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Turn to Jesus (Article)

International Family Missions in Malinalco
Missionary families and individuals from the United States, Mexico, France, Chile, Spain, New Zealand, and Italy offered their Holy Week to serve a parish church and its people.

young and old
Young and old, from different worlds. Xavier Wilders, from France, stands beside a local man from Malinalco, Mexico.

April 13, 2009. There are times when a shared mission brings people together from many walks of life, and from widely diverse cultures and languages. This year, the small Mexican town of Malinalco welcomed an unusual group of pilgrims from 7 nationalities and all ages, each with their own story.

To view a video of this year´s mission in Malinalco, click here.
More than a ‘perfect world’

Missionaries have been going to Malinalco and the surrounding towns for Holy Week for the past 17 years. In the past 2 years, the group has become increasingly international, as the first American families joined in last year, invited by Nico Sánchez-Mejorada , age 16. Nico is originally from Mexico City, and his parents were organizers of the missions for many years, often hosting other missionaries at their family home just outside of the Malinalco town center. When he moved to the United States in 2007, Nico decided that he wanted to show his new friends another way of life.
“I wanted to show my friends what Mexico is like – how it is and how we live – so that they could live a little bit how I used
house visit
The missionaries carried out door-to-door missions in the surrounding towns.
to live here, experiencing the people, where not everything is like a ‘perfect world,’” he said. “It’s worthwhile, because they can see that the world is not a place just to get more and more stuff to please yourself. Life is about giving, especially to the ones who need it most.”
He started out by inviting his American friends, but as it happened, “the families just went.” Many of the American families who went last year returned this year because the experience had been so enriching, bringing this year´s total to 22 Americans. This year, they found themselves not only with other families from Mexico and the States, but also with families from France, Spain, and Chile, and some young women from Padua, Italy, and a chaplain from New Zealand (Fr Peter Devereux, LC). A couple from South Africa also stopped in for the Holy Thursday procession before heading back to Mexico City.
The Wilders family, from Paris, France had already been on a voyage of worldwide proportions, So far, with four children, they have traveled to South Africa, China, India, New Zealand and Australia, Chile, and Mexico. Part of this family’s world tour experience involves getting involved
architectural plan of garden
Alfredo Fernandez, from Chile, checks over the landscaping plan with the team.
in the life of the places they visit, not as tourists, but as participants. So, when they heard about the Malinalco mission from some Mexican friends, it sounded like the perfect way to live Holy Week.
When asked what made these Holy Week missions stand out in light of their entire world tour, Mr. Ian Wilders said, “We’ve seen a lot of very good and profound Catholics around the world, but these families have really gone out of their way to be in a place they don’t know, very different, and where they’ve got to adapt to new needs and new realities, and they do it with a huge amount of charity because it’s for Christ.”
(The Wilders family’s ongoing blog about world tour experience is posted online in French and English at  . Several of the children also post their own blog entries, sharing their own impressions and experiences of the various places they have visited.)
Transforming a patch of dirt into a green garden

About a mile down the road from Malinalco, there is a tiny town called Tlecuilco with no more than 40 families who are extremely poor. The town itself
working in the garden
Everyone chipped in to turn the bare yard into a garden.
is little more than a street, a few stores selling chips and cold cokes, and a humble chapel dedicated to Our Lady. The object of this year’s service mission was to transform the bare dirt and weeds of the chapel’s front yard into a landscaped garden.
From their first day, the missionaries dug into the work with enthusiasm, hauling away wheelbarrows full of weeds, planting trees and decorative shrubs, laying down stones and bark chips, and setting up a brand new statue of Our Lady in a grotto made of carefully arranged stones. The landscaping plan was designed by Gonzalo Perez of Anahuac University, and the project was directed by Alfredo Fernandez, from Chile, while José de Aguinaga, from Mexico, coordinated the work of the volunteers. Everyone chipped in, including the smallest children, whose main task was to play games with the tiny tots from the village and perhaps supervise mom and dad’s work from time to time.

By Thursday, just in time for the Eucharistic procession with the townspeople, the garden was already transformed. Holy Saturday morning was the inauguration day, as over 250 guests gathered in the garden to pray the rosary and unveil the statue of
the completed garden
A view of the stones and landscaping in the completed garden.
Our Lady. 

A family from Atlanta had given a significant donation for the garden project, and they dedicated the gift for the men in the state prison in Angola, Louisiana. When the missionaries and the townspeople prayed their rosary together, they offered special prayers for that intention, asking God to help those who are in a place of darkness and suffering.

