Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 24, 2005
Guatemala and Northern Alberta redefine the word 'poor'
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
While you're sitting in your warm 70-degree homes, with minus 25-degree weather outside, here I am in supposedly balmy Guatemala shivering in my cold room with my sweater and jacket on trying to keep warm enough to write these few lines.
I never thought that my long-john underwear would cross my mind this winter, but it has. I can't say how cold it is - I have yet to see a thermometer or a thermostat in this country. I would guess that it might be around five degrees.
My fingers are not quite ready to drop off my hands so I just keep on typing. A warm cup of tea will help. Wait, I'll be right back.
Busy, busy, busy
These last few days before Christmas have been busy. On feast days, of course, we can't cover all 67 communities we serve in the Chicaman parish even with three priests. Things will change radically as our fearless leader and pastor, Father Roberto of Ottawa, has decided to return to Canada in February after having served in Peru and Guatemala for 11 years. I hope to serve as many years or more in this country. He has made a considerable contribution while here and I hope to emulate somewhat what he's been able to do.
I went to El Zapote recently, a community about an hour from Chicaman where I live. One has to drive on a narrow road going down into a deep valley. I had been there previously so it was like visiting old friends.
The highlight of the trip was when I met 19-year-old Luiz Rubelsi Gutierrez Pineda who told me that he'd like to be a missionary. If it all works out, he could begin his formation as an Oblate candidate in a few months when he begins his high school year at our pre-novitiate program in the capital. Since like most candidates he has no financial resources whatever, we would be supporting him: books, tuition fees, room and board.
A few days before Christmas I went with Father Sergio to a small isolated community called Cumbre del Amay. It seemed like a slow, long trip with roads that barely deserve the name. Cumbre means summit and indeed it was high up the mountain. Looking down into a deep valley, the area is most beautiful, reminding one of scenes of Switzerland.
About 40 people came to Mass. There was a Mariachi band ably played by a man and two young boys who seemed to be no more than 10-years-old.
After Mass, the people offered us supper in a back room of the church where there was a simple kitchen with an open fire pit. I was thankful for the meal that was shared with a few people.
On Christmas afternoon, Guillermo, a native of the Chicaman area and another one of our seminarians on Christmas leave with his family, showed up at the rectory. He asked me if I could come with the truck and pick up his pregnant mother as she and Guillermo's father were on their way to the Uspantan Hospital, some 25 km away.
Her ninth child
His mother was in labour, he told me. Guillermo is 25 and I thought he was joking. No, he assured me that she was indeed pregnant with her ninth child and that she was about to give birth. I hurriedly got to the truck and in no time, Guillermo and I were cruising down the gravel road.
Within half an hour, we met Guillermo's parents waiting on the side of the road as a ride had dropped them off there. Guillermo's mom, a petite, greying woman, looking very pregnant, is 45-years-old. I inquired about the local Chicaman hospital. Guillermo told me that it is only a first-aid station while Uspantan, a half an hour away, has excellent facilities and experienced doctors.
That was good news. We dropped off the couple at the hospital and I'm awaiting the good news.
I could not help but think of my own mother who gave birth to 14 children and raised us when there was no running water in the house, no electricity for many years, and no central heating.
We use to haul snow in a barrel into the house for water. We cut wood for the stove and hauled in coal for the furnace. I fed our two cows, cleaned the barn, and led the cows to the pond where I'd cut through the ice to bring them water.
In the evening, I'd deliver quarts of fresh milk to a few houses. At 10 cents a quart, it helped Mom to buy other things for the house.
Poverty did us little damage as we didn't know we were poor since we were all happy and very healthy.
Being now in a Third World country brings back good memories of the time we were Third World people, but never knew it.
Getting to know the people in Guatemala, I believe they too are so busy living their lives they do not worry about their economic status.
Who is really poor?
Who is really rich?
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.