Discussion with Father José in Mérida, Mexico

MéridaThis past fall, a Forward Movement team member took a trip to Mérida, Mexico, the capital of the Yucatán. While there, she met up with José Vieira Arruda, the priest at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Here is what José has to say about himself and his ministry in Mérida.

Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is José Vieira Arruda and I am a Portuguese-Canadian living in Mérida, already for seven years. My family immigrated to Canada, from the islands of the Azores, Portugal, when I was fourteen years old. We settled in Toronto, Ontario, and I studied philosophy and theology at Saint Michael’s College of the University of Toronto. After being ordained to the priesthood, in 1987, I went to Fordham University, New York for graduate studies in ecclesiology. Then, I went on to parish ministry and teaching in the cities of Montreal and Laval, Québec, Canada. At the age of fifty-two, I decided to leave North America and come to Latin America to experience ministry in a different socio-cultural setting.

St. Luke's EpiscopalCould you tell us more about St. Luke’s? What kind of things are they doing in Mérida?
Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church of Mérida is kind of a “miracle Church”.  After coming to know so many Episcopal sisters and brothers living here in Mérida—some permanently, while others only during a few months of the year—and having been made unwelcome at another local church, we decided to form community and plant our own Episcopal Church here in Mérida. At first, we started to meet for the celebration of the Eucharist at the home of one of our friends, Mr. Frank Kriegel, and then, as we began to grow, we moved to the home of another of our friends, Mr. Greg Casini. Still, as we continued to grow, we saw the need to have a place of our own and so we rented a larger home and transformed it into our church building. This is where we are located at the present moment, here at the corner of Calles 76 with 55, Santiago, Mérida. Every Sunday, we gather at 10:00 am for the Eucharist—in English, and at 11:15 am for the Eucharist—in Spanish. During major feasts throughout the year, we celebrate together as a community of English and Spanish speaking congregants. It is indeed a beautiful community, very inclusive and enthusiastic about our faith in the Lord. As the only Episcopal Church of Mérida, we are present in the wider community through our social justice ministries, advocating for inclusivity in all areas of life and the integral care of all human beings and creation, especially the poor and the socially excluded. Apart from being present at the local women’s jail with a program for human formation, we are also present at a local hospital, making and delivering over three-hundred sandwiches each Saturday morning, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Frank Kriegel. We are also trying to reach out in a more permanent way to families of the poorest area of Mérida, the Colonia Guadalupana. Hopefully, with the grace of God and the financial help of sisters and brothers, we will be able to open a socio-pastoral center in this area and, thus, create a community space for all those who would like to come and make it theirs, through social and spiritual activities.

We are also present in very specific celebrations held throughout the year here in the city of Mérida, such as Sexual Diversity Week, Women’s Day Conferences, etc. We are working very hard (and succeeding!) to become a Church that thinks, prays, celebrates, and shares the faith. We are a Church that dares to think differently in terms of justice and inclusivity, of compassion and love. Our vision statement says it all: “We believe we are a Church that is scripturally faithful, an inclusive church—a church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, ethnicity, language, or sexuality. For this reason, we welcome all people in the name of Jesus Christ. Together and with our witnessing, we strive to proclaim the Gospel afresh to all of our sisters and brothers, here in the city of Mérida.”

What is the primary mission of St. Luke’s?
Our primary mission as the first Episcopal Church of Mérida is that we continue to create safe and wholistic spaces of hospitality, acceptance, liberation, and life. Our mission is to build community through bonds of communion and service—communion with the Lord and each other and service to the poorest and most humble among us. This is our way of proclaiming the Good News of the Lord—Good News of inclusivity, of justice, of compassion, of life! As we worship together, we want our worship to be alive and to renew in us the sense of companionship—becoming Jesus-centered companions to each other and to all who need an open heart and a helping hand.

What are your hopes for St. Luke’s?
My hopes for Saint Luke’s are that we continue to be centered in the Lord Jesus as the anointed one from the Father, who came to preach Good News to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and liberation to all those oppressed (Luke 4:18). I sincerely hope that we continue this liberating process of moving into a Church literally obsessed with the liberation of the poor and the excluded, the suffering and the forgotten—a Church that is not afraid to become poor and walk with the poor, paying the price, if need be, of being persecuted and crucified.

UxmalIs there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Wherever you are and whoever you are, we want you to know that you are welcomed at Saint Luke’s. It is your home as well and you will find here sisters and brothers with open hearts and opens arms ready to embrace you ever so gently and ever so lovingly. When in Mérida, come and visit us. Welcome to Saint Luke’s!