The participants each took a handful of earth from their parishes, representing the land of their country of origin, and deposited it in a 100-year-old rebozo, or shawl.
Susana Bates/Special to the Catholic Voice
Institute trains parish leaders
for Latino Catholic community
A procession through the streets of Berkeley that brought together dozens of parish leaders from around the country was part of a week-long intensive program of ministerial education and advanced theology and pastoral work.
Carrying candles, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and singing religious songs, they walked to the Jesuit School of Theology where they participated in the Hispanic Institute from July 13 to 25. Their goal: to consider the Hispanic migration to the U.S. and how God has guided them through their journeys.
Gustavo Vega, a member of Queen of All Saints Parish in Concord, was one of the leaders who told his story at an event called, "Night on the Border" on July 17.
Vega shared with more than 70 institute participants how he came to the United States in 2002 at the Sonora border and was arrested by the Border Patrol.
"They put us in a kind of prison in the desert. We endured very hot temperatures in the day and it was very cold at night. We had no walls, only wires; and children were separated from their parents. We were there three days and we were returned to Mexico. I think the conditions and the process is very degrading to a human being," he said.
Vega soon repeated the voyage, and this time was lost for seven days. "We were 25 people. Some were lost along the way until we were seven. Luckily I was one of them," said Vega, who attended the institute for a second year. The 31-year-old also works with young people in his parish and is a member of the Board of Directors of Charismatic Renewal.
This was the first time in the institute's 26-year history for the "Night on the Border."
"We have to remember who we are, we are more than immigrants with or without papers. We must remember that we are children of God called to serve, to study and perform a ministry," said Sister Maria Teresa Montes-Lara, OP, director of the institute since last April.
Sister Dana Dorcakova, a religious missionary with the Verbum Dei order and liturgy coordinator of the institute, said the idea of the "Night on the Border" was to create a space to "reconnect with our past and bring it to our present."
After the procession, the participants, who each took a handful of soil from their parishes representing the land of their country of origin, deposited it in a 100-year-old rebozo, or shawl, while speaking of a significant date, usually the day the person crossed the border.
Facing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, participants shared their life stories and then mixed all the deposited soil, each one taking a handful home.
"This act symbolizes our life is now mixed with hundreds of people from other cultures in this country," said Dorcakova, who is originally from Slovakia.
One thing was clear after the participants shared their testimony. "They realized that if they were able to cross the border and live through such a difficult experience, they have the ability to do anything. Many of them did not believe in their own strength and all they could do," said Dorcakova who made her novitiate in Spain and speaks perfect Spanish.
For Vega, all that effort was worth it because his American dream was to find God in this country.
That motivation led him to participate in the Hispanic Institute. "I need to educate myself on what would let me serve in solidarity and to glorify God," he said.
The institute is designed as an intensive program in Spanish for Catholic leaders who are not clergy, catechists, RCIA leaders, deacons or premarital counselors, among others. The institute aims to provide a deeper theological education for the Hispanic community, focused on the unique lived experience of Catholic Latinos.
The program consists of three summer sessions made in a period of three years, during which participants receive a certificate in theological and pastoral studies awarded by the University of Santa Clara.
This year 74 people attended, including 49 women, the highest number of students in the history of the institute.
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