Two weeks ago, my family and I left the U.S.
As part of the global Catholic Church’s synod on synodality, we began our year-long pilgrimage with a desire to enter more deeply into the spirit of synod through a process of encounter and a shared need to “journey together”.
Our first context for encounter has been Chiapas, Mexico. We chose Chiapas because of it’s unique relevance to both Casey’s work with Discerning Deacons, and my interest in Bats’il Maya and Yomol A’tel — a 30-year-old indigenous-led family of cooperatives with a remarkable vision:
To be a movement of people, families, communities, and solidarity economy companies that based in our principles and values we become a sustainable alternative to conventional business and economic logic, by generating social inclusion, autonomy, dignity and lequil cuxlejalil (buen vivir – “good life”) to maintain a balance between work, social life, and nature.Bats’il Maya & Yomol A’tel Vision Statement
I started learning about Bats’il Maya a couple years ago from the doctoral thesis of Emilio Travieso, SJ:
Here’s the abstract of Emilio’s Reason for Hope:
Today’s dominant economic system does harm and has little future; agro-food systems are a privileged lens for understanding both what is happening and what is at stake. There is reason to hope; many actors are experimenting with alternative models for a life-giving economy that combine agroecology, food sovereignty, and social and solidarity economy.
This thesis is an exploration of one such initiative, the Misión de Bachajón (MB) in Chiapas, Mexico. In Chapter 1, I build a theoretical framework based on the economic anthropology of Stephen Gudeman. All economies consist of a dialectic tension between the realm of the market and the realm of mutuality. To ensure sustainability, the latter realm must be protected from the former’s tendency to colonize it… Chapter 3 is an account of the MB’s overall project, which entails a sophisticated “middle peasant” model. On the one hand, the things that are essential for the community’s reproduction are withdrawn from the market.
At the same time, though, the MB’s group of cooperatives and social businesses, Yomol A’tel, creatively engages global value chains (coffee and honey) from a position of strength. Chapter 4 shows how the model goes beyond “fair trade” to achieve very significant economic upgrading, in a way that benefits people and ecosystems. I argue
that the MB’s model generates economic, social, and ecological virtuous circles by refashioning “economy’s tension” into a creative tension. Chapter 5 considers how the MB has achieved all of this by mobilizing its relationships with other actors. Its strategy of networked territories is not only a form of resistance to neoliberal globalization, but also contributes to building the “pluriverse,” a world in which many worlds fit. In the Conclusion, I consider the ways in which the MB gives us reason to hope.http://desarrollo-alternativo.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019%20Tesis%20Emilio%20Travieso.pdf
One of my early questions was how unique or common is this group of cooperatives and social businesses?
What about the Jesuits and their work, La Misión de Bachajón, and this indigenous tseltal community gave rise to this set of enterprises that in 2019 had more than 350 producers and $1,300,000 USD in revenues?
What role do the deacons play in this community — since we’ve heard and read that women serve alongside their husbands on the altar and in other ministerial and liturgical contexts?
Those are a few of the questions I arrived with.
Here’s a 4-minute glimpse of our week-long visit to Chilon, the municipality, about four hours away from San Cristobal de las Casas:
Striking generosity and hospitality
We arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas two weeks ago with the extraordinary welcome and support of Luis Alvarez – regional director of CLAC, the Mexico & Central America Fair Trade network.
Our extraordinary host in Chilon last week was Stephen Pitts, SJ who’s been building relationships here over the past 5 years and is in the middle of an applied economics research study with the coffee producers.
Fr. Stephen Pitts and our family during a visit to Palenque last Wednesday
Looking at a picture of Pope Francis during his visit to Chiapas — inside the parish meeting room at St. Dominic’s in Chilon.
To give you a little taste of our week, I’m going to excerpt a few pieces from my journal:
Tuesday – I am surprised how emotional this has been for me. This is more than a dream come true.
I’ve always wanted the people closest to me to really experience what I experienced in El Salvador in 2000. To feel the life of the people that depend completely on their own daily hard work, and God’s mercy. Its a life of true interdependence with nature, with community and with God.
So grateful to have my kids (right and below) to share this experience with.
Thursday – The power of a deep, long commitment to accompaniment — to walking with the poor — is revealing itself to me.
We had an extraordinary encounter with a deacon couple Andres and Rosa (on the left) after a tour of his community and his coffee farm with Alfredo (right) and Lalo (center left), both whom work at Bats’il Maya:
Friday – We just returned from the 30th anniversary of CEDIAC — the human rights group here in Chilon that helped the indigenous people recover their land in the 1990s.
Casey greets a deacon couple after a special prayer time that followed the celebration.
Fr. Pepe Aviles, SJ said he thinks this might be one of the few diocese’ (San Cristobal de las Casas) where there’s been 60 years of a commitment from the Bishop (and leaders throughout the diocese) to an option for the poor.
A meal after the 3 hour celebratory retelling of how these indigenous communities recuperated their land. Father Pepe Aviles SJ is sitting down on right
What does “journeying together” look like?
This is the question I’m holding right now.
This encounter with Yomol A’tel has been profoundly impactful — in ways I’m still making sense of.
I’m excited to get to spend more time with Lalo (director of sales), Alejandro (co-director of Yomol Atel) and to meet Cristina (the other co-director) who I haven’t met, since she was still in Columbia for the Comparte Network meeting when I was there last. While I don’t want to make commitments, I already feel so indebted to these folks because of their generosity and the power of what they’re building. I feel compelled more from an internal place of awe, humility, sheer amazement — more than anything else. I could leave and do nothing and I’d be very much like 25 or 50 others that have come to visit them over the past few years. I just don’t think that’s what I’m called to do. I feel compelled by the unique set of interests and relationships that I have to want to learn to journey with these folks in a different way.
This upcoming weekend, is the feast of St. Ignatius — and 400 years since canonization — and we plan to make the trip back to La Mision de Bachajon to see how they celebrate the feast.
I’m also excited to spend more time with Yomol A’tel co-directors Alejandro and Cristina, as well as Lalo (director of sales and marketing), Alfredo (director of the producer cooperative), Fr. Pepe and Sister Marsela — and over the next few weeks think more about how to carry this special encounter with us as we travel next to Mexico City in mid-August and then to Italy in mid-September.
Thanks for being along for this journey. It means a lot to me to be able to share this with you.