Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 15, 2004
Joyful faith rises out of cruelty
Guatemalan people's spirit serves as an example for all
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
In Guatemala, I've just returned from Uspantan, one of the 66 communities forming the Parish of Chicaman and a much larger community than Chicaman itself where I live. I concelebrated a Confirmation Mass along with Padre Axel, the vicar general of the Quiche Diocese presiding and four other priests.
This diocese has been without a bishop for more than three years. "What is the Vatican doing?" one might ask. Perhaps they're doing as much as they can, but there might not be any takers.
Like Bishop Denis Croteau who's now handling two very isolated dioceses - Mackenzie-Fort Smith and Yukon - with hardly any priests.
When he retires, the Vatican might knock at many reluctant doors trying to find a priest who'd like to be saddled with a challenging situation. To his credit, Bishop Denis is doing an awesome job.
Pastor of so many
Our Father Axel who's also pastor of a large parish, Santa Cruz del Quiche where the bishop has his seat, is also doing the best he can as pastor of a parish of 80 communities as well as administrator of the diocese. This morning with a full church - surely more than 800 people - he spoke for a full hour.
In leaving the church, I heard one of the sisters who was not impressed with his long homily and she clearly expressed her view on that. I guess she felt bad for the young people.
The 190 young teenagers did not seem to mind though. They stood up in line in the main aisle and the side aisles and never sat for an incredible 3.5 hours.
All I saw was a lot of smiles all around and a hint of sweat on some brows. Father Axel eventually ran out of things to talk about so he invited Ottawa-born Oblate Father Roberto to help him do the anointing of Confirmation.
Father Axel worked his way down and up the main aisle anointing left and right, while Father Robert, the pastor of Chicaman handled the side aisles.
The choir never missed a beat nor did they run out of songs, although toward then end they were looking into their songbooks at pages they hadn't visited for a long time.
When Communion time came Father Axel took the main aisle, distributing Communion to all the young people who had just been confirmed while another priest and I took the side aisle.
Then the rest of the community was invited to partake also of the Eucharist.
Taking it to the streets
After the Confirmation Mass, Father Axel led the congregation in a spontaneous procession in the streets of the area which lasted at least 45 minutes. Was it to openly assert the strength and enthusiasm of the Catholic population that has taken a lot of blows from the evangelical groups over the past years and give the parishioners a new sense of pride and confidence?
He also led the singing aided by a surprisingly good portable sound system that was generated by what looked like eight flashlight batteries. Then the crowd slowly dispersed as the stomachs began giving urgent commands. It was well after 1:30 p.m. when the clergy, the sisters and many people involved in the church found their way to the hall downstairs where a fine table was awaiting us.
After lunch was over, I was attracted to a series of pictures of different people on the basement wall. I inquired who they were.
"They're the local martyrs who were killed in the war of the early 1980s at the time of the infamous Rios Mont," I was told. A few of them were catechists, some were parents, most were young, both women and men.
It prompted me to pause as I felt that here was holy ground, not unlike the catacombs of Rome, or the site of the holocaust like Auschwitz in Germany - places in our world that remind us of the struggles of the best in humankind over the worst that the human mind can concoct. These are sacred places that must give us pause: to thank the ones who shed their blood for the well being of their people and of humankind.
And also to remind us that close to the surface, there is in each one of us the potential to be hateful. But our true destiny is for love, not violence; for forgiveness, not revenge.
The faces of the young people of Uspantan receiving the sacrament of the Holy Spirit reflected a spirit of joy, of love, of gentle and true acceptance of the new power they had just received. Yet, I suspect they were not without realizing that the real challenges are yet to come.
The healing of this nation is far from completed. The forces of evil are still present here as incredible violence is the daily bread of too many.
May they continue throughout their lives to be given the true spirit of love, joy and gentleness that was expressed so touchingly in their faces today.
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