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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Sacred Water: Farming Community Holds Annual Blessing of Waterway

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Suzanne Hammons
Suzanne Hammonshttp://dioceseofgallup.org
Suzanne Hammons is the editor of the Voice of the Southwest and the media coordinator for the Diocese of Gallup. A graduate of Benedictine College in Kansas, she joined the Diocesan staff in 2012.

The Catholic Church has a blessing for many things, including some that may seem surprising – bees, beer, even the ocean.

Bodies of water may be blessed for different reasons. The blessing of a sea asks God to protect those who make their living through sailing or fishing; a river blessing might include a prayer for deliverance from floods.

And in the desert, where water is precious, several parishes in the Diocese of Gallup hold a blessing of an acequia, a small stream upon which an entire community relies for their livelihood.

Tina Jaramillo and her family have lived in the small New Mexico community of San Mateo for generations. Like their neighbors, they have special water rights to the acequia, and many families trace these rights back hundreds of years to when the settlers here were given land grants by the king of Spain.

Jaramillo recalls her father, like many other farmers, worrying about droughts and bad crop years, but pulling through because of the help of neighbors and learned traditions like canning and preserving.

“My dad lived there since he was a baby. And he died at the age of 83. He has a beautiful orchard that puts out so much beautiful fruit every year, still, after his passing because the families that live there continue to do the farming.”

The water rights are still legally honored but can be lost if a piece of land is sold to a family not named in the old land grants. So, most of the rights are passed down through generations, according to Fr. Matthew Keller, who serves as pastor for many of the small churches in the Cibola County farming communities.

“In other places you get, like, acre feet – here, they do it by time: ‘You get the water between this time and that time on Saturday, not any time else’. Because everybody else has to water also. They have a really pinned down system for water rights. That’s why you will never, ever see a piece of land for sale in San Mateo.”

Fr. Matthew Keller and San Mateo parishioners at the blessing of the acequia. Image courtesy of San Mateo Church.

Fr. Alberto Avella, the late pastor of St. Teresa Church in nearby Grants, NM, who also served these farming communities, would annually bless the acequia in Seboyeta, NM. Jaramillo invited him to visit and bless the acequia in San Mateo, and now Fr. Keller is carrying on the tradition.

“The blessing is essentially a way of asking God to continue to protect their water supply and that their crops and everything that comes from that would be fruitful. It’s in the book of blessings – we don’t have to invent anything. There are blessings for fields and crops and flocks,” he  said.

“When you bless a water system like that, that’s natural? You’re basically just asking God to provide His gifts. You’re honoring Him for giving them to you and asking Him to bless you with water.”

For Jaramillo, and for many others, the blessing is a tradition they hope to foster for many years to come.

“If you’re blessing the water that flows to every crop, every field, every garden, that’s just amazing because it’s taking all of your wishes. All of your blessings are going with [it]. And not just from the priest, but from everybody who participates in it.”

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