Tino Perez

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

November 2, 2004


In October I made a visit to our sister parish in Mexico. I traveled with three parishioners. Together we formed a little “missionary team” to see how we can build up our relationship with the people of San Pedro Apostol parish in the rural mountains of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City.

            There we met a remarkable man. His name is Tino. 

            Tino is a catechist.

            In the U.S.A., we tend to think of catechists as volunteers who teach religious education classes. But in many countries like Mexico they play a much larger role in the life of the Church.  In some places they are the official Church.

In Latin America there is a very severe shortage of priests, much worse than in the U.S.

In our sister parish of San Pedro, they have only one priest, to serve 15,000 residents. The priest is located in the largest town in the parish, Chapulhuacan.  But there are 40 other “capillas” (chapels) scattered around a huge territory in each little village.

Roads are poor (in some places non-existent). Public transportation is limited. Few people own a car or truck. They walk or hitchhike everywhere.

If they are lucky, parishioners might see the priest once per month. In some of the villages he might come only for special occasions like first communion, weddings, funerals, or the patronal feast day.

This is where catechists like Tino come in.

Catechists not only teach the basic faith; they also prepare couples for marriage, visit the sick, help maintain the local chapels, organize the music, decorate for holydays, and counsel people.

Once a week in each “capilla”, Tino leads the liturgy of the “mensaje” (message). Basically it is the liturgy of the word from the preceding Sunday, followed by reading a short homily prepared by the bishop. If he has any consecrated hosts, there might also be a Eucharistic service.

Tino has care of 14 capillas by himself.

He is not paid. He works three days per week as a “camposino” (field worker) so that he can devote the other four days per week to the service of the Lord. As a field worker he plants and harvests in the hot sun. He hauls huge burdens up and down steep mountains on his back. He makes maybe 50 pesos per day ($5).

As a catechist, he literally runs from one chapel to another on back woods paths. When I asked him what we could give him for his ministry, he replied in one word “zapatos” (shoes).

In each of his 14 villages he organizes classes, repairs the chapels, visits the sick, and leads worship. In one village he had actually designed and built the chapel, with the help of the people.

Tino is about 30 years old. He has dark hair and shy smile. He doesn’t talk much but he can be forceful. When we rode into towns, he leaned out the window of our borrowed truck and called people to mass. After mass he lead us by foot paths only locals would know, to visit the sick.

Tino has been doing this most of his life. Orphaned at the age of 10, he was raised by a priest in a neighboring parish. Even as a little boy he was sent on errands for the pastor.

His life is prayer and charity.

He prays continually.

I never saw him pass a beggar without giving something, even though Tino hardly had any more than the beggar.

For his food he depends on parishioners. Most nights he sleeps on a bare mattress in a little room at the back of one of his churches. In one town he has a bed in what looks like a chicken coop. There were such big holes in the wall that he has nailed up plastic sheeting to keep out the wind around his bed.  There is no heat against the mountain cold, no running water, and no electricity. He has few clothes. I saw only a few books; a Bible, a missal, and some devotional works.

Everybody knows Tino. He is godfather to dozens of children.

If you ever wonder how it is that the Catholic Church can stay alive in the remotest places and the hardest conditions, thank the Holy Spirit and think of Tino.