Immigrants' Suffering Inspired My Priestly Vocation
Interview With San Antonio's Father Gonzalo Meza
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ROME, JAN. 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Working in the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, day after day Gonzalo Meza faced the suffering of those trying to go to the United States.
It was the plight of these people that instilled in Meza a desire to nourish hope -- and brought him to the priesthood.
Today, Father Meza is a priest of the Diocese of San Antonio, Texas. He is studying in Rome at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
In this interview with the television program "Where God Weeps" of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, Father Meza speaks of his vocation and the special richness of Mexico.
Q: What inspired you to become a priest?
Father Meza: I worked for several years at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in the consular section and I realized there the problem of immigration. I understood how people really suffered trying to go to the United States. For some reason, I had to read these sad stories.
Q: How did these immigration stories inspire you to become a priest?
Father Meza: Well, I was in touch with the suffering of the people and I was thinking that I needed to do something. I needed to do something to help these people. I needed to give hope to the people. I cannot give hope but I can transmit hope and the hope is Christ. I realized that by being a priest, I could help and I could do many more things to help the people, rather than just being in an office at an embassy. It's a job that I loved but I think that spreading the Gospel, giving hope to the person -- that is something that people really need. They need money of course, but they need Christ most.
Q: Forty-five percent of the population of Mexico lives below the poverty line. Why is there so much poverty?
Father Meza: When one thinks of Mexico one thinks of one country, but there are many Mexicos. This is a country of contradictions; on one side you have extreme poverty and on the other side you have a lot of rich people -- a Mexican has made it to the Forbes Top 10. Mexico is a country of contradictions.
Q: The gap is huge, but is there a bridge?
Father Meza: There is a small middle class in Mexico. The wealth of Mexico comes mainly from oil. We have a big oil industry, PEMEX, a Mexican petroleum company. Another source of income is tourism and the third source of income is the remittances sent from the U.S. to Mexico. The Mexican economy needs more because when one depends only on these pillars you are not using the potential of what the people can give.
Q: Coming back to your vocation. Have you been able as a priest to give hope?
Father Meza: Yes, and it is a beautiful experience to spread the Gospel, to celebrate Mass, to hear confessions; just to talk to the people -- especially to the Hispanics -- and to give them hope because, as I mentioned many of them are sad.
Q: Mexico has a population of 110 million, of which the majority are Roman Catholic. The Mexican government has legalized abortion [in the capital]. Does this mean that the influence of the Catholic Church is going down?
Father Meza: Well, to respond to that question let me tell you something: When we analyze the polls we see the different institutions and we see the influences of the different institutions on the Mexican people. Several polls indicate that the Church is the first one in whom Mexicans believe.
The questions of abortion and the legalization of abortion were not because the Church has lost its influence, but it was because of a decision made by a small group of people who decided to introduce that bill. In the mind of the Mexicans there is no culture of abortion because for Mexicans -- I’m a Mexican and I can tell you -- there is this natural feeling and the natural instinct to protect life.
This culture of killing a baby inside the womb of the mother is a completely strange idea for the Mexican culture and totally comes from the outside and is not among the original values of the Mexican people. So, as I mentioned, this new law that allows abortion under certain conditions is something kind of strange for Mexican values and culture, and of course it is absolutely opposed to Catholic doctrine.
Q: How would you describe the faith of Mexican Catholics?
Father Meza: That is an interesting question. Catholics in Mexico have a strong devotion and a faith really "of the people," but this devotion is born of many things, for example, Our Lady of Guadalupe. The history of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a history of a successful inculturation. Through Our Lady, the people of Mexico were evangelized because Our Lady of Guadalupe arrived at a moment of great suffering for the population at that time in New Spain. And she appeared as a consoler, like a mother who consoles her suffering people because, at the time the conquerors arrived, there was a lot of devastation, a lot of bad things happening, but Our Lady arrived at that time to evangelize and inculturate the message of the Gospel.
Q: What do you mean by inculturation?
Father Meza: By inculturation I mean the spreading of the Gospel using the local culture -- to put the Gospel in the traditions of the people -- to announce Jesus Christ to the people using their traditions, their customs, their language and the way they act.
Q: Did Our Lady of Guadalupe have an impact on your life?
Father Meza: There is a saying: "We are Mexicans, but most of all we are Guadalupanos." My first Mass was at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I decided to entrust to her my priestly ministry. I have a big devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, to Our Mother. She is always with us in all the moments of our lives, through good and difficult moments, and through our trials and tribulations. She is always with us, and not only Mexicans but Latin Americans have a big devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Q: What is the present situation regarding indigenous rights?
Father Meza: The government is working toward improving the rights and they are taking steps to improve the situation of the indigenous people. At a certain point, people realized that the indigenous exist and that the indigenous have their own values, customs and traditions and they ask that these be respected. The Mexicans for many years forgot that they have indigenous and did so in a bad way. They make up 10% of the population so we are not talking about a small group. We have now realized that they are there and they have rights. The Church, society in general and the government are working together to help the indigenous people.
Q: They are still the poorest?
Father Meza: Yes, unfortunately they are and I think they have a lot of things to teach us.
Q: What can they teach us?
Father Meza: One of the values I learned from them is service. In our capitalist system, we serve because we expect to be paid. In the indigenous tradition -- and I’m speaking of just one group -- to serve is part of their values, to serve without expecting compensation and they do it spontaneously. This is not just beneficial to the Mexicans but to the whole world.
Q: Will poverty be eliminated one day in Mexico?
Father Meza: From an economic point of view, there will always be poor but from the cultural and spiritual point of view, Mexico is one of the richest countries in the world. We can say that we are rich -- the territory was evangelized more than 500 years ago -- and so we are rich because we have Christ. We are rich because we have Our Lady of Guadalupe. We are rich because we have a strong devotion in our hearts that influences our thoughts, values and traditions. We will never lose hope, because our hope is Christ and Christ will help us improve the situation.
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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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