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Our Lady of Las Palomas Interfaith Center


"Dedicated To Giving The Disadvantaged A Hand Up"

Why Are We Here

Many of our Alaskan friends have asked, “Why Columbus, NM?”   Kris has lived in Alaska over 50 years and I’ve lived there 43 years, and we honestly thought we would never leave that beautiful place.  But then our oldest son’s godfather, Richard Haines, chose Columbus 30 years ago when he and godmother Evelyn were looking for a warm, dry place to retire from Alaska and over the years, we’ve fallen in love with the raw beauty of the desert.  But beauty isn’t what brought us here to live.  We came because Richard had a dream, a dream so compelling that soon we began to dream it too. 

A dream of an interfaith chapel in the desert where people could come together and wrestle with the most important concerns of the human heart—who am I, who are you, why are we here, to whom do we owe allegiance, what are we doing about it, how do peace and love and justice and “tradition” fit, how do we “dance” together, how do we really listen to one another, how do we care for one another respectfully, how do we care for the earth?  Some of these questions our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori,  invites us to wrestle with (who are we, why are we here, what are we doing about it—from her January article in episcopallife), some are straight out of Zorba the Greek and Fiddler on the Roof and Babel! 

Yes, Richard was a romantic who loved God and Evelyn and every person he ever met—in that order—so when Evelyn died of cancer a few years after they moved to Columbus, he enlisted his childhood friend and second wife, Edith, and many, many friends in Columbus to build an adobe chapel in her memory.  The Evelyn Fry Haines Memorial Chapel was dedicated “St. Anthony in the Desert” as a private chapel and place of prayer by The Rt. Rev. Richard Trelease, Jr. D.D. October 4, 1987.  Episcopal services were held there for many years by Rev. Vicki Montney.  After Vicki retired a number of others held services in the chapel, including Rev. William Haller, Orthodox priest from Deming.  The chapel was known as “St. Francis of Assisi Orthodox Mission” during this time.  Over the years many local people from various faith communities and those “whose faith is known to God alone….” have been married and buried from this humble chapel.  A few years ago Dick and Edith gave Kris this chapel and their home in Columbus in hopes the work begun here would continue.  The chapel has now been put into a 501 C 3 non-profit status known as Our Lady of Las Palomas Hermitage and Retreat Center with the intention of doing just that. 

Now that Kris and I are both retired from Alaska (Kris as CEO and President of a village Corporation on the Arctic Coast and deacon and pilot for the Diocese of Alaska and me as missioner and itinerant clergy in charge of 3 Athabascan village churches on the lower Yukon River and Hospice Chaplain for Providence Hospital), we’ve come to Columbus to wrestle, in community, with these very same mission questions given to us by the Presiding Bishop.  “Who are we?  Why are we here? What are we doing about it?”  The very same questions we all wrestle with as we continue to express our ordination vows as a missionary people!  The answers are a lot tougher to express, so if I may use pictures to help me, you may better glean the answers my heart is trying to express.  I’m including some of the Taize’ songs we translated into Spanish that were used for the Easter Vigil in Columbus and Easter Day at Socorro Palacio’s ranch outside of Palomas.


We are here to honor the dream and vision of our oldest son’s godfather, Richard Haines that there might be a place in the desert where people from many faiths might gather in prayer in witness to peace and justice on earth: “La paz del Senor sea siempre con ustedes.  Y con tu espiritu.”  The humble adobe chapel of St. Anthony and St. Francis on the corner of Broadway and Grant in Columbus, New Mexico built 22 years ago by Richard and Edith Haines, in memory of Evelyn, Richard’s first wife.  Renovation of the chapel and grounds is the first phase of the development of Our Lady of Las Palomas Hermitage and Retreat Center.


We are here to offer hospitality to other pilgrims seeking sanctuary in this place and to be a witness to the compassionate presence of Christ: “Nada te turbe, nada te espante,  quien a Dios tiene nada la falta.  Nada te turbe, nada te espante, Solo dios basta!”  “Nothing can bother, nothing can frighten, those who seek God shall never go wanting.  Nothing can bother, nothing can frighten, God alone fills us.”  March 12,13,14, 2007 we offered hospitality to the American Zen Pilgrimage bearing witness to conditions on the Mexican/U.S. border.  Claude Anshin Thomas, author of At Hell’s Gate, is shown here with four of the pilgrims and Judith (left) and Barbara Flaherty (far right, poet and co-founder of the Fourth Order of Francis and Clare) at the Chapel of St. Anthony and St. Francis   See www.zaltho.org for more about the humanitarian work of Claude Anshin Thomas.

We are here to create a sacred space for the healing of self and others….to help create and belong to a fiercely loving community…to discover the love and vision of other like-hearted souls….and to bear witness to the resurrected Christ, “Jesus Cristo, Jesus Cristo, Ayer, hoy y siempre!” “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever!”  The “Tree of Impermanance” in the Francis garden at the Chapel is now covered with the art work of the participants in the first two retreats held at Our Lady of Las Palomas Hermitage and Retreat Center, March 15-16 and April 6-7, 2007 to remind us that “With Christ all things are possible—even personal resurrection.  Participants reflected and shared on the Presiding Bishop’s questions, “Who are we, why are we here and what are we doing about it.”    


