ☺

Phil, Mark, Steve, and Eigner painted the interior of the church (thanks for all of your work under the hot aluminum roof!).

Brad baked cakes and Betty made cupcakes with some of the women, teenagers, and children in the large ovens they use to bake pizzas. They all worked together to come up with solutions for things like temperature, measuring, mixing, cooling, and so on.

While waiting for the cakes to cool, we ate Hawaiian pizza for a snack. Then, it was time to decorate the cakes and cupcakes. The kids put frosting and sprinkles of the cupcakes, and Brad demonstrated how to decorate a cake. It looked like a wedding cake, which was so impressive considering the heat and humidity, plus the fact that they were working near the open fire.

During the baking, we took lots of photos, and the kids were excited to get their pictures taken and to take pictures, too.

We left a little earlier in the afternoon to get back to Acayucan while it was still light. But before we left, they fed us a second meal of chicken and mole colorado.

Day 4

After arriving at La Transfiguraccion, the congregation piled us all into Martin’s cattle truck ☺ and drove us up the road to the top of the hills to see the beautiful view. Don Felipe told us that he’s been here for 40 years, and when he first came, there was nothing but the countryside. Now there is the town, cattle, and farms. All of it is great land except for about 600 acres that is too rocky to farm.

For lunch, they prepared a delicious meal of potatoes and tomatoes, tortillas, some spicy salsa, cheese, and beans.

We took pictures of all the families and then group photos. And then we passed out gifts: bandanas for the men, towels for the women, toys in tote bags for the kids, and Dean explained to the women how to use the cooling towels around their necks when working in the hot kitchen. We took up a collection to defray the cost of feeding all of us (and believe me, we ate a lot of delicious food!), and Audrey presented it to the congregation. Brad gave them measuring cups and spoons. We gave Deacon Jose Luis a photo of the cathedral and a photo album with the words “Family” and “Familia” on the cover. It has photos from past visits, photos of people on this trip, and room in the back for the photos we bring back in the future.

We sang songs together. Veronica taught the Mustard Seed Song (faith the size of a mustard seed), and Shannon led This Is the Day in English and Spanish. We also sang Happy Birthday/Happy Anniversary to Betty and Raquel/Brad and Mark, and Shannon and Phil.

Saying good-bye was really difficult – there were lots of tears and hugs. But we look forward to returning, seeing everyone again, and sharing this wonderful place with new missioners!

On our way to Playa Vicente, we stopped off at Father Daniel’s parish, San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). When he first arrived, there were about 7 people in the congregation. And now, there are so many people! We received an impressive welcome — they greeted us by ringing the church bell and gathering at the gate. It was wonderful to speak with the women and men and learn more about their church. The kids were eager to talk about school and learn more about where we are from. We practiced counting in English and Spanish. Some of the children at this church are benefitting from Angelica’s scholarship program.

Our day ended late with a delicious meal at a taco stand across the street from the hotel.

“I saw God everywhere! From the butterflies in the meadows to the hands of the parish women as they created fabulous meals for us. In the laughter of the children to the joyous singing of the parish women during Mass or the sing-a-longs. The distant sounds of the various livestock in the yards of the villagers to the cattle herds throughout the meadows. To the colony of ants marching “conga line” style along a log, up a tree, and into the vine foliage. In the sunshine, in the cooling breeze, in the peacefulness of the village. Most importantly, I felt God’s presence in the collegiality of Mexicans and Americans bonding in heart, mind and spirit!

The term missioner has many connotations, and for me, one of the most important is love and respect of my fellow woman/man/child/beast. Although my ability to speak Spanish is not as great as I want, being present with our fellow parishioners, assisting wherever I was needed, and the warm reception and acceptance of those at La Transfiguración was the “shining moment” of why I was there.

I personally received much more from this experience, that I find myself questioning often, “What did I give in return?”

Pilgrim Dean Hansel


Day 5

The family that owns the taco stand across the street from the hotel also owns a restaurant next door, and we enjoyed a family-style meal of eggs, chorizo, bacon, tortillas, and toast.

We began in Arroyo Zacate at San Pedro (St. Peter’s), which is a truly impressive place. Once again, we were warmly greeted with hugs, handshakes, smiles, songs, and prayers.

Father Senobio and his daughter Olivia have taken Bishop Benito’s call to sustainable ministry and community service to heart and are leading the congregation to see their vision become a reality. Their water purification system cleans water that they bottle and sell at half the price the community can buy it from other companies. They also give water to people who are too poor or too ill to pay for it. They make enough for upkeep, to pay employees, and to pay for supplies, so they can be generous in what they charge.

They also provide a place for a doctor’s private practice clinic on their property. They rent an apartment to the doctor, who offers medical assistance to people in the community and beyond – people will travel a great distance for good help at a lower price than other clinics in the larger cities. With the help of their partner parish, they installed a new transformer that provides reliable electricity, which keeps the clinic running, as well as the purification system and the bakery.

The bakery has two rooms: one for preparation that contains a refrigerator, and the second contains the ovens and cooling racks. They hope to take the space outside the bakery and transform it into a tienda where they will sell their baked goods and other items to the community.

After our tour, the large group of men, women, and youth divided into two smaller groups – one learned how to make and preserve marmalade, while the other baked a cake. Everyone came prepared to learn, taking careful notes on paper and asking questions along the way. One gentleman traveled 1 ½ hours to participate.

While Brad, Mark, Veronica, Betty, and Steve stayed in Arroyo Zacate, the rest of our group traveled to Nigromante and San Marco (St. Mark’s), one of Father Senobio’s other churches (he is responsible for several). San Marco is located right on the main square in town, which is usually where the Roman Catholic Church is located.

We learned of several projects underway: they’ve made repairs to the roof by sealing it to prevent leaking; they’re building an apartment for Father Senobio or other visitors; and, they have an active bakery.

We learned that when people from the area villages want to cross the border into the U.S., they stop by San Marco’s first to pray for safety. And when family members return to visit family, the townspeople get a bit startled when they see teenagers who look like them speaking English ☺

After we returned to Arroyo Zacate, we ate chicken, rice, tortillas, and guacamole, and then Brad (and his assistant Mark) showed everyone how to decorate the cake.

During the day, people shared different ways of expressing the same thing: this is a holy place where love and community is at the heart of everything they do. Food is one way of sharing in community with one another, both in preparation and in sharing it with others. In this way, we’ve participated in holy communion over and over again this week. And along the way, we’ve been reminded that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed, and all things are possible. And when we work together in community and with a common vision, even greater things happen.