After the rosary and some testimonies from missionaries and townspeople, Father Peter Devereux blessed the statue and the garden with holy water. Then everyone shared a lunch of homemade tacos and treats that the people had made as a gift of gratitude.
Immersion in a three-dimensional faith

The missions also involved door-to-door evangelization in 12 of the surrounding towns, which gave the missionaries an opportunity simply to be with the people, and to spend time listening to them and showing them that personal concern that is part of the essence of charity. In Mexico, the door-to-door missions in small towns are an experience of solidarity in faith. The people are simple, and they welcome the missionaries with joy. Their hearts are open to the message of God’s love, and the door-to-door visits are often a deep consolation for people who
Fr Peter blesses statue
Father Peter Devereux, LC, blesses the new statue and grotto of Our Lady in the parish garden.
often have a profound faith in spite of few opportunities to attend Mass or confession.
Fathers Peter Devereux, Todd Belardi, and Eduardo Vigneaux heard over 600 confessions, collectively, during the week. Souls were set right with God, and there were also cases of couples who decided to regularize their marriage as a result of talking to one of the priests. Brother David Joyce, LC, worked with the boys, while consecrated women Maria Brackett and Sofia Solis worked with the girls.

The missionaries started their work on Palm Sunday. They also participated in the 3-hour Palm Sunday procession, which was a real-life, multi-sensory recreation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, complete with the pastor dressed up as Jesus and riding on a real donkey, a large float-like platform with 12 townspeople representing the 12 apostles, hundreds of boys and young men dressed up as Romans, a lineup of chief priests in their long robes, and of course, the firecrackers. 

“It’s an immersion experience, and it becomes a moment to reflect on Christ being in the midst of this procession, fully conscious of how fickle people are and how quickly this would all turn and what was to come,” said Janet McLaughlin, a
Palm Sunday procession
A life-sized Palm Sunday procession.
missionary from Atlanta. “It gives you a moment to reflect and to experience that… and you need the time to reflect on that. It’s a different way of reflecting that we don’t have so much in the States,” she said.

On Wednesday morning, the missionaries went on a pilgrimage to the town of Chalma, 15 minutes away, which happens to be the second most visited pilgrimage site in all of Mexico, after the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There is a crucifix in the church in Chalma that dates back to the early 1500s, and which reputedly “appeared” in a cave where the native people had previously been worshipping Ozteotl, the Dark Lord of the Cave, with human sacrifice. When the crucifix was found, with the pieces of the idol scattered about the cave, the people instantly converted to Christianity. Since then, thanks especially to the faith of the people, Chalma has been the site of many miracles of healing and conversion throughout the centuries.

For the missionaries, the Mass in Chalma was a special gift during Holy Week, since it is a place of penance and prayer. The focal point of devotion in the church is the ancient,
young Roman soldiers
Young Roman soldiers stand guard at the Palm Sunday procession. Hundreds of these brightly clad "soldiers" marched through the streets of Malinalco during Holy Week.
life-sized crucifix portraying a Christ who has already given over his spirit, and whose darkened body is slumped in death. After Mass, the missionaries visited the area surrounding the church, which at times gives one the sense of being in Lourdes. A river runs past the side of the church, and the narrow cobblestone streets are crammed with colorful stands selling everything from fruits and tacos to pottery and plastic trinkets.

By way of contrast, the missionaries also visited another sort of pilgrimage site on Thursday: a monolithic pyramid dating back to the early 1500s, from the days of the Mexica tribe. The pyramid, located on a mountain called Cerro de los Idolos (Hill of the Idols), was a temple where the elite warriors were consecrated and set apart.
On Holy Thursday evening, the missionaries attended the Mass at the main church in Malinalco, and with the pastor’s blessing, brought the Blessed Sacrament to 23 remote towns where the local chapels do not normally have the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Thanks to the efforts of the missionaries, the people in those towns were able to welcome the Real Presence in their own chapels and accompany Christ with
Eucharistic ministers
The missionaries served as Eucharistic ministers, bringing the Blessed Sacrament to remote village churches.
their prayer and adoration on Holy Thursday.
On Good Friday, some of the missionaries continued to go on door-to-door visits in the morning, while others attended a Good Friday procession at the tiny church in Tlelcuilco. The Good Friday procession took at least 2 hours, with a steep but steady climb up a mountain trail in the woods, where the pine needles crunch underfoot. Every 200 yards or so, a purple ribbon on a tree marked the spot of another station, and the cross bearers paused—with an 8-foot cross over their shoulders—for the readings and the songs. At the top of the mountain, the missionaries and townspeople emerged from the forest into a panoramic view of the entire town and the surrounding hills. For those who were present, this Good Friday procession felt like an achievement, an experiential image of how Lenten penance is followed by the light and expansion of Easter joy.
In the evening on Good Friday, the missionaries attended a talk on the 7 Last Words of Christ, given by Father Sergio Ramos , the Augustinian priest who is the pastor of the church in Malinalco. After the talk and the Good Friday
tiny church
With the Blessed Sacrament present in this little church on Holy Thursday, the people were able to adore Christ on the eve of his Passion.
communion service, the parish also held a commemoration of the taking down of Jesus from the cross. As velvet-clad Roman guards stood guard under the crucifix in the church, a priest climbed up a 15 foot ladder behind the crucifix and proceeded to unscrew the “nails” from the hands and feet of Christ crucified, one by one. Using a white sheet draped under his arms and slung over the wood of the cross, they proceeded to lower the life-sized image of the dead Christ from the cross, and then carried him away in the sheet. Throughout this process, which lasted about 15 minutes, the pastor directed a meditation for the people, who watched and listened in an attitude of silent prayer.
After the inauguration of the Tlelcuilco garden on Holy Saturday morning, the missionaries prepared for the Vigil Mass at a small church in Malinalco. If the missionaries had not been present, this church would have stood empty on Holy Saturday, and its Easter bells would have been silent. As it was, the Mass had to be held just outside the little church because of the quantity of people who came. The readings were read in Spanish, English, French,
via crucis in the woods
A true Via Crucis up a mountain, carrying the cross.
and Italian, with a homily by Fr Peter Devereux in both Spanish and English. As Father Peter noted in his homily, that Vigil Mass under the stars outside the church was like a miniature of St Peter’s Square, with those present as an image of the universal church, bringing together all ages and cultures around the one Christ.
A big family

