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Entering in to the Multicultural Experience of Mexico - January 2007
Contributed by Erik Anderson

As a part of the new Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) curriculum, the members of the first year program traveled to Mexico City this January, and returned with stories to tell.

“It was such a visceral experience,” one student commented, “I found myself touring the old Jesuit novitiate in Tepotzotlán, drinking coffee in the town’s plaza mayor, watching the graceful moves of the dancers in the Ballet Folklorico, and debating Mexico’s recent history - all in the same day!”

In its inaugural year, the immersion to Mexico was a great success. “Thanks to tremendous help from our Mexican Jesuit brothers,” said Eddie Fernandez, SJ, “we were able to perceive the majesty of a God who is found, not only in the misery of the slums but also in the liberating grace of color, dance, and poetry.” Indeed, students were able to visit a wide variety of historical and religious sites, meet Jesuits and other religious, diocesan, and lay ministers, and grow in appreciation for Mexico’s rich cultural and religious identity.

Plans for the immersion began nearly a year ago, as faculty members put the finishing touches on the revised M.Div. curriculum.  In preparation for the immersion, President Joe Daoust, SJ, and faculty members Dottie Peterson, FCJ, and Eddie Fernandez, SJ, traveled to Mexico City this past spring to meet with the faculty of the Jesuit Theologate.  On this preliminary trip, they began to assess what aspects of Mexican life and culture would be most pertinent to the M.Div. immersion, and what experiences could be made available to the 20 lay men and women, religious sisters and Jesuits who comprise this class.

All this preparation yielded rich dividends as the first-year students arrived in Mexico City and found warm and friendly accommodations, pertinent and thought-provoking lectures, as well as knowledgeable and effective tour guides. Students stayed with the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary near Mexico City’s Zona Rosa, and on the weekends traveled to a variety of pastoral ministry sites with Jesuit scholastics from the Mexican province.

The applicability of immersion in Mexico, of course, makes sense - Mexican Americans are the largest growing population group in the United States, and this population increase is changing the face of American Catholicism. 

This immersion allowed students to enter into the multicultural experience that is Mexico.  It also helped students to understand more about the historical context of this people and nation, as well as breaking down some stereotypes and misconceptions. 

“It seemed as though the Jesuit School wanted to provide us with a cultural, historical, and interpersonal experience of Mexico,” Shawn Wehan commented, “and for me, this goal was definitely achieved.”

 Classmate Chuck Frederico, SJ, agreed that this experience provided “concrete information and experience” that displayed “the rich cultural heritage that Mexico has to offer.”  It is this cultural heritage which must be understood and experienced before students can learn how to do culturally contextualized ministry in the United States.

Jesuit School students also got to know a variety of Jesuits studying at the Mexican Theologate, especially as they ventured out to a variety of pastoral sites on their weekends.  Many students visited orphanages, parishes, and indigenous communities.  Others celebrated religious festivals and joined parish pilgrimages.  These opportunities afforded Jesuit School students the opportunity to enter into rich dialogue with many different people, each of whom represented a unique perspective on Mexico.

Dottie Peterson, FCJ, was glad that students were able to enjoy these kinds of conversations. Dottie, who directs field education for the Jesuit School, pointed out that this immersion was not scheduled for strictly academic input, but to help students understand a little more the “lived reality of the people of Mexico.

This immersion emphasized hearing, seeing and experiencing.   While the trip was just under two weeks in length, it included components of geography, history, popular religiosity, film, music, and ministry with the poor and marginalized.  Dottie believes that this kind of affective experience helps students to better understand contextualized theology.  She added, “it teaches us a great deal about what we do and do not know about the Mexican reality while also teaching us about our own cultural roots, strengths and biases. Immersion of this kind helps us enter more deeply into the question: what does this experience have to say about my faith, and what might it say about my call to ministry?

“I realized that I was encountering a people
with an incredibly rich culture—
a richness I’d never known before.” 

Perhaps it was this kind of intercultural understanding which the Jesuit School faculty was hoping students would find in this experience. Shawn added:

“The immersion changed my perspective while I was in Mexico and it will continue to impact how I minister in the future.”

Photo of shrine of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Photo: Interior of the shrine.
Shrine of Nuestra Señora
de Guadelupe
Photo of cacti.

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