Arts, Faith and Humanities

A Journey to Mexico, A Ministry to the University

January 16, 2020

A women's co-op in Cuernavaca

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For almost 25 years, Professor Jeanette Rodriguez, PhD, has organized an annual winter trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico, for faculty, staff, alumni and community members to participate in the Guadalupe Faith and Hospitality Experience. It's become her ministry to Seattle U.

For almost 25 years, Professor Jeanette Rodriguez, PhD, has organized an annual 10-day trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico, for faculty, staff, alumni and community members to participate in the Guadalupe Faith and Hospitality Experience.

A dozen Benedictine nuns host the visitors in the city, a popular tourist destination about 90 minutes south of Mexico City. The emphasis is on faith experience and hope for the poor.

There are local guest speakers and visits to indigenous villages, a women’s co-op and small Christian communities. The trip ends in Mexico City and the giant Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, where millions of religious pilgrims congregate. The Seattle U group also visits nearby archeological sites to remind participants of the mighty Mesoamerican culture in the region.

For Rodriguez, who teaches theology and religious studies and is interim director of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, the Cuernavaca trip has been a labor of love. It began as a retreat organized by the School of Theology and Ministry in the early 1990s. Today it is a faculty seminar that has expanded its reach to include members of the greater campus community and local parishes.    Rodriguez was the first Spanish-speaking organizer and has forged deep connections in the Cuernavaca area.

“This has become something I never want to give up because it is a ministry to the university,” says Rodriguez.

The Guadalupe Faith and Hospitality Experience has been transformative for the many participants over the years, says Rodriguez.

“It is an accompaniment with the poor, to understand their reality and to be transformed by their faith experience. We visit with them and listen to their stories.”

A typical day at the retreat begins with guest speakers who give an overview of the sociopolitical, economic and religious realities of Mexico. They include sociologists, human rights lawyers, refugees and theologians. In the afternoon participants go on site visits.

An important part of the experience is the work with the Benedictine sisters.

 “We pray with them three times a day and after dinner we have a reflection,” says Rodriguez. “What did you see? What did you feel? What is the impact of what you are seeing with what we are doing in the United States? What’s one small step that we can take as a response to this reality that we’ve been exposed to?”

Ted Fortier, PhD, associate professor of anthropology and sociology, was a co-leader for several years. “The experience of introducing people to the realities of Mexico, from the amazing cultural heritage sites to the starkness of the poverty in so many places, was a tremendous honor and offered me amazing opportunities,” he says. 

“With Jeanette’s expertise on the icon of Guadalupe, and her connections to so many key people, we were able to provide a very diverse experience.”

Fortier continues to use the research materials he gleaned from the visits to pre-Colombian sites in his classes, as well as religious and spiritual issues he learned from the Mexican people.

Kristi Lee, PhD, associate professor of clinical mental health counseling in the College of Education, participated in the 2010 trip to Cuernavaca shortly after joining the university. “Given that it was my first year at SU, it has very much influenced my 10 years here,” she said.

The experience rekindled her interest in Mexican and Latin American culture and the more expansive world view she developed while studying Mexico as an undergraduate.

Lee says the trip jumpstarted her Spanish language learning. Today, she conducts research in Guatemala on gender-based violence–all in Spanish–in collaboration with colleagues at a branch of the Jesuit university in Quetzaltenango, the Universidad Rafael Landivar.

Although she is not Catholic, Lee was interested in the Guadalupe figure and its influence on the culture and history of Mexico.

“I remember being so in awe of the devotion around the Lady and the feast day at the basilica,” she says. “Communities send their young people on pilgrimage to the event. It’s an incredible expression of faith and devotion.”

Jessica Palmer, assistant director of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, was on the most recent trip this past December. It was her first cultural immersion experience as an adult and says its impact will be long lasting.

“The program … is intentionally focused on the connection between faith and spirituality with the work of social justice,” she says. “It was truly a unique and transformative experience.”

 The Guadalupe Faith and Hospitality Experience is supported by the endowed mission fund of the Center for Jesuit Education.

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