I got up fairly early this morning and, flyers in hand, went to the Vila’s parking lot, a place close to our house and my church that is a gathering spot for Latino day laborers. As soon as I got out of the car, someone recognized me and yelled to the other guys, “Llegó la madrecita” (The little mother is here). I really struggle with clergy-type titles of any sort. I am Rosa. Period. But today, I was surprised by joy, especially because almost immediately, a bunch of the guys started singing “Burrito Sabanero”–one of the quintessential Christmas carols of Latin America and the carol we sing every year. The joy came from the certainty that in a very small way we have become the Church for a group of people who are invisible. We have traditions and rituals and roles with each other. I see familiar faces and I am so glad with each one I greet.
On Christmas morning, I celebrate a Eucharist and together with a group of volunteers from the New River Regional Ministry, serve breakfast to the day laborer community. There’s a breakfast stew called Posole that dates back to Aztec times and is served with fresh sliced radishes and lettuce and toasted tortillas. Each year, a couple of women from El Centro prepare the Posole for about 100 people in a ginormous pot. At the end of Midnight Mass, I get two guys to lift it out of the fridge and we leave it on the stove. At about 6 AM on Christmas Day, I go back down to the church and put the heat on low to start warming the posole. That was never hard when Maria got us up to open presents at dawn. I’ll have to set the alarm this year.
By 10:30 AM we are at the parking lot, all set up to serve when the guys start gathering. We stand in something of a circle and I lead a brief service that includes giving communion to anyone who wishes to receive it. But the part that gets to me each year is that after singing Burrito Sabanero and listening to the prologue to the Gospel of John, we have a time for prayer and I ask that each man step forward, one at a time, and say the names of the people in his country that he wants us to pray for. For their moms and dads, for their spouses, especially it is the names of their children that moves me. Sometimes, we have prayed for a child that died and was buried with their father thousands of miles away.
Then comes breakfast. The guys sit all up and down the strip mall walkway and you can tell how much they savor the posole. At the end of the meal we hand out bags of basic staples–rice, beans, oil, Maseca, seasoning. The days between Christmas and New Years are lean days and this helps them get through. And we also have phone cards. People borrow cell phones back and forth to call home. It is not that much, but it is something we can do. And today, it felt like Christmas to hear someone say, “Llegó la madrecita”
Porque llegaste tantos años atrás, esperan tu llegada hoy. Rosa, it is a wonderful work you undertook in faith back then, and God has blessed it — and continues to bless it — richly. I think “madrecita” is most fitting for the petite reverenda with the big heart. In you they recognize the enfleshment of God’s motherly love, and I imagine your presence inspires in them a sense of groundedness they don’t always feel, a sense of being home, even if they are strangers in a strange land..