In Coachella Valley, Catholic Church ministers to indigenous Purépechas

Conchita Pozar, 30, with her daughters Jackie Zacarias, 9, and Lesly Zacarias, 2, on Sept. 24, 2019, in the Coachella Valley. Pozar is Purépecha and a community activist who is seeking to preserve the Catholic faith in her community. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

MECCA, Calif. (RNS) — Aida Sansor and Maria Teresa Pacheco have traveled the Eastern Coachella Valley area, seeking to connect with the indigenous Purépecha community.

Sansor and Pacheco are with Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, a nonprofit corporation of Catholic women based in Mexico City. The organization has provincial headquarters in Los Angeles. 

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They were brought on by the Diocese of San Bernardino, which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties, under a three-year contract  to reach the estimated 1,500 Purépechas living in the region. They started last August.

Although their presence in the Coachella Valley may be categorized as “Hispanic ministry,” the Missionary Guadalupanas recognize that the Purépecha people “have their own culture,” Sansor said.

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“They’re a community that deserve a lot of respect. They have their own language and traditions,” Sansor said.

“We’re here to accompany them in their Catholic faith,” Sansor said.

Purépecha is a language and the name of the pre-Hispanic people of the Central Mexican state of Michoacan. Purépecha people in Riverside County speak Purépecha as well as Spanish, and some, especially the children, also know English. The community has endured discrimination due to their language and traditional clothing.

Sansor and Pacheco have immersed themselves in the community by attending neighborhood town hall meetings and being present in birthday and baptism celebrations. Many Purépechas in the region work in the fields where they harvest limes and other vegetables, and they live in mobile home parks and other communities in the rural region.

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On Tuesday, Sept. 24, Sansor and Pacheco led a Catholic Extension delegation to meet Purépecha leaders and learn how they can help support the community. Catholic Extension is a nonprofit that invests in constructing new churches and ministries in poor communities. 

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