Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 17, 2004
Walking in a Franciscan's sandals
Guatemala open doors, even doors to the Alberta past
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Since coming to Guatemala several weeks ago, I experienced anew the blessings of being connected to the great family that we call the Church. My Oblate brothers warmly welcomed me as soon as I got off the plane after a long flight, which included an unexpected 10-hour layover in Houston.
Everyone has been trying in different ways to make life easy for me and to help me adapt to my new environment. On top of the list is Father Gerry Lestrat whom I met some 45 years ago at the Oblate novitiate in Winnipeg. We became good friends and one day, years ago, I invited him to come and join me in Grouard, in northern Alberta, to set up Kisemanito Centre, a training program for young people that became a model for the Bible schools that are now multiplying in Western Canada.
A true brotherGerry came and for seven memorable years we worked alongside many good people of that area. Meaningful relationships are a great gift from God and a rare one. I'm forever grateful for this true friend who is like a brother to me.
When Gerry left Grouard it was to answer a missionary call to Guatemala, Central America, where he learned Spanish and where he's presently leading the Oblate works in that country. He's a great missionary and an awesome support to boot. In various ways he's facilitating my insertion into what might become a new missionary venture for me.
One unexpected surprise and blessing that I experienced as I began to study Spanish in Antigua - the former capital destroyed by earthquakes in the 1600s - was entering into contact with another rich religious tradition, the Franciscan order.
Antigua is known for its language schools, some 60 of them I'm told, catering to foreigners eager to learn Spanish. I lived with a family for a few weeks, but it wasn't like home. Later, I knocked at the door of the Franciscan community and asked for a place to stay while studying Spanish.
The Franciscans welcomed me as a brother and I'm very grateful to them. This religious order started out in Italy with St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most holy and most charismatic persons to grace the Church's calendar of saints. The Franciscans spread out in most countries of the world and are ministering in one of the main churches in Antigua, St. Francis Basilica, in a city dotted with churches - many in ruins caused by violent earthquakes over the centuries.
Masses at MassOn Ash Wednesday after my class I went to the noon Mass but could not get into the church as it was jammed with people, the majority of whom stood for the whole Mass. People earnestly lined up to receive the ritual of the ashes on their forehead.
I concelebrated at the evening Mass and was surprised to see 50 or more Franciscan priests celebrating the Eucharist presided by their provincial superior who hailed from Cuba. They were attending a meeting regarding their ministry in Central America.
Meeting these Franciscans, strangely enough, gave me the occasion to reminisce about my days as a teenager in the Peace River country playing hockey in the wintertime. I remember a hockey game I played where the goalie of the opposite team from McLennan, happened to be a future Franciscan priest living a few miles from my home town, Donnelly.
He shoots, he scoresI remember scoring a goal on him, although I think that my good friend, Father Kevin Lynch (we called him Terry in them days) has gladly forgotten that goal a long time ago. I can't afford to forget it, as this was one of the few goals I ever scored. Kevin did great work in the Edmonton area for many years, especially in the field of Catholic education. I believe he is now the director of the Franciscan retreat house in Lumsden Sask.
Kevin belongs to a great religious order that has produced many saints and has been a forerunner of a life of simplicity, of community and missionary zeal. One of their members who spent most of his life in Antigua, Brother Pedro, was canonized a saint a few years ago. His earthly remains are held in the St. Francis Basilica in Antigua.
Brother Pedro is an important religious figure in Central America revered for his simple lifestyle, his abounding charity and his love of God. I had the privilege of concelebrating the Eucharist several times in that basilica.
Faith and devotion lived out simply and profoundly is at the heart of these people's lives and was witnessed in a refreshing way by the people I met, especially by the three teachers I had. I found it all so refreshing.
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