Kaukauna's Padre John serves far-flung parish
Green Bay Diocese and its people assist in missionary outreach to 21 communities
Eighth in a series on the Bishop's Appeal
By Frs. Paul Demuth and David Kasperek
|REVIEW PROGRESS: Frs. Dave Kasperek and John Reuter examine a church under construction at one of the missions served by Fr. Reuter, a native of Kaukauna, who has been a missionary in Mexico for more than 30 years. (Fr. Paul Demuth photo)
SANTA MARIA YUCUHITI, Oaxaco, Mexico -- With much effort we attempted to wrap our minds and mouths around the Mixteco language as we stood on either side of Fr. John Reuter during the Eucharistic Prayer at the little church in Nuevo in the southern mountains of the Sierra Madre Mountains.
We knew a little Spanish so that we could understand some of the homily "Padre John" shared with his people. But the rhythms of the indigenous language spoken in the homes of the
people and now proclaimed at Mass, had a grace and prayerfulness that impressed us with the deep faith and joy of the people.
The experience of the annual fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated in February in the small village of Nuevo, confirmed that we had a lot to learn about the faith and culture of our southern brothers and sisters. This was our first visit to Fr. John Reuter, a priest of the Green Bay Diocese, who has served in Mexico for more than 30 years, supported in part through the annual Bishop's Appeal.
Hundreds of Padre John's parishioners come to the United States to work. We see them and thousands of others in our diocese and elsewhere, toiling in meat packing plants, doing landscaping, and shopping in the malls. Their language and customs make them strangers to us.
But during our 10-day stay in the state of Oaxaca and Mexico City, we were both the strangers and the recipients of their hospitality.
Perhaps the most impressive, yet jarring message to us as strangers was their devotion to the Santos or saints - Our Lady of Solitude, St. Philip de las Casas, Santo Diego and Santo
Domingo as well as multiple depictions of the dead Christ and saints in tombs - found everywhere in their churches.
These images are often dressed in elaborate clothes, with tears of sadness, drops of blood, and facial expressions of pain and oppression, which contrast with our images of the crucifixion, the Holy Family, and the Resurrected Christ. Our guide in Oaxaca and Fr. Reuter helped us realize that these images let the people see that God and the saints understand and identify with their hard and difficult lives and help them in their journey of faith.
We were impressed with how Padre John stood with his parishioners in all matters and how he builds on the sense of community in each of the 21 small communities he serves. He continually reminded the people of their dignity while challenging them to accountability and growth and the need to share what little they have with others.
Because of the billions of dollars being sent back to Mexico by those working in the U.S., there is a building boom throughout the country. Families rarely live in stick homes with tin roofs anymore. Instead, they are building reenforced concrete houses.
Likewise, new churches - often with the support of parishes such as Ss. Edward and Isidore in Flintville - are springing up in each of the 21 faith communities in Fr. Reuter's Santa Maria Yucuhiti parish. These churches are becoming living symbols of the people's growth in faith and community.
In the community of Union y Progresso, for example, teams of 16 local men gather daily to build their church on the side of the mountain overlooking the little village. They clear the rocks, build the construction forms, mix and haul the concrete by hand and are gradually raising up a church they are proud of.
As they progress, Fr. Reuter encourages the people of Union y Progresso with donations from the people of Ss. Edward and Isidore. While we were there, he gave a $2,200 donation for the next phase of the building to a delegation from the community who had walked hours to Santa Maria Yucuhiti. They graciously shook the hand of Fr. Dave Kasperek, who posed with them for photographs. They then joyfully began the walk back to the village to begin the next phase of church construction.
The Fox Valley Mission group, which regularly travels to Central American countries, recently returned from a work project at Padre John's mission. Their 10 day project, organized by Dan O'Neil, helped the native Mixtecos build a church in Loma Bonita, Nuyoo, another of Padre John's 21 communities.
The group bent rebar, laid bricks, mixed and carried mortar and cement, built scaffolding, and helped make gravel by breaking big rocks. Each night they returned to the home base at Yucuhiti for meals and to sleep.
On their last working day in Loma Bonita, the local community prepared a feast for them - roasted goat (a local delicacy) and masa (a spicy roasted corn chowder). The meal was delicious and after well wishes and goodbyes, they began the trip home.
Fr. Reuter is as determined to train catechists and Eucharistic Ministers in each community as he is to have them build new churches. The catechists prepare couples for marriage, form young men and women for First Communion and confirmation, and lead the local community in Liturgies of the Word with Communion on Sundays when he cannot be there for Mass.
Lest anyone think that life in the mountains is without technology, we couldn't help notice rooms with TVs, sound systems, video equipment and current catechetical materials in the catechetical center at Santa Maria Yucuhiti. It is a comfortable juxtaposition of the modern, the rural, the simple and the complex.
Our cultural and religious immersion process enabled us to reflect on what we were experiencing and learning about the culture and faith of the Mixteco and Zapotec people:
A much richer heritage and greater contribution to our church and society than we could have ever imagined. We hope to never again look at or interact with the Hispanic population in our diocese in a stereotypical way.
The outstanding relationship of the indigenous pre-Columbian culture infused with a rich Catholic faith with Spanish overtones along with a sense of community we often long for in our own culture.
How we of European ancestry often miss the beauty and heritage of the culture and faith of our neighbors to the south and a new awareness of the gift our new immigrants offer us.
Ten days of exposure to our southern brothers and sisters in the faith hardly made us experts in Mexican culture. On the contrary, it merely gave us an inside picture of the Spirit in a way that we had never before experienced.
Individuals or parishes who would like to help sponsor or twin with one of the local communities under Fr. Reuter's pastoral care, may do so by contacting Gen Reuter (his mother), at (920)766-4415 or by writing him directly at Apartado 46, Tlaxiaco, Oaxaco 69800, Mexico. Do not send funds directly to Fr. Reuter.
(Fr. Demuth is director of ministers for the Green Bay Diocese. Fr. Kasperek is pastor of Ss. Edward and Isidore Parish, Flintville.)