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50 years of Marist presence in the mountains of Tarahumara

24/11/2011: Mexico - Photo gallery

"I recall that on 26 January 1961, or rather the day before, our superior at the time, Fr Benjamín Tapia, said to me: ‘I want you to be on the tarmac tomorrow morning’." This is how the Jesuit Brother Sergio de la Rosa began his story. He was told, 50 years ago, to go to the landing field at Sisoguichi, practically the only means of access in those days.

 « I was told to pick up some passengers who were coming by plane. The plane arrived and I saw three people getting off; I subsequently learned one was the Brother Provincial of the Marists, Br Jesús Rodríguez. With him was the one who was first superior of the Marist community here, Miguel García, and another person who, though he is here present, impressed me; his look seemed to me very penetrating, as if he saw inside others: Jaime Nieto, here present, the Doctor. The plane returned to Chihuahua. It was January and there was a lot of snow. The wind from the  Sierra was very cold. The second flight arrived with two other passengers on board: Br Jesús Hernández and Benjamin Murillo. I see them again still smiling, very friendly… I felt very quickly a bond of friendship with all… »

This is how the celebration of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Marist Brothers in Tarahumara began. The « Sierra Tarahumara » is situated in the south of the State of Chihuahua, Mexico. The inhabitants call themselves « rarámuri » (the light-footed ones).The celebration took place at Sisoguichi, in the heart of the Sierra, starting at midday on Thursday 7 July.

In the afternoon, some of the pioneers told us about their experiences in the first years of the  foundation: Br Sergio, who is still at Sisoguichi, Dr Jaime Nieto, member of the founding community, and Brs Cristóbal Castillo and Carlos Preciado. Br Noé Sotelo, one of the first old boys of the « Insituto Sisoguichi », also told us of his adventures.

Inspired by these beautiful memories, we shared thoughts based on a few questions: What experiences have you had with the Marists? How has sharing with the Marists helped you personally and as a family? What is the most significant thing the Marist Brothers have contributed to the « Sierra Tarahumara » during these 50 years? Four groups were formed to share on these questions: the Indians, the mixed race of the Sierra, the mixed race from outside, and the volunteers and former volunteers. The dialogue, very deep, was an expression of joy and gratitude for the various personal experiences. The day ended with supper and an evening around the fire, with several volunteers displaying incredible dexterity at games of strength.

The following day, Friday 8 July, after a succulent breakfast prepared with the help of the Sister  Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Poor, the group reflection continued on the following questions: Considering the present situation, what is  facilitating the Marist mission in the Tarahumara? What is making it more difficult and concerns us most? What do we expect of the Marists in the coming years for the mission of the Tarahumara?


During the presentation of each group, it was very pleasant to note so many things which have marked our lives, especially the hand of Mary of Guadalupe who has guided our journey over all these years. The secretaries of each group expressed our desire that the Marist mission go ahead despite the present difficult situation. We were amazed to observe that there were now many of us – Marists, brothers and lay people, Indians and mixed race, from the Tarahumara and elsewhere, to dream with Saint Marcellin of an evangelizing education of the children and young people of the Sierra. The time of reflection ended with the free participation of the guests and a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe to continue to guide us.


But the celebration had hardly begun. The participants went to the « Instituto Sisoguichi » for the   souvenir photo. Then we enjoyed a succulent ‘barbecue’, to the musical accompaniment of the group Los Triunfadores de Norogachi, with the joyful tunes of the music of the north. The guests were more and more numerous. Among them, the « rarámuri » friends coming from Chinatú, Norogachi and Bawinocachi. But also the volunteers who had given a hand with the Indian boarders from those communities during the school year. Also Brothers and former Brothers who had given part of their lives in the Sierra Tarahumara, priest friends, men and women religious with whom we share the pastoral and educational task. What a joy to know oneself accompanied by neighbours from the locality and other villages nearby, rarámuri and mixed race, to live the celebration as one should.

The celebration rarámuri du yúmari – thanksgiving – began in the afternoon with the salutation to the cross, under the guidance of the rarámuri singers of Bawinocachi, Norogachi and Chinatú. We arrived to salute the cross from the four cardinal points, for Onorúame – God – is present everywhere. Then we exchanged greetings, for we are all important at the celebration. We began singing the yúmari, in a line, and in marching – with comings and goings – towards the altar of the cross, with the singers beside us. Later, it was up to different groups of matachines to begin to dance, accompanied by the guitar and the violin, matachines coming from Chinatú, Norogachi, Bawinocachi, Sojáwachi… They began inside the church, then they danced before the crosses erected on the school sports ground. In dancing matachin up to daybreak, we thanked God for all his gifts and asked him to restore harmony in the community.

In the evening, we interrupted the dance… to begin the Eucharistic celebration. It was presided over by our Bishop, Rafael Sandoval, accompanied by Fr Gabriel Parga, a former Marist Brother, and Jesuit Frs Gilo and Neftalí. After the words of welcome, we celebrated the penitential rite and the Liturgy of the Word, centred on the parable of the Sower. His Lordship preached the homily and the Indian governors in their turn pronounced their nawésare or sermon in ‘rarámuri’. The representative of the Br Provincial, Br Manuel Franco, Chiquilín, and some friends also addressed us a message. This is how the celebration continued, in reflecting and in « dreaming » the Word during the night, some through the dance, others taking some time for sleep.

At dawn on Saturday 9 July, the singers offered a present to Onorúame (God): tortillas and tónari (meat), which would be shared later. Before taking his meal it is proper to invite God to share what he has given us for all. Towards eight o’clock, our Eucharist continued with the offertory   chant, animated by the Sisters of Sisoguichi and other friends. After special attention was given to the moment of consecration, the Eucharist was completed with the sharing of the body and blood of Christ at the communion.

The yúmari celebration finished, in its turn, with a « healing », by means of a ritual drink and an aspersion. The feast continued with taking the tónari – beef soup – distributed to all the   participants, and by the teswino, a drink based on fermented maize, which the people of the country take during the day. For the occasion, the families of Beto, Lupe and Graciela offered to prepare it a week in advance.

Thus we finished the feast, happy and grateful toOnorúame-Eyerúame  - the Father-Mother God – who has taken care of us for these 50 years, and to all our friends, thanks to whom the Marist work has grown and carried the message of Jesus and Mary, in the Champagnat way, through the  ravines and mountains of the « Sierra Tarahumara ».

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