Answered prayer leads Diocese of Knoxville parishioner home to Mexico after many years
By Rocio Melendez
I recently had one of my biggest, yet most forgotten, dreams come true.
When I mean “forgotten,” I refer to the realization and acceptance that my dream cannot come true. And I became OK with it.
When certain circumstances are past your control, why long to keep wanting for it? I guess one could say I found a very pessimistic way of viewing the situation, but I prefer to say that I keep my expectations real. But just as this mindset helps me deal with unfavorable outcomes, it comes to show that God doesn’t forget. He doesn’t forget what you prayed for on those nights. And God comes through, one way or another.
Will it happen exactly as you imagined it at the time that you imagined it with the people you imagined it with? No. But sometimes it exceeds your expectations. And that is exactly what happened when this “forgotten” dream of mine came true. The dream that finally became a reality was me being able to visit my hometown in Mexico after 20 years!
The realization that I was in Mexico didn’t hit until I stepped off the plane at Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport in Guadalajara on June 18. I knew something about this place felt different than what I had been used to all my life. Different yet familiar. But, nonetheless, we continued through airport logistics.
We met with a distant family member, who was going to provide us with transportation to our destination two hours away. I remember the car ride was very interesting. New details started to appear every which way I looked. Things that are typically hard to see from a plane’s view were all so apparent during the car ride to our destination: the grass, the leaves of the trees, the structures of buildings and houses, the small details of the landscape.
As we got closer to my hometown, I remember feeling something that I had never felt before. It was truly such a strange feeling—a feeling of unexplainable nostalgia that started to emerge. Everything felt strange, but at the same time I felt as if my heart knew where I was.
How does someone explain that she knows a place without any apparent memories of it? How does someone put this concept into words even when she can’t understand what she feels? It was as if my unconscious memory was reminiscing on very early memories of my childhood, but my conscious memory never had a chance to process the information.
A strong sense of belonging also started to surface. I didn’t feel like a stranger to this place, although I had zero memory of Mexico and the people. Of course, I had seen pictures and videos throughout my life about Mexico, but nothing compares to witnessing it personally, five senses and all. The craziest thing was I never once stopped experiencing this feeling throughout my two-week trip.
We finally arrived at our destination. And a rollercoaster of emotions awaited me like never before. A few family members of ours, my grandma and cousins, stood at the entrance of their house with the most welcoming smile on their faces, ready to greet us. They made it feel as if we never left 20 years ago, as if we had left only for a couple hours to the United States, and we were finally back.
That moment was very special. As we finished our initial greetings and were able to relax for a minute, my aunt walked through the front door with flower arrangements in each hand. She set the flowers down, and more greetings were initiated. Warm hugs, smiles, and words were shared, and after a heartfelt encounter, she offered us food.
I very much longed for food at that moment. What she offered us was far from fancy or elaborate—beans, homemade cheese, and rotisserie chicken from their local market along with tortillas and salsa. But that food nurtured my body and soul like never before.
One thing that stood out to me and I found very special was how people in Mexico, whether family or complete strangers, always offered even the smallest commodity to us to make us feel welcome.
It speaks volumes about the Mexican people and our values. And even more special, they would offer us non-materialistic things, like time. Here in the United States, time is very important. We are always on this strict schedule, seeking to stay on routine as much as we can. But in Mexico, time flowed differently.
People seemed more laid back and not in such a hurry all the time. Somehow, they managed to get a lot done, too. They seem to value social interactions, family gatherings, and socializing in general to a much higher degree than U.S. culture does. It gave me a lot to reflect on during my trip.
Just as we finished eating, my aunt started to explain to us a bit more about the significance behind the two flower arrangements she had brought in when she arrived home. My mom and I had a long conversation about those flowers just before my trip.
She had made a promise to the Virgin Mary 20 years ago that if she allowed us to return to Mexico one day, alive most importantly, we would offer the Virgin Mary flowers the first thing when back in Mexico. And that is exactly what we were going to do next. The flower arrangements were some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. Dark red roses, bright yellow sunflowers, playful white daisies with yellow centers, and white baby’s breath all between dark green flora.
We headed to my aunt’s car and made the short trip to Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish). We hopped out of the car, grabbed the flowers, and made our way toward the church. And wow. If this was a parish, I can only imagine what a cathedral in Mexico looks like.
This parish did not compare to anything I had ever seen in the United States. The amount of detail was astonishing. I could have sat in there for weeks and never once become bored with the view. Most sculptures and decorations were made from “cantera,” or in other words “quarry.” It is a stone/rock specific to the region of Degollado, Jalisco, and it’s what the town is most known for. I also quickly noticed the grand amount of flowers that decorated the altar and most of the parishes.
The presence in the parish felt almost magical. As soon as you walked in, you could say without a doubt, ”Yes, this is Jesus’ house.” We made it to the front of the altar to offer the flowers. My aunt took a picture of this very special moment, and suddenly a second roller coaster of emotions hit me. I quickly excused myself, found the adoration chapel, and in the midst of silence, fell onto my knees and started to bawl. (As I write this, I find myself tearing up a bit.)
That day in the adoration chapel in Degollado, Jalisco, I cried for many things. But mostly what I shed tears for was the realization that my dream had come true. That God doesn’t forget what you prayed for on those nights, no matter how big or small those dreams are. After wiping my tears and taking a few deep breaths, I headed back out where the rest of my family was waiting. We wrapped up our visit to the parish, and for the first time in a long while I found myself at peace.
The rest of my trip was an absolute blast. It flew by in the blink of an eye. I would say my favorite part was the food! Lots of variations of tacos, quesadillas, pozole, and for some reason a lot of ice cream.
I couldn’t be more thankful to my mom for instilling in us our culture and traditions since day one of our childhood. It was just as if we had never left Mexico. I think this played a significant role in me not feeling like a stranger during my trip to my hometown. And lastly, I am very thankful to God for having made this trip a possibility. I am glad to be back and even more appreciative of the small things in my life and my culture.
Rocio Melendez serves as an administrative assistant in the diocesan Hispanic Ministry Office.