On Easter Sunday, the missionaries drove back to Mexico City, one hour away, where they attended the closing Mass on the esplanade of Anahuac University. Thousands of youth and families in their white mission t-shirts milled around in a World Youth Day atmosphere. Just prior to the Mass, the youth erupted into spontaneous cheers and songs, while members from the Music 2 Change apostolate sang the missionary songs that every Mexican knows, and that have become an integral part of the missions mystique over the years. The joy and energy of the atmosphere was like a natural spiritual high. After a week of self-giving (and in some cases, no showers), people were tired and perhaps dirty, but also happy.
For those who went on missions as a family, the experience of family was magnified. Isabel Ruioba de
Easter vigil mass in malinalco
Fathers Todd Belardi, Eduardo Vigneaux, and Peter Devereux start the Easter Vigil Mass with the lighting of the Paschal candle.
Fernandez, from Mexico City, said that the experience has bonded the family on a much deeper level than good times on vacation.
“The experience of sharing the faith as a family is very rich because it has strengthened us in our life together, in our spirituality, in being truly united. When we go on vacations to the beach, for example, each person goes where they want. But on missions, it’s about being together as a family, fighting together for what it is most important,” she said.
“Coming on missions is giving testimony as a family that the most important thing in our lives is God. On the human level, it helps us a lot because the people of the town teach us that if you have God, even if you are living in poverty and austerity and with great sufferings, you can still be happy. I feel that my children have grown very much in their faith. In this mission, they didn’t need our support to be missionaries. They have learned what we’ve taught them with our example.” 
Out of Isabel’s 5 children, 3 accompanied them on the Malinalco family missions this year. The other two went on missions with Juventud Misionera (Mission Youth), one as a team leader in Puebla, and the other to the Honduras.
The Fernandez Recard family, from Chile, also said that missions have united and enriched their family life. They go on missions every year, and the children look forward to it as a cherished family tradition. This year’s trip to Malinalco was a new variation on their yearly tradition; they normally go on Holy Week missions in Chile, but since they were living in Atlanta this year, they heard about the missions and joined in. 
Not just another vacation

girls working
A mission that changes you and makes you grow.
is something to be said for a total-immersion experience on missions, said Alan Klooster, from Atlanta. “I’ve been on vacations before where you see tourist sites and stay in hotels, but this is a case where you really feel like you’re part of the community and you experience the true day-to-day lifestyles of the community. In particular, the festivals and traditions that are Catholic-based are unique and amazing to witness,” he said.
Bob Holdsworth, also from Atlanta, said that the sense of accomplishment is particularly satisfying. “This is our second year, and this showed us how much we could accomplish, so we look forward to doing even more next year when we come.”
Janet McLaughlin highlighted the depth of the faith experience. “There are no distractions from living Holy Week here. For example, the Palm Sunday event was all day. There was a two hour procession and a two hour Mass. Then, visiting the families keeps before you what our faith is and what we should be doing every day in taking the Gospel to people. And then when you come to the Holy Thursday, the Good Friday, the Holy Saturday liturgies, the whole town lives it. So, having lived that once, you feel the desire to do it again.”
Find out more about the Malinalco family missions at the official blogspot, where pictures from this year’s mission, many taken by Chris McLaughlin, are posted for viewing.



Related links

Helping Hands Medical Missions
St Rafael Guizar y Valencia Missionary Center

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