By Mar Muñoz-Visoso

September is cramped. Back to school, back to work, back to traffic, back to busy, busy, busy. It is also a month for numerous celebrations and anniversaries, like “Independence Day” in several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua (September 15), Mexico (September 16) and Chile (September 18).

Mexico’s too? Doesn’t Mexico celebrate Independence on “5 de mayo?” Joking aside, a salute to Mexico, and all the aforementioned countries, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain! My husband, a full blooded Poblano (no, not the chili pepper, but hailing from the city and state of Puebla, Mexico), says that ever since he married me, a Spaniard, he can no longer, in truth, celebrate freedom from the Spanish yoke. To which I respond that he called our wedding the “Reconquest by the Aztec,” claiming it was his turn to conquer. {{more}}

At any rate, cheers to people’s freedom and independence from a “gachupina” (Mexican derisive name for Spaniards at the time of the Revolution) with a converted “guadalupano” heart.

Other September anniversaries, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the plane that went down in a Pennsylvania field, are far more somber. On that terrible day people of many nationalities, races and faiths living in the U.S. died senselessly; all of them, including some Muslims, victims of hatred against the West and what America represents. Nine years have passed. We will never forget.

Though Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana on August 29, 2005, the first few days of September brought us memories of people’s anguish and desperation in the Super Dome and the New Orleans Convention Center. What helpless feeling for those of us who watched from afar! “Why were these people not being helped?” we thought as we watched TV news. We wanted to do something. Most of us donated money. Some people did a lot more than that.

Like Deacon Modesto Garcia, from Brighton, Colorado, who immediately signed up when his company was among the first to send volunteers to help repair a New Orleans hospital extensively damaged by the hurricane. Because of that, Modesto missed the ceremony in which his wife, Socorro, a seasoned Hispanic ministry parish coordinator, received an important pastoral leadership award from the Archdiocese of Denver. Both he and his wife were content, though, knowing that his heart was in the right place.

He was not the only one. The last thing I expected when I traveled to New Orleans last June was to hear the story of how much the humble gift of a Hispanic woman had touched local Catholics’ hearts. The woman, anonymous to this day, was at St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church, in the Watts section of Los Angeles, when she was moved to contribute to a special collection to aid Katrina victims. She did not have any money, but that didn’t deter her. Those counting church donations found a gold wedding ring in an envelope with a message hand-printed in Spanish: “Para las víctimas del Huracán. No traía dinero pero esto debe tener algún valor. Es de todo corazón.” (“For the victims of the hurricane. I did not bring any money, but this should be of some value. It is with all my heart”).

After failed attempts by the pastor to find the owner, the ring was forwarded along with the rest of the collection to St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in Pontchartrain Park, which had sustained 8 feet of water and extensive damage. Moved by the gift, pastor and parishioners alike compared it to the Gospel story of the Widow’s Mite (Mk. 12, 41-44). Today, the ring hangs on plaque at St. Gabriel’s “Chapel of Gratitude,” which reminds parishioners of all the anonymous gifts, donations and volunteer help that allowed them to rebuild their church.

Ah, September, September! Month of jubilation, of celebration and remembrance, of tragedy and gratitude. The leaves also are changing and we too must go on with life.

Mar Muñoz-Visoso is assistant director of Media Relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops