faith for the displaced
By Carmen Duarte
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.03.2006
Editor's note: This article appeared previously in La Estrella,
the Star's Spanish-language edition.
the thick pine and oak forests in the highlands of Chiapas —
the most southern state in Mexico — Chamula Tsostil Indians
are working to complete the San Juan Diego Church.
It is a church founded by displaced indigenous communities in
the outskirts of the colonial town of San Cristóbal de
"This parish was founded earlier this year, and it is the
first parish founded by indigenous in the town," said the
Rev. Miguel Rolland, who served in the Diocese of San Cristóbal
de las Casas for five years.
Today, Rolland is serving at St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center
on the University of Arizona campus.
The Dominican priest, who is studying for his doctorate in cultural
anthropology at Arizona State University, is sharing the history,
politics and the role of the Catholic Church and its support for
the indigenous communities of Chiapas with the congregation, students
"There are about 50 villages that come to services at San
Juan Diego parish. Many of the indigenous are exiled from various
municipalities, including San Juan Chamula, because of religious
and political persecution since 1974," said Rolland, adding
that the parish has a strong women's movement, catechist and diaconate
programs. "There is a tremendous amount of military presence
in Chiapas," said Rolland, who has met masked members of
the Zapatista National Liberation Army. The rebels represent poor,
dispossessed indigenous communities. The organization demands
property, human and civil rights for displaced indigenous communities.
Zapatistas are working to create autonomous education, health
and political systems, Rolland said.
Rolland took 10 UA students to Chiapas in the spring and they,
the Knights of Columbus Council 1200, the League of United Latin
American Citizens Council 1057 and St. Thomas More parishioners
are working to raise $10,000 for the completion of San Juan Diego
Donations are also being accepted for social services, health
and education programs among the indigenous communities of San
Juan, Tres Cruces and Cascajal.
Evan Richards, a recent UA graduate who is working locally as
an integration engineer, said his trip to Chiapas gave him an
insight to the poverty and human rights violations indigenous
people experience in Mexico.
Richards said he also understood the importance of sanctuary and
the needs being met at San Juan Diego Church. After meeting Zapatista
rebels, Richards said he better understands the movement and its
simple message of dignity for all human beings.
UA senior Tanner John, who is majoring in molecular/cellular biology
and religious studies, said he was moved by the deep faith he
witnessed among congregations. He said faith is helping communities
stand strong in their struggle for justice and equality.