Sunday, March 26th, 2023 at 10:00 AM in the Church and Zoom Sanctuaries
Dear UCC Simi family:
I would like to introduce you to a cherished friend of mine: Father Ricardo Elford.
Since 1967, Ricardo, a Redemptorist priest, has been serving migrants and native Americans on both sides of the border between Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. He is now 85 years old, living at the Redemptorist Renewal Center outside of Tucson, and still at work, managing Clinica Amistad, a medical clinic in the barrio staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, and practitioners serving people without insurance – most of them undocumented migrants.
I met Ricardo in 2001, when I went to Tucson for a visit with Jim Corbett, the co-founder of the Sanctuary Movement, which smuggled Central American refugees into the US and housed them in churches and temples to protect them from death and abuse during the civil wars in those countries in the 1980’s. Corbett was a Quaker, a cowboy, and a self-taught Hebrew scholar with a master’s degree in philosophy from Harvard. Ricardo was deeply involved in the Sanctuary movement from its beginning, and was a close associate of Corbett’s. Based on that work, together they wrote “The Servant Church” (Pendle Hill, 1996), which has haunted my practice of ministry ever since I first read it. “The crucial, turn-around choices posed by the gospel are about service, not rewards – service that isn’t coerced and for which there’s no pay-off. Having discovered that communion is universal and unearned, one is free to choose. Having chosen, however, the members of a covenant community must be able to count on one another to walk the hallowing way they profess, to act as a covenant community.” (p 34)
Early in Ricardo’s ministry in southern Arizona, he served as a priest to the Yaqui tribe, which has communities on both sides of the US/Mexico border. He performed the mass in rural churches in Sonora, as well as in the Yaqui reservation near Tucson. As enforcement of the border on the US side became more intense, he became focused on assisting migrants caught in the consequences. Every time I visited him in Tucson, his cell phone was constantly ringing. Ricardo was the “fixer” for migrants in various kinds of trouble: facing deportation orders, trying to get asylum, trying to communicate with relatives across the border. It seems as if everyone in the Tucson barrio knows him. I walked down 4th Avenue in Tucson with him one afternoon, and a couple of Spanish-speaking people accosted him adoringly along the way. He has relationships with the Border Patrol, with doctors, lawyers, non-profits, and a network of trusted church members and other volunteers he can mobilize on the spot. A woman broke her leg while crossing the desert and was apprehended by Border Patrol agents who knew they could not deport her in that condition. They knew to call Ricardo, and in minutes, he found a family to house the woman until her leg was healed. The Border Patrol delivered her straight from the desert to their door.
While Ricardo will be the first to rail against the inhumanity of US border policy that has generated so much of the misery his work addresses, he doesn’t let it get him down. He is a joyous soul with an outsized smile and a ready laugh. A progressive Christian down to his bones, he makes the Catholic church look better than perhaps it deserves!
In America, a lot of folks think that being a Christian is a personal preference, and that to join a church is to show up on Sunday and contribute time and money to its organization. Ricardo demonstrates, with his life, that it means something much more. The church is a body of people with a vocation, a calling, to serve the world beyond itself: to stand with the most vulnerable, to struggle for systemic justice, to heal and to feed and to clothe and to house those left behind by social, economic, and political structures.
Roberta and I visited Ricardo last week, and we savored every minute with him. His health is rather frail but his spirit is strong. We shared and reflected together as we walked past the saguaros and chollas on the grounds of the retreat center. What a gift to be in the presence of a person who embodies the call of the gospel, in word and deed!
PS: If you’d like to subscribe to my weekly blog, “musings”, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put you on the list!
P.S.S.: In addition to being your pastor, I’m also the (volunteer) Executive Director of ProgressiveChristiansUniting.org . I’m leading its main project, a new global network of progressive Christian ministries at colleges and universities called ZOE… zoeoncampus.org .
See you on Sunday!
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Worship begins at 10:00 AM.
Topic: Sunday Morning Worship Gathering in the Midst
Time: Sundays 9:30 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 898 1487 4542
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