News from the OCA website concerning Fr. Antonio's mission trip:
OCA/OCMC team returns from mission trip to remote Mexican villages
During the week of March 26-April 2, 2016, the Mexico Mission Team cosponsored by the Orthodox Church in America and the Orthodox Christian Mission Centervisited the indigenous Orthodox Christian Aztec communities in San Esteban, Hidalgo and Pisaflores in Veracruz.
With the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Alejo of Mexico City, the team built upon earlier outreach efforts in this remote region northwest of Mexico City.
For the fourth year, Archpriest Antonio Perdomo, Rector of Saint George Church, Pharr, TX, led the team, which included Priest David Moga, Pastor of Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, Cedarburg, WI; Subdeacon William Almy III and his daughter Susan from Kansas; Arthur Dossey from California; Fernando Arango from Florida; and Hanna Valentine from Iowa.
Before setting out on the arduous journey to the remote mountain villages, the team attended the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the OCA’s Cathedral of the Ascension, Mexico City, where they received Archbishop Alejo’s blessing coupled with words of encouragement and thanks.
“Archbishop Alejo has a great vision for the Orthodox Church in Mexico, to put into practice what we say in the Nicene Creed—to be the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,’” said Father David. “He sees that the harvest is great and wishes to bring Orthodoxy to the Mexican people, and not just serve the ethnic enclaves that exist in Mexico. This vision, I believe, energized us individually, which resulted in the coalescing of us as a team.”
Upon their arrival in Pisaflores, team members were welcomed by Father Serafin, who serves the region’s missions. The following morning they continued their journey to San Esteban, which was to become “Mission Central” for the next week.
Due to the villages’ remote locations, there is no public transportation.
“This is why we need a good car, so that all of Archbishop Alejo’s work will not go to waste,” said Father Serafin, referring to the Archbishop’s missionary work in the region in which he resided and ministered in the early 2000s. “We need to be able to visit more frequently, but it is hard to get to these villages. The people are good and they have a lot of faith—we cannot lose them.”
The roots of the village communities dates back to the early 1920s, when a Father Armin ministered in the region. By 1960, a dozen parishes, including those in San Esteban, Pisaflores, Benito Juarez, and elsewhere, had been established. Father Armin is buried in Pisaflores, where community members care for his grave and hold his memory in great esteem. After Father Armin’s death, Father Jesus Gutierrez arrived and served the people until his death in 1986.
“There was a lack of clergy to serve the local faithful until 2000, when Father Antonio—now Archbishop Alejo—moved to Pisaflores for one year and traveled by foot and horseback to serve the faithful,” said Father Antonio. “After he was reassigned to Mexico City’s cathedral in 2001, he continued to serve area missions weekly for the next three years, traveling over nine hours each way by bus, boat, foot and horseback.”
Having settled into their quarters in San Esteban—a house erected on earlier mission trips through the efforts of Father Antonio and Archpriest Theodore Pisarchuk, Rector of Saint Justin Martyr Church, Jacksonville, FL—team members set out on their mission, which involved the celebration of well attended daily liturgical services, catechetical sessions for all ages, presentations for children and parents alike, discussions and talks, and a good measure of fellowship with local residents.
“We got to know some of the townspeople, who treated us with much respect and formality,” said team member Fernando Arango. “We noticed how happy they were that Father Antonio had returned, and everyone wanted to greet him personally and listen to what he had to say.
“The days were miraculous, full of God’s grace,” Fernando continued. “The children were especially happy to participate, and their eyes shone like the heavens. It was as though the Holy Spirit had filled us with joy as we all felt the presence of God’s divine grace.”
The children—who were on spring school break and thereby able to fully participate in the week’s activities and services—learned much about the faith through various craft projects.
“Susan and Hanna formed a special relationship with the children, who enjoyed praying and discussing the importance of prayer,” said Fernando. “Hanna helped them make sun catchers with the image of the risen Christ and decorate crosses. The children also learned about the life of Jesus, the importance of Holy Communion, icons, and many other aspects of our faith.”
“Each morning, we offered the children activities related to the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension,” Hanna added. “Despite our varying abilities to speak the Spanish language, we embraced the children with the love of Christ in words as well as in action, and the church’s walls rang with the children’s voices as they colored their images of the Cross. Later, the church’s courtyard was filled with laughter as the children learned how to throw frisbees!”
“We priests blessed the people with holy water each evening after service,” Father David added. “One evening, we anointed everyone for the healing of body and soul, and on Thursday morning—our last full day in San Esteban—we celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Arthur read the Epistle in Spanish, while the faithful drew near to partake of the Holy Mysteries ‘with the fear of God and with faith and love.’ Here we were, all sharing the same Body and Blood of Christ despite linguistic and ethnic differences. We truly became the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ of which Archbishop Alejo spoke when we began our mission.”
After the Liturgy, the faithful, bearing icons, processed through the town to mark their parish’s 92nd anniversary.
“As anyone who has taught before can attest, we think we are going on such trips to teach, but we end up learning more than we could ever share,” said Fernando. “This experience helped me grow in my faith. I recommend a missionary trip to anyone who would like to share his or her faith with others. You will not forget it!”
A gallery of photos is accessible on the OCA web site and Facebook page.