Experiencing Jesus in the Tohono O’odham Nation (Mission Trip Reflection)

by Francisco Pagán on February 22, 2019

Our 2nd year pre-theologians spent their winter break serving on mission trips, one group in Peru and the other in Arizona. Seminarian Francisco Pagán of the Archdiocese of Chicago writes about his experience. 

When we think about a mission trip, we expect to hear about countries that are far away. Maybe we hear of these countries through stories about brave missionary saints who traveled for months in a boat and never saw their families again. For our group of pre-theologians, the land we traveled to was in the southwest part of this country – Tucson, Arizona, with the Tohono O’odham Nation.

This Nation is made up of various districts that are united as one nation, and all of them share the name Tohono O’odham, which means “Desert People.” This Nation has roots stretching from Arizona and through the Sonora desert in Mexico. We arrived in the San Solano Mission with a great desire to learn from and be of help to all the members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and my experiences left a deep impression on my heart.

We met a man named Daniel, who lives near the mission. He told us how important the Catholic faith is to the community and its place within Tohono O’odham rituals. After a nice lunch and conversation, we set out on a hiking expedition up the sacred mountain of Baboquivari Peak. We were hiking up the peak for at least 45 minutes when Daniel, who was also our guide, started to slip down a slope. Thanks be to God, my brother seminarians caught, supported and helped him, and one of the men even took care of a wound that Daniel had gotten on his face.

Even with the pain of his fall, Daniel insisted on continuing up to the top of the peak. In pondering this situation of Daniel, the image of Jesus along the way of the cross came to my mind. For me, Daniel was like Jesus with his cross, and my classmates were like Simon of Cyrene, helping to carry the cross. In that moment the Lord touched my heart deeply. Our friend Daniel never gave up. He hiked until the end, like Jesus along the way of the cross. I thought about how many times we give up in situations because they are not as we want them to be. Daniel, without realizing it, reminded me of the importance of perseverance in life, and how Jesus never gives up. Jesus is always there trying to save us and reach out to us with his love.

The Tohono O’odham Nation consists of immigrants and Franciscan friars, and we were blessed to help both during our mission. One day after evening prayer, two immigrants were passing by the church we were visiting. One of the friars prepared some plates & silverware, and warmed up food as if it were his own meal. He took the time recognize the dignity of the son of God in those immigrants, and we had the opportunity to provide a meal for them. Seeing their faces brighten from having a warm plate of food was incredible! This simple experience of the dedication of the friars in the desert was simply amazing. The friars extend themselves to help all the people in the nation, while the immigrants try to find a better way of life and fight for their rights. The friars risk their lives to the unforgiving desert and many extreme conditions that happen there.

Sometimes, we take many things for granted, and forget that there are people suffering from a basic lack of food, human rights, and love. This experience of our mission trip has allowed me to value more the people, the resources and the goods that I have in my own life. May God continue to open our eyes and hearts to all those in need.