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Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The sound of the conch being blown, ancient pre Columbian languages, mariachi and tightrope - all part of a Mexican consecration

The Caracol is blown to call the people to prayer
In the Church of England, the Archbishop (of York or Canterbury) when consecrating a new bishop lays out the duties of a bishop including "joining together in the ordination of bishops". Participating in the ordination of new bishops takes place, for me, most frequently in the Church of England. However, I was asked recently to be a co-consecrator for a new bishop in Mexico, and to preach at the consecration mass. It was a great privilege to do so, as the new bishop was an old friend, Fr Julio C├ęsar Martin Trejo, now the Coadjutor Bishop of South East Mexico.

I have known Fr (now Bishop) Julio for 30 years. He was still in seminary when we first met. The consecration was in the Anglican Centre in Tuxtepec, in Oaxaca state. (The diocesan centre is in Xalapa, while the largest city in the diocese is Veracruz). Bishops from Mexico, the USA and Spain were present for the service on St Matthew's day, as well as clergy and laity from across the diocese, other Mexican dioceses and beyond. The Primate of Mexico, the Most Revd Francisco Moreno, presided. 

The episcopal regalia set out awaiting the consecration
It was a joyful and colourful occasion, with the liturgy (and preaching) in Spanish, readings and prayers in Zapateco, Maya and Chinanteco. The mass began with the solemn sound of the caracol  - a large conch-like shell - a pre-Columbian tradition marking a sacred event. The congregation included many more young persons than would be seen in England.

Representatives of communities in the diocese present the candidate to be consecrated

Tuxtepec has a very hot and humid microclimate. It was the sweatiest service (of about 2 1/2 hours length) I have been at for quite some time!

Bishop Julio, newly consecrated
Bishop Julio faces many challenges. The faithful of South East Mexico are majority indigenous people and a number of distinct indigenous languages are spoken. Many are not able to understand Spanish well. The people are economically poor, but rich in their faith and in their cultural traditions. There are also many migrants moving through from countries to the south such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, most of whom are heading for the USA. The communities of the diocese are scattered over large distances, and transportation is not always readily available and roads are not always smooth.

A young server filled with joy
Following the service a banquet was offered by the laity of one of the communities of the diocese. This included some features are not seen in Church of England consecrations: a mariachi band to accompany the eating and drinking, for instance. Also a youth group performed afterwards for the new bishop, including a demonstration of tightrope acrobatics. Now this, I thought, ought to be part of the C of E ceremony - a tightrope act is particularly apt symbol of episcopal ministry!

Ad multos annos, Bishop Julio!

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