By Fr. Jack Podsiadlo, SJ
At Sacred Heart Parish in Richmond, the nine evenings before Christmas are not spent at the mall, shopping for last minute gifts, but rather in the streets, accompanying Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem and needing to find lodging for the night (posada).
Each evening, in trailer parks, apartment complexes and family homes, in eight different neighborhoods throughout Richmond, Latino, indigenous and Anglo parishioners gathered for this traditional Mexican and Central American celebration of Posadas which means lodging. A group of “pilgrims” accompanied by guitarists and a bearer of the Manger scene with twinkling lights but sans the baby Jesus, approached the designated host home singing and lighting their way with candles.
Arriving at the front door, the “pilgrims” sang, alternating with the hosts and guests inside:
In heaven’s name I beg lodging. My pregnant wife can’t go any further.
This isn’t a hotel, keep on moving. We can’t open the door to you.
Don’t be cruel. Show us some compassion. May the God of heaven reward you.
You can keep on moving and stop bothering me because if I get angry I might get dangerous.
We’ve come, exhausted, all the way from Nazareth. I’m a carpenter named Joseph.
I don’t care what your name is. Let me sleep. I told you, I’m not opening up the door.
Dear home owner, please give us lodging. My wife’s going to be the Queen of Heaven.
Well, if she’s a queen, how is it that you two travel alone at night?
My wife is Mary, Queen of Heaven. She’s going to be the mother of the Divine Word.
So you’re Joseph and your wife if Mary? Come in. I didn’t recognize you.
May God reward you, good sirs, and pour down blessings upon you.
How blessed is this house that today offers lodging to the pure virgin, the beautiful Mary.
Finally everyone joined in as the pilgrims piled into the home:
Enter, blessed pilgrims. Come into this little space. Although it’s a poor lodging, I offer it to you with all my heart.
Let us sing with joy, with joy. Let everyone understand that Jesus, Joseph and Mary have come to bless our home.
Inside, the coordinator introduced the evening’s theme and a scripture passage was read. Participants were asked to share with their neighbor what the reading says to them. Next a few shared their conversations with the whole gathering and their comments were noted on newsprint for future sharing at the parish. The rosary followed with more singing and then all were offered tamales, chocolate and other traditional Posada fare. Children were fed a hefty diet of hard candy and peanuts. This year, two Jesuit scholastics, Kyle Shinseki (CDT) and Josue Salguero (CAM) participated in the preparation of the nightly themes.
On December 24, one communal Posada took place at Sacred Heart Church, followed by a Pastorela, another centuries old Mexican and Central American tradition - a play that recreates the biblical passage where the shepherds follow the Star of Bethlehem to find the Christ Child but on the way are accosted by the Seven Deadly Sins that try to keep the shepherds from reaching their goal. Adults and children alike laughed and shouted encouragement to the shepherds as they battled the evil forces. Then in hushed wonder they watched as the living manger scene unfolded before them.
Three Christmas masses: one bilingual, a second in Spanish and a third in English rounded off the evening celebrations in the Church, but, as folks headed out, conversations focused on who would join in the festivities to follow back in the trailer park, apartment complex or home. At Sacred Heart we truly experienced the birth of Emmanuel – God with us.