Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 13, 2004
Trucking, trekking down Guatemala way
Our Northern Alberta Oblate finds his new terrain challenging
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Not many days ago, I proudly drove my new Toyota truck to Chicaman, some 250 kms, a seven-hour drive that proved to me the quality of the vehicle, especially after we left the blacktop and began the gravel and the pot-hole scene. The truck will prove very useful in getting me or my Oblate brothers to a majority of our 66 communities. A good number of them have no road access however and that will also mean a lot of walking.
My presence here has us planning to substantially increase the number of yearly visits to the communities. Presently, it's six visits a year (one every two months), which includes the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments as well as a community meeting.
Three hour Mass
One Sunday, with Father Sergio I went at San Sebastian where the church holds 800 people and it was full. The Sunday Mass included four weddings and 13 baptisms and it lasted over three hours. The Eucharist is left in every church and chapel and on Sundays, people gather to pray, reflect on the readings and also share Holy Communion.
In September, I launched my ministry in Guatemala. On the first day, young Mexican Oblate Father Sergio and I set out at 7 a.m. for the aldea (community) of Vera de Canasto, while our third member, Father Roberto of Ottawa went to La Puc.
Pedro, a 22-year-old man, had walked two hours down the mountain that morning to meet us and act as our guide. He also insisted on carrying Father Sergio's backpack. He was a gracious and polite young man who did all he could to help us.
After awhile he suggested that I might use a walking stick. At the time I had been thinking of how useful my walking stick was during my pilgrimage in Spain last year. Pedro pulled out his machete hanging from his belt and quickly cut a young tree. After trimming it, he offered me a stick that served me well during the ascent as well as the descent of the mountain.
The walk was incredibly beautiful, but I soon realized that I wasn't in the shape I thought I was. I had to stop a number of times to rest and catch my breath.
When we finally arrived at the aldea, an awesome area, people had already gathered. A beautiful Mass it was, led by Father Sergio. He spoke well and then he graciously invited me to speak. I congratulated them for their beautiful church. It's made of one-inch boards, an incredible 18 inches wide and 14 feet long.
There were a few windows. The roof, made of heavy large intertwined dried leafy branches, protects the people both from the heat of the sun as well as from the rain. The dirt floor was covered with beautiful stringy green plants, which acted as a carpet.
I reminded the people that the real church, more beautiful and precious, was their own community, the friendship they shared, the meaningful relationships they've established among themselves over the years, the working together and their praying together even when the priest is not around. I reminded them that they were indeed the living Body of Christ.
The church was filled to the brim with people occupying even the narrow area around the altar. We celebrated three baptisms. A men's choir led the singing accompanied by guitars. All joined in the singing that I could not understand, but still enjoyed, as they sang in the Quiche language. After the Mass, the women, who had prepared a picnic area nearby, served food aplenty. Plates of rice, beans and a bowl of chicken soup for the priests: poor people living off the land, offering the best that they had. It was very good.
Nicola was our designated guide as we took a different road home. His wife died in childbirth, he told me. There were no doctors around. The women did all they could to save her but she died, a mere 20 years old, leaving Nicola with two little girls. He walked with us for three hours and carried Sergio's backpack.
I reminded the people that the real church was their own community, the friendship they shared, the working together and their praying together, even when the priest is not around.
Pause for a dip
Toward the end of that walk, I felt very fatigued. Then a beautiful river appeared out of nowhere. I decided to take a swim. The water was just right and it was the best swim I've had in years.
I did not have much energy. One reason was probably that we had forgotten to take enough water with us. We cannot drink the local water because our bodies are not immune to the various little beasts that thrive in it and can make one very sick.
So for the three-hour walk I had to stop now and then to recover my strength. What I would have given for a bottle of purified water!
After I got home, I must have drank a full litre of it.
Once at home, I had a good nap and soon I felt as good as new. I intend to get myself in shape and every day walk for an hour or two. I will be ready and in shape next time I set out.
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