On June 12, many members of several Native American bands gathered at the San Fernando Regional Pastoral Center in Mission Hills to pray, sing and speak about the gift of mercy.
The Native American Concerns for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph V. Brennan hosted the outdoor gathering of around 75 from various cultures and faith traditions, with guest speaker Rudy Ortega Jr., tribal president and spiritual leader of the Fernande√±o Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. He began by introducing his elders.
Ortega started the afternoon with a traditional blessing — the burning of sage — and sang traditional songs, which many women joined in with dancing. Before Ortega began singing — a bear song that is a healing song and some bird songs — he prayed that everyone would “live in harmony and peace.”
The spiritual leader recalled the colonization and the transition that his ancestors were forced to go through. “We can only imagine what they felt — their feelings as the world was changing. My father has shared with me that his father and grandfather would say, ‘The world is not ending, but the world we live in dies, and we die with it,’” he said.
He noted that the first nations were forced to adapt to the changing world, while struggling to hold on to their traditions and culture. He prayed for greater unity between people even as they live out their different faiths.
He added, “Mercy is God’s love for every creation on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Although he himself does not espouse Christianity, he asked his brother, Rey Rivera, to come up to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the Tataviam language — originally taught by the Spanish missionaries — which dates back to the 1800s in the San Fernando region.
Georgiana Sanchez, a Chumash and Tohono O’odham descendant, told an ancient story that illustrates mercy. During a time of war between the Huron and Mohawk tribes, a man — traditionally considered born of a virgin — spoke of peace and forgiveness. But those whose families had been killed by the enemy would ask, “How can you make peace with someone who has hurt you so badly?”
Soon after hearing the peacemaker’s words, however, they joined him on the path of peace. Even the most evil man was converted after his heart had been softened after hearing a song about peace.
“The mercy that we give to others who have harmed us and are trying to find a better way, the mercy that we ourselves want for ourselves because we know that we can’t go back and change things — that mercy to me is symbolized in that story so powerfully because it is gift. It is not anything that we can talk our way into; it is just there,” said Sanchez, who is a storyteller, poet/writer and a retired professor of Native American Literature at California State University, Long Beach.
Julia Bogany and her great-grandmother, who are members of the Gabrieleno San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, sang the hymn in the Tongva language. Adelia Sandoval, of the Juane√±o Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, sang in the Acjachemen language. Both offered words of mercy before singing.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph V. Brennan sang “Amazing Grace” in English, after singing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.”Bishop Brennan also spoke about God’s mercy and the mercy that we need to show each other.
“Look at others with the eyes of peacemakers, look at others with the eyes of God, the creator, look at others with the eyes of Jesus — and pray that those are the eyes that we have.” If we look for the good in others, he said, “That is what we will find.”
He ended by quoting Pope Francis, who said the love of God is given gratuitously. “Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.”
Sylvia Mendivil Salazar, Akimel O’odham and Yomen (Yaqui) coordinator for Native American Concerns ministry also offered words on being merciful. She shared a story of which speaks about sharing in carrying a burden basket. It helps the wellness of all creation.
“On a perfect day, in a peaceful setting, surrounded by friends — old and new — we remembered, we shared, we celebrated, and we prayed, together,” according to Suanne Ware-Diaz/Kiowa, a member of the Native American United Methodist Church.
“As one of our‚Äé Maya brothers said, ‘We may dress alike and look alike; but we have unique histories, cultures and languages. Our language and culture are sacred gifts. Given to us by the Creator. And we must preserve them for future generations.’ As a Native ecumenical partner — it was an honor to be part of this holy healing event.”
Msgr. John S. Woolway of St. Louis of France Parish in La Puente thanked “our Native American brothers and sisters” for their welcoming.
“I can see how much pain remains in the historical memories of California’s Native peoples,” he said. “As a priest, I grieve with them since much of their pain is associated with the form of Catholic missionary activity that went on during the Spanish subjugation of California. Yet, I see in their smiles, songs and humor an indestructible spirit that echoes not only the cries of their ancestors, but also the Gospel message of mercy that is already found in all that is good in every truly human culture.”
Carmen Mendivil of Catholic Charities called the event “uplifting” and said it was exciting to hear the Lord’s Prayer in Tataviam and to hear “Amazing Grace” in Tongva and Acjachemen.
Sylvia Mendivil Salazar contributed to this story.