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Catholic Voice
 November 19, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Advent begins Dec. 2
Young artists shine at Crèche Festival
Bethlehem comes alive
Deacon Dave's lights hit 30
Eucharistic Adoration chapel management changes hands
St. Mark, an oasis of hope
in Richmond, fetes 100 years
The celebration was joined by hundreds of people, some dressed in traditional costumes of various Latin American and African countries, some of whom brought the offerings for the bilingual Mass.
All: josÉ luis aguirre/The Catholic Voice

When parishioners of St. Mark's in Richmond came to 12:30 p.m, Mass Nov. 4, they were surprised to see decorations on the sidewalk leading into the church.

"They are traditional rugs from Mexico," said Heraclio Reyes, their maker. "They are made from sawdust, painted colors and we wanted them in our parish to celebrate its 100 years," he said.

The celebration was joined by hundreds of people, some dressed in traditional costumes of various Latin American countries, other African communities and a smaller group wore representative dresses from Italy and Portugal, ethnic groups that were more strongly present in the parish earlier this century.

Some of those in ethnic costume brought the offerings for the bilingual Mass celebrated by Rev. José Farias, SDB, and concelebrated by Rev. Msgr. Antonio Valdivia and Rev. Ramiro Flores, current pastor of St. Mark.

Father Farias was pastor of St. Mark's from 1977 to 1983, when the Salesian Fathers administered the parish. "What I remember most is the faith of the people. It isn't stopped by adversity. It always goes on," recalled Father Farias, who notes that at the time there was only one Mass each Sunday.

St. Mark was founded in 1912 as a mission in the upstairs of a grocery store on the same corner property the parish plant is located today, first by Italian and Portuguese immigrants, and during World War II by African-Americans recruited to work in the shipyards.

Currently, St. Mark has three Masses in Spanish and one in English. It is estimated that 90 percent of the people who attend Mass are Hispanic, 9 percent African-American and 1 percent consists of other ethnic groups.

"This church brings 100 years of effort, tolerance and love to its parishioners," said Monsignor Valdivia, who was the parish administrator here from 1996 to 1999. "I remember the faith and dedication of the people. It is a very poor community but survives with the efforts of the pastor," he added.

Sawdust murals
This tradition from Huamantla, Tlaxcala, Mexico, involves drawing figures with colored sawdust on the streets or sidewalks during a celebration.

Heraclios Reyes wanted to pay homage to St. Mark for its 100 years of service using several rug designs. It took two months to do the drawings and designs.

A group of five people worked all night — from midnight to 8 a.m. Nov. 4 — to develop the more than 100 feet of rugs in time for the celebration.

For Artemio Ocampo, this was the first time he had helped make a sawdust mural. It was interesting, he said, wishing more people could be involved in such projects in the future.

For more information about the artist, contact the parish at
Regina Wells, who is the cantor at the 11 a.m. Mass, said, "100 years means that Christ's light is everlasting, is far reaching beyond culture and race and class and gender, beyond our misunderstandings and negative behavior. Christ's light is the more brilliant and we celebrate together — English, Spanish, African — all the different cultures. We prove that again and again."

Miguel Villalobos, who with his wife and children belong to Estudiantina Sinai, one of four musical groups that enliven Masses at St. Mark's, said, "The main thing about this church is that the priest doesn't shut anyone out. Everyone is welcome. It is a very humble community.

"This is not a luxurious church, because it is mainly helping people," Villalobos added, referring to parish programs offering immigration advice, counseling to families who lost a loved one to violence and participating with organizations such as Casa de Esperanza and CCISCO (Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization) on issues such as housing, education and violence prevention.

"This community is training to defend its rights," says Father Flores, who since he came to St. Mark's 5½ years ago, has dedicated himself to serving the needs of the parishioners, not only in social justice issues, but spiritually.

The deaths of his parishioners when Richmond was No. 1 among the most violent cities in California made a mark on his priestly ministry. Once, a parishioner was killed in front of his little girl. "His wife and three daughters were left with nothing. We went to City Hall to get help for them and try to put an end to the violence," he recalls.

In March 2008, churches of all denominations in Richmond kept their doors open for 24 hours to serve as centers of prayer and reflection in an effort to get people to stop the killing and comfort the families of the victims of crime.

At that time, Father Flores stayed awake for 24 hours, visiting other churches, walking in a procession through the most dangerous parts of the city along with other ethnic groups and praying for the families of the victims of violence. "It was one of the best experiences I have had," the priest recalled.

"Richmond is a land of missions, there is much suffering here, we have many families who have not had access to education and who are living in poverty. Still it is a community rich in faith," he said.

Despite the challenges, St. Mark's has a bright future, according to Father Flores. "There will be many open doors for this community if young people continue studying and stay in school. We see how the children of undocumented parents are going to college, and I see the same future for our own families ... May God bless us in our next 100 years!"

(This article also appears in the December issue of El Heraldo Católico, the diocesan Spanish-language monthly).

These special alfombras (carpets) are elaborate street decorations made of colored sawdust. Five St. Mark parishioners, including Artemio Ocampo, left, helped artist Heraclio Reyes, right, make the 100 feet of artwork in an all-night marathon.

Rev. José Farias, SDB, pastor from 1977 to 1983, Rev. Ramiro Flores, current pastor, and Rev. Msgr. Antonio Valdivia, who was at St. Mark from 1996 to 1999.

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