Conversation with Loida Fernandez focuses on family, Quakers, and her current work. Her life seems shaped by her Quaker heritage and faith journey. "I am the youngest of three daughters. I have a son, Emiliano, who is 19 years old and in his second year at Haverford College, doing sciences. He is my pride! He grew up bilingual and got a full scholarship to Haverford, after doing high school at Olney Friends."
In 1950, Loida Eunice Fernandez Gonzalez was born in Ciudad Mante, in Northeast Mexico. Education is important in her family: "my mother’s relatives went to a Quaker school, and she graduated from high school." All family members on her mother’s side were Quakers; she characterizes her family as Quaker Christian, and she notes that "Loida Eunice" is a biblical name (grandmother and mother of Timothy). Her grandfather was the first Quaker in Mante.
Her story is best in her own words:
"Both of my parents are deceased. I was able to care for each of them in their last days, which gave us the opportunity to finish our business and feel good about our relationships.
"As a young adult I moved to Ciudad Victoria, where our meeting is. I had rarely attended our meeting for worship because it is a two-hour drive to Ciudad Victoria from Mante. But living in Victoria, I got to participate in the meeting. I had always felt close to people in the meeting; in many ways, we were like an extended family, so natural in Mexico.
"Early in the ’50s the pastor of our meeting, Don Genarito G. Ruiz, and a member of Mexico City Meeting, Heberto Sein, had the vision of bringing Friends together regularly to consider a theme in worship-sharing. Out of those meetings in the ’50s grew what is now the General Reunion of Mexican Friends.
"My mother was an early clerk of the General Reunion of Mexican Friends. As clerk, she received epistles from Friends around the world. They were in English, which I didn’t understand then, but I did understand that my mother had connections with people who believe more or less as I do. Growing up knowing about the larger family of Friends was like a small lab for the kind of things I do now with Friends World Committee for Consultation.
"I moved to Mexico City to study theology and work at Friends House. By 1969 I was a Quaker by conviction. Through participation in the student Christian movement, which was very ecumenical, I was exposed to all kinds of people, ways of thinking, theology, and actions. Many Christians I respected got involved in liberation movements in Latin America; but that was not my response. As a Christian I needed to find my way to participate in changing the world. Quakerism was a way to put together faith into action, my natural path.
"I participated in the 1969 Young Friends of North America conference, in Kansas. I spoke very little English but the spirit I felt there was very deep. Someone in prison was being tried as a conscientious objector. There was a vigil, and for the first time I experienced holding someone in the Light. I also discovered an alternative to liberation theology in the "Lamb’s War," the Christology written and talked about by T. Canby Jones, Lewis Benson, and others. It was a turning point for me to have another option for embracing peace and nonviolence.
"I have been working for Friends World Committee for Consultation for seven years as the staff person for the Latin American Region, Section of the Americas. I also worked for FWCC earlier; I was the first person to act as executive secretary for COAL, an organization of Latin American Friends formed after the Wichita conference of 1977.
"My job is keeping different groups of Friends in Latin America in touch with each other and responding to the needs of these Friends. I relate to Friends in nine different countries, most from the Evangelical tradition, some who call themselves pastoral Friends, as well as a small group of unprogrammed meetings.
"I am facilitating the production of Quaker literature in Spanish—translations of excerpts from different books. Right now we are emphasizing Barclay’s Apology. We put into a booklet two of the propositions having to do with the outward sacraments; we’re also doing workshops on Barclay.
"Where 99.9 percent of the non-Catholic groups practice both communion and baptism, our tiny Friends minority needs a response to people who say that Friends are not Christians. We help Friends say, ‘My church has a very long history; I’m not a member of a new church. We Friends have been here for more than 300 years and we are active today.’
"Another project is facilitating a two-way dialogue between Friends from English-speaking countries and those from Latin America about their faith experiences. We’re putting together Latin American Quaker reflections or meditations on specific themes in a bilingual way.
"Important models and influences in my life are first of all, my mother, and then my aunt. They were very strong, kind, faithful women, also known by their deeds in the community. In our small town, my mother began a dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, which was no small accomplishment.
"Several other Quakers are important to me. I had a dialogue with Heberto Sein about his silent vigil and witness that there has to be a way to resolve conflict other than through violence. Mike and Margaret Yarrow were at Woodbrooke when I was there, their lives a testimony to nonviolence. Domingo Ricart, a Spanish Quaker, inspired me with his very deep concern for the translation of Quaker literature.
"I nurture my faith in two ways. One is prayer, and the other is participation in the meeting for worship. In the last year, particularly, I have been able to have a worship-sharing group with my family, which has been very important.
"I enjoy writing poetry, mostly in Spanish, though I have written two or three things in English. I also like to write stories. Music is one way to make me happy. I am taking singing lessons!
"For the past few years I have lived with my 94-year-old aunt, Cointa. Sometimes I’m tempted to think I am taking care of her, but in my heart I know that she’s taking care of me! We do a lot of praying together; she’s a wise woman, and she’s really fun, too, always making jokes. She reads two newspapers a day and two weekly magazines. She watches the news on TV. Her sense of justice is very important. She reads the Bible, of course—that’s central to her life.
"Recently we have been looking at women characters of the Bible. It is fascinating to see how, at her age, she questions some of the roles women have played in the Bible, and she doesn’t agree with those!"
Hearing Loida Fernandez speak about the influences in her life, as well as her ministry, makes it clear that she has absorbed many admirable qualities and lessons from her family and her Quaker upbringing. She is an international Quaker, doing important ministry, strong in her beliefs, articulate in her witness, and a delightful person with whom to spend time.