Friday, June 12, 2009

Gloria Vicente at the Illinois Conference Meeting

by Rev. Michael Swartz

At the Illinois Conference Meeting at Springfield, Illinois, Gloria Vicente was the speaker at the Illinois Maya Ministries luncheon that took place on Saturday, June 6, in the Convention Center. Gloria, along with her husband, Santos, and their baby, Nicolas, were present with about twenty conference members, and we all had lunch together.

Gloria, as the speaker, shared some of her own journey with us. There is something remarkably engaging when persons give witness to their own experience. There is power when we construct the narrative of our life. Gloria began by talking about the experience of her family.

The village where she lived was totally destroyed by the military. It was quite near the village of the Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, and Gloria’s father knew Vicente Menchu, Rigoberta’s father. Gloria’s father met with Vicente Menchu the night before he was killed in the 1980 burning of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City. The Campasino Unity Group had entered the Spanish Embassy and the Guatemalan police burned down the building on January 31, 1980, killing 36 persons, including the Spanish Ambassador. This was a defining event in the Guatemalan Civil War, and in Gloria’s life.

Gloria’s family fled to Mexico, and later to Texas. In Texas they were sheltered by a Presbyterian Church, and later they came to Chicago and were offered sanctuary by the University Church in Hyde Park. This was all part of the Sanctuary movement, and she came to Chicago in 1985, when she was ten years old.

Gloria remembers interpreting into English for her father as he spoke to groups in the Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance and in the Chicago Religious Leadership Network.

Later, accompanied by a delegation of Disciples and members of the United Church of Christ, she travelled with her father and saw for the first time the village of Sac Ja in Guatemala. She saw the place where he grandparents were killed. She saw their names listed among those killed on the pillars in front of the National Cathedral in Guatemala City. She walked the land that they had worked as campasino farmers. This was a profound experience for Gloria, having grown up in the United States. This required quite a lot of emotional processing.

“As I learned to process the pain it made me want to go (back to the homeland of my ancestors) and serve as a missionary,” says Gloria. “I feel called to serve and to be a bridge builder.” Gloria is aware that on the one hand she has a lot in common with the people in Guatemala, and on the other hand her differences are significant as well – growing up in Chicago. “I want to return and accompany others as we were accompanied in our time of need.”

Gloria is now assigned by Global Ministries – a joint ministry of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),, and she is working in Santa Cruz, in the highlands of Guatemala with ACG – Guatemalan Cultural Action. This is in the K’iche’ region and Gloria is impressed with her co-workers.

Gloria has been living and learning in Guatemala. She was married to Santos Par, whom she met in Guatemala. Her husband is K’iche’, and she has been learning the language. Her husband is from Huehuetenango. Among her responsibilities with ACG is to receive international delegations. She said she hoped to see some of us who were at the luncheon in Guatemala!

She and Santos are in the United States right now. Her son, Nicolas was born in the US. He will soon have a surgery and then they will be able to return to Guatemala.

In the last few years Gloria has become ever more aware that her life has purpose. The very unusual experiences she has had, being born of Mayan people in Guatemala, travelling through Mexico to arrive in Chicago. Having been sheltered by the church and given sanctuary, then to return as a missionary and bridge-builder to Guatemala – give her an ability understand and to act in this moment.

Gloria’s talk was an inspiration to us all.

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