If Jesus had been born in San Antonio

by Hilary Hylton

Latino Studies Fellow named to Time’s 100 Innovator list p. When Father Virgilio Elizondo was growing up in the west-side barrio of San Antonio, Texas, the son of Mexican immigrants, he found the church to be a refuge. “The parish was the only institution in the city where we felt fully at home,” he recalls, “fully free to express ourselves in our own language, our singing, our festivities, our worship.” As rector of his city’s historic San Fernando Cathedral for 12 years, Elizondo became a leader in bringing Mexican religious customs and traditions into the Catholic service. His annual Christmas posada, for example, re-enacts the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph, with the couple trekking through the neighborhood and being turned away at city hall, the courthouse and hotels before finding shelter in the cathedral. Elizondo also launched an internationally televised, bilingual Mass from his church.p. Still, Elizondo struggled with the church’s paternal attitude toward Mexican Americans and vowed to go beyond simply elevating cultural traditions in church services. He wanted to develop a theology within the context of the living faith of his childhood neighbors, a faith that spoke of the mestizo experience — the mixture of Spanish and Indian blood common to people born of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Why, he pondered, was there such emphasis in the Gospels on Jesus’ origins in Galilee, a land little mentioned in the Old Testament? It came to him that Jesus was essentially a mestizo, raised in Nazareth, outside the mainstream of Israelite life. “People are hurt when they are not welcome. To me, that is the sin of the world,” Elizondo says. “Jesus became the rejected other, and only out of that position was he able to reject rejection.”p. Elizondo’s mestizaje theology has found resonance beyond the Mexican-American community. “Every generation tends to build an image of Jesus in response to its deepest quest,” he says. "When they are writing about Jesus, they are really writing about themselves.p. Wednesday, December 20, 2000

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