California is home to about one-third of all people from Guatemala residing in the United States many of whom are of Mayan descent. In our state, most live in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, or San Diego counties.

In the Diocese of San Bernardino, several parishes are home to this burgeoning community including the San Pedro Maya community at St. Paul the Apostle, Chino Hills and Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Riverside, the San Francisco de Asis Maya community at Corpus Christi, Corona, and the Cristo de Esquipulas Maya Community at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Rancho Cucamonga and Santa Eulalia Maya community at St. Anthony, Riverside.

The immigration surge from Guatemala is attributed mainly to the country’s long and violent war fought from 1960 to 1996 between the government of Guatemala and various citizen groups.

The Maya people place a high value on their religious beliefs with many actively engaged in their new parishes while maintaining contact with spiritual leaders from their homeland. Since 1990, the Maya communities in the United States have invited the pastors of their native parishes in Guatemala to visit and minister to them with the sacraments in their native languages.

In July, Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of the Diocese of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, visited the Diocese of San Bernardino to connect with the Maya community, many of whom either come from Ramazzini’s Diocese or know him from his previous visits. He celebrated mass with the San Pedro Maya community in Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Riverside and had planned to visit several local parishes. However, his trip was abruptly cut short due to political unrest in his home country. The Cardinal pledged to return to our diocese and finish his visit.

Antonio Matias, who emigrated from Huehuetenango, is an active member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Riverside. His whole family knew Cardinal Ramazzini in Guatemala. Participating in the recent Mass, celebrated by his former bishop, was a happy reunion. “He is our bishop. I know him well,” Antonio said.

Antonio cherishes fond memories of the Cardinal’s love for the masses. He is particularly moved by how the Cardinal extends himself to connect with people who are not easily accessible in Guatemala. “The bishop visits people by horse or by foot. Whatever it takes to see them,” he said.

Antonio offers a touching image of his own personal journey from Guatemala. It is an experience of intense sacrifice not uncommon among immigrant communities. His demeanor, however, is one of gratitude. Nine years ago, he left his wife and three daughters behind in search of economic opportunities. He speaks with his family often but has not been with them since leaving home. “It is easy to go home, but nearly impossible to return here,” he said. “Returning is confronting many obstacles including crossing the desert,” he adds.

Antonio manages life by spending his time between work and church. He is grateful for both. “I do well here,” he says. “I work full time and have not been idle. Here, I learned to drive,” he adds. I asked Antonio what it is like to be away from family for so long without clear plans to see them again. “There are moments when sadness sets in, especially when I’m alone.” He adds swiftly, “When that happens, I speak with my pastor.”

Like many people of Mayan descent, Antonio’s home language is Q’anjob’al. He learned to speak Spanish in school. Now he is learning English.

Antonio Hernandez from the San Francisco de Asis Maya community in Corona anticipates the Cardinal’s return with certainty, “He’s coming soon to visit with us,” he said. The close-knit Corona Maya community gathers three times a week for prayer services enriched by life and music. After prayer, families gather to share meals while building community. The evening sessions allow entire families to participate.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Rancho Cucamonga traditionally gathers to honor the Black Christ of Esquipulas on January 15th. The original Black Christ of Esquipulas is a dark wooden image of Christ enshrined within the Cathedral Basilica of Esquipulas, Guatemala. Over the centuries, the wooden image has acquired a dark hue similar to the brown skin color of the original inhabitants of the area. It is one of the famed black Christological images of Latin America.

Dr. Juanatano Cano, the National Consultant to the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), left Guatemala in 1988. “Upon arrival in this country, the Maya people face cultural shock,” he said. “Neither English nor Spanish share any similarities with the native languages of the Mayas. We speak K’iche’ and Q’anjob’al,” he adds….

From Inland Catholic Byte