Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Immigrant, or just a human being who loves America...

Two weeks ago my brother and I went to the Bronx to take our mother 91, to church. My brother, from Brooklyn, and I from Long Island, meet at our moms apartment and we all walk to church together. St. Athanasius is the parish of my childhood and my mother has been going there for over 40 years. The walk to church is only about 12 minutes but with my mother's slow, gliding pace it takes us about 30 minutes. Along the way, we make several stops to meet and greet other church goers. It is apparent to me that my sweet, and beautiful mother is well known, loved and respected in this neighborhood where so little is to be had. The community, since our arrival in the mid 1960's has undoubtedly changed. Where there once was a small population of Jews, Italians and African Americans, there are now mostly people from Central and South America.

On our Arrival to the church we are greeted by Father Smith who happily and lovingly greets my mom and asks her if she has found a plaque in the shape of a leaf on the churches tree of life which is helping to make some much need repairs to our old church (it celebrated its 100th year in 2007). To my surprise my mother has donated a generous amount in memory of my sister Lily to help her church, as have many of the other members. As I look around, I can't help but smile at the joy on their faces as they so proudly search for their plagues and I am so deeply struck when I think that these are my people, my community who is so rich in their love for their church, God and their community.

St. Athanasius, is an old church that over the many years has had few repairs. It is simply decorated, with few and simply details. There is no air conditioning and on hot day as on that day the whir of the fans send a whisper of sweet and intoxicating comfort. During the homily, which I have to say the Colombian priest, does beautifully, the service is centered on real life in the community. He talks to his congregation as if they are truly his family, mentioning names, telling a joke, sharing stories about dinner at so and so's house.

At times, I would look around and remember moments of my childhood, like when I was 8 and I wore a tube top (small shirt) to church and the old lady behind me pulled my ear and told me that I should never come to church in such attire, or when Father caught me chewing gum and told me that the good Lord was probably turning in his grave, or as we got older and my sister and I would stay out dancing all night and when we got home my mother would tell us not to even think of going to bed because we were going straight to church. This was the place where I grew up.

Towards the end of Mass I looked around and all I saw was happy, smiling faces, young, old, babies, many of them immigrants who don't have citizenship and worry every day that they may be sent back to their countries. These people who have gathered in this community and are so committed to each other. These people who struggle with poverty, cannot get medical insurance or help from our government because the are illegal. All they want is the same thing that the rest of us desire, to work, feed their families and live in a safe place where their children may one day have a chance for a better life than the one they know. These, the indigenous people of Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico and many others stood before me with love in their eyes as the sang "God Bless America" as their closing hymn.

Standing outside my old church on this lovely sunny day, with my 90 year old mother, never believing when I was 8 that she would still be standing in front of this beautiful old church holding my hand as if I were still 8, I felt a rush of love, happiness and gratitude for Father Gigante (then the Pastor) who greeted us and welcomed us to a community that would always continue to embrace us and always welcome me home. Our family came here seeking a better and new life, just like those standing around me. Many decades later we know how very lucky we have been.



10 comments:

Guilty Secret said...

That was beautiful. I was raised a Catholic and, although I have misgivings about it, the one thing I do miss is the community spirit of church. I still feel like walking in when I walk past an open church (an increasingly rare thing). The sights and smells are very emotive and take me right back to my childhood.

simply me said...

Good morning guilty secret....I also have had my departure from the catholic church and its teachings for many reasons. The only time I go is when I take my mother. Sometimes the best time to go is when it is quiet and no one is around. So go ahead and feel that moment again.
Have a great week.

Lisa said...

What a beautiful post, my dear friend. I think what we might miss the most is the sense of community and oneness that we feel in that holy setting. When you come with me to the new church I've been going to, you'll see that it's also community-based and they really desire to get to know everyone personally. I hope you like it...

...Did your mother ever find her plaque??

xoxo

simply me said...

Hi Li - I am looking forward to my new church experience. My mother did find her plague and by the way Father Smith's Spanish is remarkable after all these years.

Matty said...

I'm glad that your mother loves her church and community. I no longer go to the Catholic Church but I do go to a Christian church that accepts me for who I am. I think what we all miss is the feeling of community and belonging.

simply me said...

Yes - Matty, as a matter of fact I am trying a new Christian Church with Lisa this Sunday. She says it is small and centers a lot around Youth which is really important to me now that Jon will soon be 15.

Betty said...

Dear Simply Me,

How wonderful that you still have this community from your childhood. I never had it, not then or now, although my spiritual life is important. I've not yet found a church where I've fit in, and end up just doing my own thing. The child and I have been going to the church down the street, but neither of us feel comfortable there.

I also hope you like the new church you're trying with Lisa!

Hugs,
Betty

Big Dave T said...

I used to go to an older church with my grandparents, every Sunday at 8. I can still picture where we sat, up front and off to the side. Same pew every week. Nice blog. Thanks for bringing back those memories for me.

So your mother had you when she was 47? Or is my math bad?

Hea, I'm not retired, responding to your comment on my blog. But, yes, I'm obsessed with fantasy football, over TV, over reading, etc. A couple others in our fantasy football league say I have no life.

Mark said...

Thank-you for sharing such a beautiful story! You are truly blessed to be able to have and appreciate so much! Smiles!

simply me said...

Thanks Betty - I've been away from church for many reasons, but my spiritual side is always seeking. Keep searching it is never in vain.

Dave, I still remember where I sat, the pews are the same, but my mom chooses to sit waaaay up front; does she think God is taking attendance and she's afraid he'll miss her?
Well my mom was almost 46 when she had me. She thinks I should do the same, uuuh Don't think so, I work with kids, that's enough for me.

Mark - thanks for your kind words and your regular visits. I love your insight....