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Arizona Mission Church Members Open 85-Year-Old Time Capsule

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We’re dealing with a time capsule here, so some time travel is required. Return to the early part of the 20th century when the usual national concerns were overshadowed by pending problems that would result in the crash of our financial world. The Western desert was far removed from that chaos where Native American life still moved at a slower pace and churches were a focal part of that world.

One of those churches was again in the spotlight, Southern Arizona’s little Santa Rosa de Lima Mission in Tucson, a tiny, rather non-descript, chapel in the Pascua Yaqui tribe’s Old Pascua Village has been home to worshipers for over 85 years. On Sunday, February 23, a time capsule embedded in the adobe walls at the time of construction was opened.

Despite the importance of the event, it was Sunday and the day began with a traditional mass and communion for regular churchgoers who crowded the plain-but-functional house of worship.

For Manuela Romero and her granddaughter, Sophia Leyva, their day started at 4 a.m. when they arrived to light the mesquite fire and begin the hours-long process of cooking huge caldrons of casuela soup. Pascua Yaqui traditional musicians showed up later with their homemade instruments as did members of a Mariachi band.

Lee Allen

Manuela Romero and granddaughter Sophia Leyva stir the cooking pot to feed the crowd at the time capsule opening.

Attendees gathered outside the flaking whitewashed building in small conversational groups with an aura of familiar comfort. Many families had stories to tell. One parishioner said she was born and raised just down the street and remembered when water had to be carried into the community from a nearby river.

The growing excitement to see the time capsule revealed was palpable among the smiles and handshakes of community members who have known each other for a long time. Among them was Pascua Yaqui tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio, who grew up across the street from the church.

“I haven’t a clue what might be inside the time capsule and I’m going to be just as surprised as everybody else,” he said. “The contents could be documents telling of the history of the village that has been here a long time before the church. There could be information about who belonged to it. Perhaps there could be a crucifix or other religious icons of the past reminding us not to lose our faith.”

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Noting that it was family members who built the mission when they were young, church committee member Patricia Romero said, “There’s documents there with the names of our elders who built this special place and I’ll be looking for my great-great-great grandfather’s name.”

Lee Allen

The event drew tribal elders—and members of the latest generation— to the festivities.

With nervous anticipation among the crowd, a small partially-rusted tin box about the size of an adobe brick was removed from the church’s exterior stucco wall. Gloved hands gently pried the box open as more than 100 Old Pascua Village residents gently jostled for a better view as the lid was opened to oohs and aahs—oohs from the elders hoping for a glimpse of the past and aahs from the younger crowd disappointed at the meager contents.

The long-buried capsule contained just a single item, a rolled scroll dating from 1927 indicating plans to construct the church and the people who would be involved in its design and construction.

No gold or jewels. No artifacts of years gone by. No remnants of what came before—just a dusty scroll hidden in the wall to commemorate the arrival of the community church.

Attendees were invited to contribute current items, like children’s drawings, to the box as it was resealed—to be re-opened in another 85 years.

Lee Allen

After being buried for 85 years, this tin box time capsule removed from Santa Rosa de Lima Mission yielded only a simple document indicating plans to build the mission and the Pascua Yaqui tribal members involved.