“A righteous man shall be in everlasting remembrance…” according to the Psalmist David (Ps. 111:6, OSB). One year after the falling asleep of +Fr. Andres Giron (2/16/14), these words seem to ring true, especially for the many thousands of Mayan Orthodox Christians who still hold him in such high esteem.
For many years most of them were like sheep without a shepherd, living a life of exile that the expulsion from the Cathoic Church imposed upon them. In village after village the sad story of their rejection and abandonment was told and retold by the catechists who, together with their people, suffered the consequences of life without the sacraments. All of this was soon to change, however, with the arrival of Fr. Andres, who himself by now had been expelled from his mother church for political activities in defense of the landless poor. One story, in particular, as told by catechist Mateo Paiz Lucas of the village of Aguacate, captures the essence of Fr. Andres’ ministry to these lost sheep. He was invited by the village elders to come to their village to perform the long-neglected sacraments. Arriving on August 24, 1995, and there being no sanctuary large enough to accommodate the many hundreds assembled, Fr. Andres baptized 200 infants in the village soccer field and performed hundreds of marriages. To their joy and delight, the long-suffering shepherdless flock of Aguacate, along with people from four other villages, had found their “gran pastor” or spiritual father. Persecutions from the Catholic Church soon followed, and in November of 1996, Fr. Andres was arrested by the civil authorities in the same village and told to never return again. Upon his arrest, Fr. Andres told his followers “if this church is of Giron, it will not last, but if it of God, its descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea.” Despite numerous threats against his life and three assassination attempts, Fr. Andres persisted in his efforts to reach the lost sheep, whom he eventually led into canonical Orthodoxy in March of 2010.
Now five years later, I, together with the vicar- Fr. Mihail Castellanos, and the other Guatemalan clergy, have been making the rounds of the major parishes to commemorate the one year anniversary of the falling asleep of Fr. Andres.
The turnout in each place, including Chiapas, Mexico, has been very impressive, enthusiastic, emotional and inspiring. Over and over again we heard loud chants of “viva la Ortodoxia.” The Mayans have come home to the mother Church, after being rejected by their step-mother. Despite the loss of their leader, the momentum of the church and its potential for further growth continues unabated. In one of the villages representatives of non-Orthodox villages came to observe the services with an eye towards embracing the Orthodox Faith. The pastoral needs of the church in terms of ministry far outpace our ability to adequately respond. We have inherited a large flock, but few are the shepherds to tend it. Fr. Evangelos Pata, for example, is constantly on the move, visiting his seventy-two villages, but he is only one man. Two weeks ago in Aguacate, he and I performed 13 baptisms and 6 weddings during and after the Liturgy. This past Saturday we removed all the pews from his parish, and the people stood together like sardines for 4 hours as we celebrated the Liturgy and a three hour program remembering the life of Fr. Andres. Four full challices were needed to administer Holy Communion to this burgeoning community. Shouts of “Que vive Padre Andrés,” resounded in each village. Fr. Andrés lives on in the hearts and minds of his people, or as the Psamist says, “A righteous man shall be in everlasting remembrance…
Dear friends and family,
I hope you’re staying warm! My sympathies to everyone in New England as you trudge through a winter apocalypse! This month will be news-oriented with updates about Guatemala and about myself. There’s a lot to share!
Last November, priests from Guatemala met with Metropolitan Athenagoras in Mexico City (see photo). They developed a strategic plan for Guatemala, including three goals: (1) enable Fr. Fernando to succeed Fr. Andrés as leader in Guatemala by sending him abroad to study theology, (2) identify potential deacons and priests in the Guatemalan villages and train them on-site, (3) complete the medical clinic in Aguacate and develop a strategy for ongoing healthcare.
In January, Fr. John Chakos and Pres. Sandy returned to Guatemala with a small mission team to assist in Aguacate. Almost 1,000 people gathered for a marathon service with 6 weddings and 13 baptisms .
February 16 was the one-year anniversary of the death of Fr. Andrés Girón, the leader and advocate of these Mayan villages. The people held large memorial services and eulogies.
This coming summer, two mission teams will travel to Guatemala. You can volunteer for one through OCMC.
90% funded: That’s right, I’m in the home stretch! It’s thrilling to see my team coming together. Thank you, everyone!
Purchased my plane ticket: I now have a departure date! On April 21st, I will fly from Miami to Guatemala City.
More parish visits in February and March: I can’t leave until I’m 100% funded, so I will be traveling in New England and New York to seek more monthly supporters. See pictures from my recent visits on my Facebook page.
Ways to Help
Prayer requests: Please pray for personal peace as I begin saying goodbye to family and friends. Also pray for healing from wrist pain (a result of all the driving, typing, and writing).
Donate supplies: I am gathering supplies for my move on April 21st, and there are several items that you could donate (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to donate something):
- A Kindle e-reader
- E-book versions of theological writings
- Logos Bible Software
- A used Macbook for a backup computer
- Large, lightweight suitcases
- New or used cassock
- Liturgical supplies for the churches in Guatemala (chalices, censers, and blessing crosses)
Become a monthly supporter: I still need more monthly pledges before I can leave in April. Make a pledge of any amount (e.g., $25 per month) using my online support page.
I can’t tell you how much I miss Fr. Andrés as we mark the one-year anniversary of his death (Feb 16). I got to know this great man as a father. Imagine driving in a car with Martin Luther King, Jr., or having tea with Mahatma Gandhi. I look to Fr. Andrés with the same degree of love and admiration.
During one car ride in 2012, Fr. Andrés stopped at a small store and walked inside with me. He walked carefully, holding my arm because of his increasing weakness. Suddenly he stopped, stared into my eyes, and said, «do you see this cassock, Jesse? This doesn’t make me a priest! The people in the villages made me a priest. Always remember that!» Then we continued into the store to buy coffee and food, and his words lingered in the air. I never forgot those spontaneous, prophetic moments; the words of Fr. Andrés linger in the room where I sit and type, they permeate the churches where his people pray, and they flow through the mountain air of Guatemala where thousands of people still look to this man as a father.
Now, as I prepare to move on April 21st, I ask Fr. Andrés to pray for me and to beg God that I will serve his people faithfully. I try to honor his words from that car ride by remembering that the villages made me a missionary. Not only that, but all of you are making me a missionary each day through your prayers and support. Join me today in prayer, as we remember Fr. Andrés Girón and the villages that love him dearly.