By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Around 40 D’Casa workers gathered at the restaurant well before the opening hour to receive the ashes that recall Jesus’ 40 days of temptation into the wilderness.
The Rev. Lincoln Dall, priest at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo, and Raquel Thompson, director of St. James’ Hispanic ministries, made the rounds to three Mexican restaurants throughout the day yesterday to offer the ashes and a short devotion to workers who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to attend Ash Wednesday services.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Fidel Cubillo, owner of the three D’Casa locations. “In the restaurant business, your off days shift a lot. On Sundays and Wednesdays, we have to work. Most of my employees are here on work permits. They miss their families and their customs from home.”
After Dall had finished, the atmosphere remained convivial. Workers lounged in the booths, talking over plates of tamales in the early morning. They ranged in ages, and some had brought their family members.
“Many of these guys are young men in their twenties,” Dall said. “They’re here by themselves. It would be easy to turn to alcohol and other things. I hope this reminds them they’re not alone here, that their restaurant family cares and their faith community cares about them, too.”
Dall and Thompson also visited Los Toros Mexican Restaurant later in the morning, then finally La Carreta Wednesday night. Los Toros manager Javier Rico said his employees welcomed the opportunity to take part in the custom.
“It’s important to try to do the traditions that are normal in Mexico,” Rico said. “But working in a restaurant, it’s hard to get to church sometimes.”
Los Toros worker Javier Garcia agreed. Garcia said, with Rico acting as translator, he moved to the states from Mexico 20 years ago with his wife, and they had two children in America.
“We came here for the same reason as everybody: better opportunities,” Garcia said. “It’s important to try to do the traditions that are normal in Mexico, but working in a restaurant, you miss a lot of stuff. If you don’t get the ashes, you usually have to wait for next year. This is really good.”
Dall noted that specifically Ash Wednesday draws participation from both Catholics and Protestants. More and more, Dall said, modern worshippers are rediscovering the value of spiritual exercises in addition to sipmly hearing a sermon.
“Ash Wednesday is very sensory, and I think that’s part of what people like about it,” Dall said. “Also, it’s an occasion to look at our own sin, the things we are not proud of, and take a stand.”
The Rev. Will Rambo, associate pastor at the Orchard in Tupelo, said the church’s evening Ash Wednesday service never fails to be meaningful. It marks the beginning of Lent – the 40 days leading up to Easter. As a Methodist congregation, Rambo said liturgical occasions such as Ash Wednesday give an ebb and flow to the seasons of faith and scripture.
“In scripture we see 40 days over and over, Noah in the ark and Moses on Mount Sinai. Each time these moments mark where someone was set apart and brought closer in their relationship with God,” Rambo said. “People are drawn toward experiential engagement, and Ash Wednesday is an accessible way to enter into practice aside from just absorbing information.”