By Maria Reyes
Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration that typically begins Dec. 16 and culminates Dec. 24, is the beloved religious tradition of many Catholic Mexicans and Latin Americans.
In the Spanish language, to pedir posada means to ask for lodging or dwelling. Based on Luke’s Gospel, posadas are a reminder of the trials that St. Joseph and our Blessed Virgin Mary endured as they searched for a place to stay so that our Lord and Savior Jesus could be born. In the posadas, members of a community gather to accompany Mary and Joseph as they make their way through the town asking for a place to stay. Hymns are sung outside of three homes, while indoors a second crowd prepares the response Mary and Joseph heard repeated: Continue on as there is no room for you here.
It is only at the fourth home visited during the posadas that Mary and Joseph are allowed to enter and take shelter in preparation for the spanine birth.
Although this joyous event took place thousands of years ago in a very distant town, it is a symbolic representation of the experience of thousands of Hispanic youths that enter into the United States as immigrants. I recently had the privilege of watching a video called Las Posadas. It changed the meaning of the posadas for me.
The posadas were a tradition that my faith family practiced every Advent season in preparation for Christmas. For many years, during my childhood and adolescence, I understood it as a ritual representing Joseph and Mary’s journey to find a place at the inn and as a gathering of my Hispanic faith community to celebrate the joys this season brings.
After seeing the video I realized that in walking with Mary and Joseph on those silent and chilly December nights; I had also been walking with many of my immigrant brothers and sisters on their challenging and sometimes frightening journeys. I realized that the tradition of posadas can be also be an opportunity for our Church to unite in prayer for justice for those who enter into our country looking for “an inn,” and it can serve as a reminder to our young immigrant community that just as Joseph and Mary put their entire faith in God’s guiding force, so they too can place their trust in Him.
The video follows the story of three adolescents from different Spanish-speaking countries that enter into the United States looking for a “way out” of situations in their native counties that are beyond their control. Some are orphaned at a young age, others escaping the violence and drug influences that exist in their home towns, all in search for a better quality of life. The documentary depicts the struggles of young men who are unsure of what they will encounter once they arrive in this “new land.”
These are the true stories of young boys, forced to grow up very quickly in the face of their past experiences and in preparation for the major decisions that still lie ahead of them. The young men depicted find generous and compassionate “angels” that help them along their journey. Although not the final chapter in their lives, each have achieved, despite years of homelessness, poverty, juvenile detention centers and intimidating deportation hearings, a legal status in the U.S. Yet there seems to be a constant theme in each one of their stories – their faith journey.
As one young man commented in the documentary, “My faith was the one constant for me amidst all the struggles that I encountered. When there was no one else left to turn to, I knew He was there with me.” Faith is sometimes the one certainty our immigrant brothers and sisters have as they cross dangerous and uncertain paths.
Let us be a welcoming and embracing community. As we await the coming of our Lord during this Advent season, let us never forget the struggles of our immigrant youth community. Let our homes and hearts be prepared to offer posada, as those generous inn keepers did for our Savior.
More information about the “Posada” film is available at the Posadas Project web site, posadas-project.com.
Maria Reyes is the coordinator for Hispanic Youth and Youth Adult Ministry for the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adults.
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