By: Lisa Cathelyn
At the beginning of September, I participated in an intercontinental pilgrimage to Mexico City with Discerning Deacons. I encourage you to read the Synthesis Report and more about what’s next for Discerning Deacons here: It has been a privilege to journey with these hope-filled Catholics over the past few years.
One of the primary purposes of this pilgrimage was to gather a community of people in-person who have only connected virtually – people who were fervently praying, listening to their communities, animating the synod, and holding the Church’s active question of the restoration of women to the diaconate. The pilgrims included pastoral associates, campus ministers, theologians, organizers, grandparents, vowed religious, movers and shakers. We laughed, broke bread, prayed, sang, and visited. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable!
I brought dozens of prayer requests with me, including many from members of this community, writing them out before boarding the plane and having them in my backpack each day.
We spent a day at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is there where I brought the prayers of this community to Nuestra Senora, trusting them in her care.
The gift of encounter, encuentro was a thread throughout the pilgrimage. Spanish, Portuguese, and English melded together around a table during a conference on indigenous theology and Guadalupe, led by Fr. Eleazar Lopez Hernandez. Fr. Eleazar is a liberation theologian whose expertise on indigenous theology informed the Pan-Amazonian synod in 2019. We learned about the significance of the colors and elements of the tilma from the perspective of indigenous peoples of the 16th century, as well as contemporary notions of Guadalupe as a protector and champion of indigenous communities. I have a renewed awe of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe and a desire to strengthen this devotion, so profoundly rooted in Latina/o communities throughout the Americas.
I was one of the youngest pilgrims and enjoyed connecting with a handful of millennial Catholics, as well many others across age and experience. This intergenerational accompaniment was powerful, as was meeting the pilgrims from all over the Amazon. Often when I feel despair for the polarized U.S Church, I tend to zoom in and miss the pockets of collaboration and Spirit-filled leadership that persist. The bold, committed delegation from the Amazon included an archbishop, vowed sisters working with Indigenous communities, and lay women animating their communities as pastoral agents and catechists. Their witness invited me to zoom out, to pay attention to the good news of the church in the Amazon, of their collective struggle against deforestation and the climate crisis and relentless protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
On the first night, pilgrims experienced a liturgy planned and led by the Amazon delegation, including a beautiful collage of items from their communities.
I was so struck by heartfelt proclamation of Scripture in Portuguese and vivid testimonies of the Amazonian realities. The pilgrims from Latin America have embodied the call to be gente puente, bridge builders across divides.
I returned to the United States with renewed hope, the charge to remain tender-hearted, be la gente puente – connecting across geographies, races, cultures, and generations, caring for neighbor without distinction.
[Lisa Cathelyn is the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Coordinator for the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]