By Irene Gonzalez Hernandez
Faith is a gift, and it is a treasure that should be shared with everyone that crosses your path.
I was blessed to be born into a Catholic family; however, for several years, I was only a “Sunday Mass” Catholic. It took me some time to fully grasp the great depth of love and responsibility that comes with being Catholic.
During my first year as a college student, a friend invited me to participate in rural missions during Holy Week in the Huasteca region, which is one of the poorest areas in Mexico. This experience changed my life. There are not enough priests to celebrate Mass during Holy Week there, so missionaries conduct the Liturgy of the Word, teach catechism, help with ceremonial processions, and share community life during these days.
It was a shocking, eye-opening experience; I was encountering a completely different Mexico from the one I was accustomed to as a city girl. There was no electricity, no running water, the heat was intense, and the food was very simple: handmade tortillas with tomato, lots of “chile” and black beans. But the warmth and generosity of the families of the community sure made it a great experience. We were foreigners and they welcomed us as brothers; and the very few things they had, they shared them with us: their “petates” too, which is a bedroll woven from the fibers of palm that they use as a bed. They trusted us completely and were happy to send their kids to learn the catechism and to play with us. During the liturgy, almost every person in the community would come close to each one of the missionaries and give us a hug as a sign of peace.
Faith is essential to their lives. They were thankful for the sun, for the birds, for the rain to grow their small crops, for their families, and just for being alive. During the Stations of the Cross, it was a huge honor for volunteers to help carry a big wooden cross and wear a crown of thorns just as Jesus did. And my heart was touched when I watched the elderly engage in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
I felt I saw Jesus in every one of the people I met in the community. Supposedly I was going to teach them about God, but it was the other way around! Knowing that they had to walk for several hours to go to Mass and that they absolutely cherished the possibility of having communion really made me think of how lucky I was for having the possibility of daily Mass and communion where I lived. From that moment on, I felt a need to deepen in my faith, know more about it, and fully live the Sacraments.
This whole experience, really got me thinking. I realized there were many people in need, and I just couldn’t leave things as they were. It was great to give a hand and feed the hungry on a one-on-one basis, as I did with the donations I gathered and brought to the rural community that I visited in the Huasteca region. But after having this experience and after reading about Catholic Social Teaching, Pope Francis’ call for the laity to participate in politics resonated. I began to discern a calling to work for the common good because the role of the laity is to “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God,” (LG, 31) and this includes politics! Public service, government policy, international relations, and civic participation are places in which Catholic service and solidarity can bring about conditions that are more just and loving within society. My missionary zeal then shifted from a little rural community to a desire to live my Catholic faith and Jesus’ love in public life to have a bigger impact. Since then, being Catholic has really become a very important part of who I am.
I am currently pursuing a Masters degree in Public Policy because I believe there is a huge potential for civil society to be creative in finding humane solutions to 21st-century challenges, and Catholics must play an important role in this effort. Our faith is profoundly social, and I have chosen to make service and the pursuit of social justice a lifelong commitment. I want to live in such a way that my testimony reflects that politics is still one of the noblest forms of charity. The world is in such a need of love and mercy, so why not aim for “macro-mercy” through public service?! I am really happy about working at CCM and living to the fullest of DePaul’s Catholic identity and its Vincentian values that keep inspiring a call to action for the betterment of our society.