|The Inside of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, Playa del Carmen|
The first is the priest in the Catholic Church in the working-class neighborhood of Colosio, here in Playa del Carmen. His name is Father Bernard; he's Irish, and has been working in the Colosio parish (Nuestra Señora del Guadalupe) for over 10 year if I remember correctly. He knows the community well, and worked in the parish in its early days when the community, which had recently been founded through a politically motivated, and illegal, "land invasion" was just beginning to take roots. There were no city services or paved roads; water had to be brought in and electricity was run from a generator. He told me the story once when I complained that there were no street signs; I thought it was because no one would use them anyway. He pointed out that the people were just happy to have water, electricity and pavement.
He is also the principal (and the founder I believe) of a charity school which is run in some buildings on the church grounds. I worked at that school for a year, teaching English to grades 4,5 and 6. The experience with those classes belongs to a whole other series of posts; what belongs here, though, is that I am very impressed by his work (and that of the rest of the administration) to run a school with a solid level of education (the second best in Playa del Carmen, some people say) at prices the people in that community can afford. The classes are offered to all regardless of their church. From what I understand, many of the children come from the many evangelical denominations strewn throughout the community, often held in peoples patios, or makeshift buildings; the members of those churches are often among the poorest of the people who live here.
Needless to say, the children attend mass and have Catechism classes. But even the most cynical observer couldn't criticize this fact; even if you have nothing good to say about Catholicism, you can't deny that it's a small price to pay for a good education that otherwise they just wouldn't get. On the other hand, if you are Catholic or find their teachings acceptable, it's a double bonus.
I find Father Bernard a very pleasant person to talk to. He is hard working, dedicated, knowledgeable and clearly has a love for the community.
He makes it onto my list of "Catholics who I really admire."