We are here to worship the risen LORD in community…we are here to learn a generous rule of action and contemplation and to teach that rule to others.  Uu uu uu  Te adoramos Senor Jesus Cristo!”  oo oo oo We adore you Lord Jesus Christ!”  Participants at the retreat learned many songs from Taize’ and even translated them into Spanish so we could teach them Easter Sunday. 


We are here as fellow pilgrims, to honor all those saints and souls who have gone before…on a journey into wholeness….bearing witness to streams of living water in the desert:  Judith sitting with some of the Tarahumara Indian families before the Easter service on Socorro Palacio’s ranch 17 miles south of Palomas, Chihuahua.


We are here to set a table in the wilderness, a table where all are welcome, all are invited, all share.  We are here to pray for others especially the sick or dying, or disenfranchised or poor or old:  “Senor escucha me oracion, Senor escucha mi oracion, cuanto te llamo, contestame.  Senor escucha mi oracion, Senor escucha I oracion, venga y escuchame.”  Oh Lord hear my prayer,   oh Lord hear my prayer, when I call, answer me.  Oh Lord hear my prayer, oh Lord hear my prayer, come and listen to me.”  Judith welcoming over 70 people to a most irregular Easter Service on a small ranch 17 miles south of Palomas, Chihuahua.  Marcelina, one of the Tarahumara women, made Judith’s stole and altar hangings and the hot pink table cloth (no white could be found) covers an old freezer.  Notice old “Tom Turkey” sneaking up on Judith behind the altar! 


We are here to preach the Good News, Christ is Risen.  The Lord is Risen indeed!  Levanten una cancion de alegria, gente de la tierra, Cristo ha llegando, trayendo pas, alegria a cada Corazon.  Aleluya aleluya alegria a cada Corazon.  Aleluya aleluya alegria a cada Corazon!”  “Raise a song of gladness people of the earth, Christ has come, bringing peace, joy to every heart.  Alleluia alleluia joy to every heart.  Alleluia alleluia joy to every heart.” An interpreter was needed since only about 15 of the 70+ spoke English!  Judith has since ordered the Prayer Book in Spanish and the NIV in Spanish! 

We are here, by our prayers and witness, helping children and families grow into the full stature of Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!  Amen.  Many tears of joy were shed when Socorro’s youngest daughter and three granddaughters were baptized Easter Sunday.  May we all be reminded of the forgiveness of sins, the new life of grace we share in Christ.  May we continue to be sustained by Holy Spirit, have an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works!  Amen.


“We are here endeavoring to minister the Word of God and the sacraments of the New Covenant, that the reconciling love of Christ may be known and received…..”  Kris and I serving communion to the many gathered in this place.  Marcelina is from the Tarahumara Tribe.  She is the one who made the stole and altar hanging. 


We are here to learn to trust God completely….to be a channel and witness of God’s love to others…and to sing with the birds and dance with the children:  The children loved the Easter egg hunt!  Of course, so did the three goats who soon discovered the candy hidden in the bright colored plastic eggs! 


We are here to listen and discern God’s will in community as we ‘offer all our labors to God, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.’  The feasting finished, two Grandmothers, Socorro Palacio and Judith Lethin, share a moment, watching the children with the Piñata.  Judith and Kris along with Janet and Clint Shepard and others from Our Lady of Las Palomas Hermitage and Retreat Center, are praying about ways they can support Socorro’s dream of a cottage industry for women in Palomas. 


We are here to pray and listen for ways we can support women and children and families who are living in poverty attain a living wage and safe food, water, and  housing:  Venga y llene nuestros corazones con paz.  Tu solo Senor eres santo.  Venga y llene nuestros corazones con paz aleluya.”  “Come and fill our hearts with your peace.  You alone oh LORD are holy.  Come and fill our hearts with your peace alleluia.”  Back in Palomas the week after Easter, Socorro Palacio and her son, Edgar, are showing Judith (2nd from left) Rita Holden (3rd from left) and Barbara Flaherty (right) the space she wants to dedicate to a woman’s cooperative in Palomas. Judith, Rita, and Barbara along with Clint and Janet Shepard (all part of Our Lady of Las Palomas Hermitage and Retreat Center) are praying and discerning the best way to help Socorro’s dream come true.  Many local Columbus and Deming residents are also interested in supporting a women’s cooperative in Palomas.  We hope to apply for grant funds to convert this cement “garage��� and empty lot into a workshop space and play ground and community garden for the poorest of the poor women and children of Palomas.  Our home parish in Alaska, St. Mary’s, has already invited us to apply for their mission grant funds for this project!  We welcome other ideas and support.  Please pray for ways you and your parish may be involved. 

Thank you for letting us share our vision and ministry with you.  We ask for your blessing and counsel and look forward to serving you and our LORD in this place.


Judith and Kris Lethin.