To awaken the conscience

Political activism is often an important part of Hispanic small Christian communities, said Fr. Bernard Lee.

“If you’re in Latin America, the majority of people in small Christian communities are people who are very poor,” he said. “If you want to find a power basis for change in Latin America, you have to conscientize the poor.”

— Emilie Lemmons

Marianne del Carmen Diaz

Community service and political action are major activities in Marianne del Carmen Diaz’s small Christian community in El Paso, Texas. Diaz said she was hesitant about getting involved with small Christian communities when she first began. Though Mexican by heritage, she had been born and raised in the United States, where “politics and faith don’t meet.” She lived many years in Mexico with her Mexican husband before they moved back to the United States.

Diaz, 75, has been part of her seven-member community for 17 years, and she was in other groups during the years she lived in Mexico, where small Christian communities are known for working together on neighborhood projects and causes.

“For example, if a neighborhood needs water, the men will dig the ditch; the others will prepare food,” she said, speaking Spanish through an interpreter.

— Illustration by Julie Lonneman

In her El Paso group, based at San Juan Diego Parish, each meeting includes scripture and faith-sharing, and then they ask the question: Is there a need in the community that the group needs to respond to? And they drum up imaginative ways to help.

Diaz’s level of community outreach has taken the form of political activism. In Mexico, her group once slept on a bridge for three nights during election season as a form of protest. The protest was a way of putting themselves in front of those who needed to cross and thus “getting [citizens] to recognize that they need to wake up and pick the candidates who are going to serve the people and not just themselves,” she explained. Soldiers came, but the group was singing and praying on the bridge, and they weren’t arrested.

“I had to arm myself with courage,” Diaz said. “Just living the Gospel puts you sometimes in conflict with the political realm. Jesus was a revolutionary.”

Emilie Lemmons/Erin Ryan

National Catholic Reporter, September 28, 2007