WAUKESHA — A group of three gathers in St. Joseph Church on an August afternoon. It is a grand church with 50-foot high ceilings and marvelous religious artwork.
The two women and a man praythe rosary out loud in Spanish. Their seating arrangement suggests they don’t know each other, but they pass the rosary among themselves praying in unison.
What started with three people grew to a group of more than 200 sitting in the hot church waiting for what they had come to see.
Although the event is not exclusively for Hispanics, the crowd includes mostly Hispanic men, women and children. They’re here to see the Mejia family, a family of missionaries from Mexico who have been touring 28 of the 30 Hispanic parishes in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
Deacon Jorge Benavente, associate in Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, brought the family to the Midwest after hearing about them from Fr. Josegerman Zapata-Ramirez, associate pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee.
The family travels in a mobile home and has visited more than 650 parishes in seven countries.
Deacon Benavente said the Mejia family events average about 300 people, but that crowds have been as large as 500.
“I contacted all 30 parishes and I didn’t have a church say ‘no,’” Deacon Benevente said.
The Mejia family delivers several messages, including a warning about the culture of infatuation with celebrities and athletes.
“When we’re watching soccer … we say, ‘We won,’” Lissa Mejia said to the crowd. “But you didn’t do anything. What did you win? It’s just a game.”
She said people should look to others, like the saints, as examples of how to lead their lives.
“They know the culture of Hispanic people and they’re also bicultural,” Deacon Benevente said of the Mejia’s understanding of the U.S. culture. “They understand the issues of Hispanic families in the United States.”
This understanding of people and culture has been a lifelong learning experience for the Mejia family.
Decades earlier, Carlo Mejia was a singer going to college in Guadalajara, Mexico. He finished making an album and, while promoting his music, he met Lissa on a TV show. Soon they started dating.
“We were more than boyfriend and girlfriend; we were really good friends and a team,” Carlo said.
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By the time Carlo graduated, they were married and moved to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, to open a small business while Carlo would continue with his music career.
He sang on a Mexican cruise line that went from Vancouver, Canada, to Mexico. He also sang in other countries and cities, including Las Vegas.
Carlo and Lissa also had two children, Lissette and Carlo Jr. During this time Carlo’s mother died.
He was torn between staying with his family during this difficult time, or going on the road to perform. His father told him to go perform.
“It was really, really hard,” Carlo said.
Twenty-two days later, Carlo’s father died, and Carlo had to make the same choice, and again he went on the road to perform.
Carlo said he became depressed.
“I don’t understand, God, why?” he remembered thinking. Carol said he felt angry with God and made some bad
“With a singing career, sometimes you go to different places and I was unfaithful,” Carlo said.
A priest friend of Carlo’s suggested he go on a retreat to help himself. Carlo hesitated at first, but when he heard there might be businessmen attending, he accepted the opportunity.
At the last moment, the businessmen backed out and were replaced.
“They sent another team and they were really poor people,” Carlo said. “I’m a guy from the university. I got nothing to learn from these people.”
They would prove him wrong.
“When they started (talking) I noticed they were really wise,” Carlo said. “They don’t have any career for the world, but they are really prepared to give the message of God.”
Carlo said he felt inspired and when he returned he asked his family for forgiveness.
Later that year Lissa gave birth to their third child, David. Carlo decided to make a change with his music.
“I said, ‘God I’m not going to sing anymore at hotels or sing popular songs, I’m only going to sing for you from now on,’” Carlo said.
For the last 20 years, the Mejia family has traveled the world, preaching about God and trying to help people correct their faults.
All three children sing. Lissette is married and lives in Los Angeles. Carlo Jr. has written three books and travels with his parents on their mission trips, as does David, who is their media coordinator.
Most days the Mejia’s talk and sing their message in front of one big group. But on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the Mejia’s separate the men, women and children.
They do this to address specific problems each group faces.
“I talk to the men about alcohol, fidelity and being unfaithful and problems like that,” Carlo said.
He asked the men who has watched pornography. Every man raised his hand. From there a discussion about sex and self-control ensues. Most of the issues stemmed from the “machismo” culture and the idea of what a real man is.
“Women are more open to God,” Carlo said. “I’m trying to get the men to be more open.”
Deacon Benavente, a member of St. Joseph, attended each event. He said about 80 percent of the Hispanic community in Waukesha kept coming back day after day while the Mejia’s were there.
“That’s the beautiful thing,” Deacon Benavente said. “The people will continue to support these family groups.”
In Wisconsin the family has traveled all over Milwaukee, Waukesha, Fond du Lac and Green Bay, drawing hundreds of people at each location.
While in Green Bay, they visited Lambeau Field and understood the Packer influence.
“It’s amazing because its such a small setting and you can see how important it is to have a good team,” Carlo said.
Carlo noticed Hispanic families were more complete in Wisconsin than in other states.
“Some states, like Utah or California, only maybe the husband or father is here, the rest are in Mexico,” Carlo said. “What I noticed here is the whole family is here and that’s really nice.”
The Mejia family will continue to visit Hispanic parishes in the archdiocese of Milwaukee and end with a production of their musical drama “The Prodigal Son” in the first week of November.
The family plans to return to Wisconsin and Chicago for part of 2012.
As the event at St. Joseph comes to a close, the group comes together. What started with three people praying the rosary ends with more than 200 people standing with their arms around each other, praying together.