TWO CHURCHES, TWO VIEWS AND ONE TOWN

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LaGRULLA, Texas _ There are two churches in this community of 1,445 _ one Catholic, the other Mennonite.

One church has become the voice of the people, while the other is more concerned with spiritual matters. But no matter what position each has taken, both have strong followings.

For about the past 10 years, Jose Gonzales Diaz has been preaching the Bible to members of the Mennonites. He first began his teachings to migrant workers in Gresham, Ore., and five years ago he and his wife, Cindy, and their three children moved to the South Texas Valley. He has been the minister in LaGrulla the past four years.

The Rev. Lee DaCosta has been a Catholic priest in the Valley since 1969, when he first entered the priesthood. He has helped many Central and South American immigrants who have come to this country in search of a better life. His help has ranged from finding them shelter to assisting them in obtaining citizenship.

DaCosta became pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church five months ago.

Some members of the Raul and Maria Elena Martinez family are members of the Mennonite church, while others are Catholic.

``During the six years that I was living in Oregon, my job was different. There I would go out into the fields and the labor camps and read the Bible to the workers,'' Gonzalez recalled. ``There I did help people with material things such as food and clothing that was donated to my church by other churches. But here, my work is primarily to teach the people the teachings of the Bible. I want people to recognize what is true in the Bible.''

Gonzalez said his church in LaGrulla will give Bibles to people who come to see him so that they may learn the ``word of God and how he wants us to live.''

Originally from Mexico City, Gonzalez said his goal is to return to his homeland someday and begin a church there.

``But right now my work is here,'' he said. ``There are a lot of people who need spiritual healing and are thirsty for the work of God. That is why I will continue to stay here for as long as necessary.''

Mennonites belong to a Protestant group known for its emphasis on plain ways of dressing, living and worshiping. There are many branches of Mennonites. Those who live in rural areas dress and live much more simply than those in urban groups.

The Mennonite church in LaGrulla has a congregation of 80 people. There are four other Mennonite churches located throughout the Valley. They were started about 40 years ago.

More than half of the residents of LaGrulla belong to the Catholic church.

``Our job is to facilitate the people,'' DaCosta said. ``With respect to the migrants, we are here to perform baptisms or weddings before or after they leave to look for work elsewhere.

``Some of the other Catholic churches in the Valley will hold special Masses for them in the spring before they leave.''

DaCosta is a firm believer that the duty of the Catholic church is not simply to be a spiritual voice but a voice for the people as well. As the years go by, the church is finding itself more involved in political activities he said.

``There's nothing wrong with being politically active,'' DaCosta said. ``Jesus Christ was very politically minded. He was a crusader for social justice.''

And that is how DaCosta is striving to help people. ``Just because someone is poor, or comes from Mexico and works the fields, that doesn't mean they should be denied their rights. That doesn't th the Catholic Church doing that.''

DaCosta, a native of Brazil, said he understands oppression.

``But this is not Mexico or some other country where priests are not allowed to voice their opinion or fight. I know there is a separation between church and state, but that does not mean we have to keep quiet,'' he said.(

``I try to teach people, that they have rights, they have a voice and that people have power.''

DaCosta is known throughout the Valley as an advocate for human rights. Throughout the past 10 years, he has worked for the rights of undocumented pregnant women and juveniles from Latin American countries who are detained by the United States Border Patrol and placed in city or country jails.

``How can these people be put in jail? They have done nothing wrong but there was nowhere else to put them,'' he said. So DaCosta helped find them temporary shelters with local families, or secured money to get these people back with their families.

``Other priests and the Border Patrol used to call my house /{Casa de Amistad/} (House of Friendship) because of the work I did,'' he said.

Since then, DaCosta's work has been slowly decreasing because the Border Patrol now has facilities where these people can be placed temporarily instead of jails.

``But what I'm still finding with people in this part of the country, whether they are documented or not, is that many are intimidated, scared or don't know they have rights.

``And so they come to the church, and who better than the church to help them strive for justice. Someone has to speak for them. If no one speaks, nothing will get done.

``These people need a voice, a leader. Someone to show them and tell them what to do. And I don't think there is anything wrong with the Catholic Church doing that.''

DaCosta, a native of Brazil, said he understands oppression.

``But this is not Mexico or some other country where priests are not allowed to voice their opinion or fight. I know there is a separation between church and state, but that does not mean we have to keep quiet,'' he said.

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