Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 21, 2005
A backpacking priest's diary
Your bountiful donations are building, repairing churches
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
After a three-week break in Alberta I've returned to Chicaman, Guatemala, one of the two parishes the Oblates serve in this poor, small but beautiful country.
I arrived late in the night, had a few winks and got up early to accompany to the airport my former leader in this mission, Father Roberto Smith, who was heading for Winnipeg to preside at his father's funeral.
Bob, as I call him, will not return to Guatemala. After 11 years of dedicated service to the people of Peru and Guatemala, he will have a break and then return to ministry somewhere in Canada. Thanks to him the Oblates were able to accept the care of Chicaman. I'm left with young Mexican Father Sergio who is serving as pastor.
The journey begins
Shortly after my return, I took off early one morning with Benedicto, the all-around support man here. An hour and a half later, we arrived at Modelo Aguacate where I parked the truck by the church. We got our backpacks on and started a two-hour walk to Modelo, a community of 12 families.
After hearing people's confession, we celebrated the Eucharist. The ladies served us a good meal and shortly after we walked for about an hour and half to Agua Blanca, a community of some 35 families. Many people celebrated the sacrament of Reconciliation. Then we celebrated a lively Mass around 4 p.m. Later, we were served a tasty meal of meat and vegetables accompanied by a good cup of tea.
We headed out early for bed. I was treated with a straw mat bed in a small room built for the visiting priest. Mercifully I had a good, long rest in my sleeping bag.
Early the next day, after a quick breakfast, we set out on a two-hour hike to Plan Grande, a community of about 25 families. The hike went well with manageable hills. Again, we offered the sacrament of Reconciliation as well as the Eucharist to a devout community.
The real challenge of this mission tour was about to begin as we left Plan Grande for Modelo Aguacate where the truck was waiting. It was a two-hour hike, straight up. It was a challenge for the young guide and Benedicto who hiked with me, and not a bit easier for this senior citizen.
Puffing and sweating, I finally made it to the top. Once there we still had another two-hour hike to Modelo Aguacate. Two days later I could feel sharp pain in my upper legs if I even lightly touched them, an experience I've never had before. Certainly my leg muscles had been overworked.
On the way to Modelo, we came upon a community called La Lima, where eight men were working on a building project. I stopped and asked them what they were building. "Our new church," they said. "A Catholic church?" I asked. "Yes, of course," they responded."
Fifty feet away stood a miserable little sod building with a cross on top. It was their old church that was being replaced by a new one made of cement foundations, cement blocks and a tin roof.
The new church is six metres wide by 14 metres long. They're a small community of a dozen families, but they foresee that it will grow.
I asked them how they got the money to buy the material. They received 35,000 quetzals or $5,850 from a Third World aid program. They're short and asked if we could help them. I asked how much they needed to finish the job. "About 2,000 quetzals," they said. About $350.
I promised they could count on us to deliver. That is because there is money left over from the purchase of the truck that many of you contributed to buy last year. In the parish, seven new churches are being built this year and four more are being renovated. We'll be financially supporting these 11 building projects.
Speaking of the truck, when we finally arrived at Modelo Aguacate, I was relieved that in less than two hours I'd be home and in the shower. I put the key in the injection. Nothing! The vehicle was dead. I discovered that I had left a light on when I left two days before.
We'll get a truck nearby and get a boost, I thought. We asked around. There's not a single vehicle in the community. The closest truck was in Pajuil, several kilometres away. The elders selected two young men who started out on the trot. Within two hours an 18-year-old three-tonne truck ambled in. It couldn't make it up the hill.
So we got the crowd to push the pickup down the hill. Then we used the cables to start the pickup. The lights came on, but the motor refused to start.
We rode with the truck back to Pajuil in order to use the phone, the only one in a wide area. After several tries we finally got through to the sisters in Chicaman who phoned a local mechanic by the name of Paco, who came shortly before noon the next day.
In 10 minutes the pickup was gurgling like a charm. In another hour and a half, I found myself taking my first shower in several days, thanking God for an eventful, great and blessed week.
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