Part 2, The Forgotten Legion of Christ Missionary
R-C, Apostle of today’s Maya in the Yucatan
by John Lloyd Stephens, author of Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan
Historical background: CASTE WAR 1848-1901, YUCATAN, MEXICO
Chan Santa Cruz Maya.
Mayan territory, circa 1870.
Date 1847-1901 (skirmishes continued until 1933)
Location Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
Maya victory, Mayas achieve an independent state.
Mexican victory, Mexico recaptures the Yucatan.
Belligerents: Maya Mexico, Flag of the Republic of Yucatan, Republic of Yucatan (1847-1848)
The war was declared over several times though hostile conflict between the Mexicans and Mayans continued until 1933
See article with map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_War_of_Yucat%C3%A1n
RC remembered very fondly his long stint in the town now called Felipe Carrillo Puerto, after the Mexican politician who favored Maya autonomy, once the Mayan Chan Santa Cruz, where he worked for about 15 years.. The author recalls how Fr. Raymond threw himself into that work with so much enthusiasm, “zeal for souls”, call it what you may. RC was always very passionate about what he did, whether that was playing the piano or the organ, organizing a singing group or a choir, strenuously exhorting his parishioners in the stark vaulted church or catechizing the Maya in the surrounding towns. Carrillo Puerto, a Maya stronghold during the Caste War which erupted in the Yucatan Peninsula, was in Ray’s time just another large unattractive town on the road from Chetumal to Cancun. But for him it was his portion and all the people his pastoral responsibility, “saving their souls from eternal damnation” in the face of ignorance, neglect and the Evangelical onslaught.
Ray took his work among the Maya so seriously that he learned Yucatan Maya to be able to celebrate the sacraments in their language. When he went to the pueblos he could baptize and perform marriages in the native language. For teaching and preaching his homilies during Mass he had the help of two great native-Maya-speaking “catechists”: Romulo Esquivel and Audomaro Xix, both of whom had been trained by the Maryknoll Missionaries who came before the Legionaries. Ray remembered them very fondly, together with “Las Madres de la Luz,” bilingual nuns founded by Fr. Góngora, a priest from the diocese of Merida whom early Legionaries had the privilege of knowing. He was the antithesis to Fr. Maciel, being a very quiet and self-effacing man. Ray also named some of the remote towns he had visited with his team, such as Dzulá and Chanca Veracruz where he would drive in his VW jeep.
Our conversation was loose. I gave him rein to reminisce and allow the time for our friendship bond to re-gel. Ray remembered joining the Legion in Ireland in November, 1961. He placed our recruiters and trainers in Bundoran: Frs. Coindreau, Yépez, Angel Saenz, Ramiro Fernandez and our first Legion confessor, Neftalí Sánchez-Tinoco who soon after his stint in Ireland disappeared from the Legion map as happened to many. His fragmented memory recalled my “angel” from that time, Bro. James Whiston, who became a kind of hero to me, being one of the very first Irish recruits. For Ray and me another fond memory that faded into oblivion by means of the Legion’s “selective memory.” Patrick and Willam Duffy came to his mind but not to mine. We both registered lively Noel Slater from that first group. He had lost track.
As I put on my reporter’s hat I found it very difficult to pin down Ray on his recent history. He could not piece together where he had been before coming to live in Merida at his friend’s house. I assumed he had been in Cancun. Perhaps his fire and brimstone homily’s had not been to the liking of his confreres and Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo. Ray was not the kind of person suitable for cozying up on Sundays to rich American Catholics at the Camino Real and other luxury hotels. And maybe I would have another opportunity to pick his tired brain.
Before leaving I was able to score another point. He disclosed he had written some materials that he was rather proud of and wanted to have published. It touched me knowing how isolated he was, how out of the Legion mainstream, how out of touch with the world outside, how dependent on his female friend and her daughter at whose house he was living. I showed interest in his writings. He showed them to me and I promised to do something about them.
We called our not too efficient taxi man and made our way back to the hotel zone and our comfortable Wyndham….