A Catholic Monthly Magazine

“Posada”– Seeking Lodgings

Fr Tony O'Connor sm

Fr Tony O'Connor sm

I have written before about our contact here in Brownsville, Texas, with migrant minors from Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The latter part of this last year 2015 has seen the arrival of so many more minors between the ages of 11-17. There had been some sort of difficulty for them to cross borders but once again these kids are arriving and while travelling, face some of life’s most challenging questions as well as passing through moral and physical danger to get here. People who have the “get up and go” to migrate are usually endowed with great spirit and courage, not treating life as if it owed them something, but rather are achievers, prepared to give things a go and will generally contribute greatly where they finally settle.Brownsville 2

These kids have had to grow up fast. Many on their journey seem to have had some sort of religious conversion to God and a serious commitment to the life that lies ahead of them as well as to the families they have left behind. For this reason they avail themselves of the opportunity that the refuge centres offer, to take them to attend Sunday Mass. Up to 150 of them come to Sunday Mass in San Filipe de Jesus. We reserve a section of the church for them as they have to be seated together. The kids come from three different refuge centres.

They are made very welcome and those who arrive for the first time receive a simple cross to hang around their necks as a gesture of welcome. The people of the parish are very happy that they come to share the Eucharist with them in this humble parish. The people applaud them and smile on them and are disappointed that they can’t meet their own heart’s desire to buy these kids something. It is not allowed. I go to five refuge centres for minors so with December approaching I was able to ask if we could invite some of the kids to share with our youth and parish community some “Christmas cheer” one Saturday afternoon. The invitation was accepted by three centres.

In Mexico and Central America there is a custom of a pre-Christmas novena called “Posada” (“lodgings”), a ritual where people pass from house to house seeking lodgings on behalf of Joseph and Mary, like the gospel tells us that they did in Bethlehem.

“We come exhausted from Nazareth, I am the carpenter Joseph, lodgings we ask, and we need only one night, for the queen of heaven.”

Challenge 2000 in Brownsville

Te Po Johnston and Nicole Simson (front left and right) with youth leaders of the Parish of San Felipe de Jesus, Brownsville, TX

Te Po Johnston and Nicole Simson (front left and right) with youth leaders of the Parish of San Felipe de Jesus, Brownsville, TX

During last September, we had four young New Zealanders staying with us in a cultural exchange. They belong to a Marist backed movement for youth called Challenge 2000. They taught English hymns to our children and youth. They also ran a workshop on group games, ice-breakers and group dynamics. In the digital age our young ones are very adept at all sorts of games on their electronic apparatus but have lost the art of the good old activities of games, ice-breakers and group dynamics that bring about the intermingling of people and cohesion to groups. This September experience was a key to the day of the “Posada” in December.

Te Po Johnston, Chris Hills, Bridget Roche, and Nicole Simson, from Challenge 2000, in Brownsville, TX

Te Po Johnston, Chris Hills, Bridget Roche, and Nicole Simson, from Challenge 2000, in Brownsville, TX

The response from the parish was overwhelming: 30 adult volunteers; 40 youth from the parish; 138 Central American guests and two Mexicans; the partial use of a grant from Bishop Flores; other donations of cash, catering gear, food, piñatas (decorated containers of small toys or lollies), sodas, water; gifts for the migrant minors and the use of a tent for a dining space.

When the guests arrived the young people of the parish were there to receive them in the main parking lot which is also a sports area. One of our young people, Jennifer Garcia, gave the welcome using the idea of the “Posada”:

“You guys leaving your countries are like Joseph and Mary because you are looking for a place. We young people of the Parish of San Felipe de Jesus want to give you a place these hours that you are with us, and at the same time we wish you peace and happiness and prompt outcomes to your migratory processes. As well we wish many blessings to each of you and your families who are so far away. Welcome … from our hearts. Welcome! Welcome!!”

The games then began. Our youth had rehearsed well. When all the mini buses had arrived from three different refuge centres, the whole group went in procession to our church where they carried out the “posada ritual,” first outside the door like Joseph and Mary seeking “Posada” (lodgings).

Joseph speaking: “In the name of heaven I ask for lodgings, Mary my love can go no further.”

Then on being received inside the church:

“Come, travellers, come, receive this little space, even though it is small and poor, we give it with all our hearts, and we the hosts, let’s sing for joy that Jesus, Joseph and Mary have come to honour us.”

Inside the church an abbreviated set of traditional posada prayers were said. This was followed by some video clips: some holy, some educational, some funny. Hondurans and Salvadorians have a hearty laugh, Guatemalans too.

At 4 o’clock everyone was back in the sports area and the games, group dynamics and ice-breakers continued. It was all good fun. Crossing some Central American countries and all of Mexico might have been a serious and scary business, and being held in a refuge centre is secure but limits the kids like little birds in a cage. The games and intermingling, the laughter and creativity, their informal rap and creative reggaetón (dancing), the piñatas and the movement were like a space suspended in time, maybe where cares and memories, nostalgia and pain, fear and aloneness were laid aside and these kids could be kids once again. They could laugh and play, and for a time forget the memories, the violence left behind, the gangs and threats, the beatings, the poverty and pain. New Zealand youth teach Texan kids games. Texan kids teach Honduran, Guatemalan, Salvadorian kids to have fun, an intermingling of peoples. We are all children of the universe. We are all migrants. We all seek a “Posada.”La Posedas

From start to finish was heard the refrain, “Gracias, thank you, Gracias.” A magic message that warmed the maternal hearts of the adult volunteers and pumped the self-esteem and sense of satisfaction of our young people of San Felipe de Jesus.

All in all an echo that set out in a long journey across the continent to the Pacific and beyond it to New Zealand. “Gracias, thank you, Gracias.”

We are children of the universe. We are all migrants. We all seek a “Posada.”

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