Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 18, 2005
Judge one's soul, not soles
A barefoot peasant teaches a learned priest how to see
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
On this Saturday afternoon, Sister Rosa and I set out for Costa Chiquita, a community up in the hills that is normally accessed by foot or, if one insists, by a winding up-and-down primitive road that the pickup with power on the four wheels will manage, but not without letting me know with loud roars that it's not particularly amused.
After climbing a set of hills, things level off and we arrive at a soccer field where young men are playing. A rather attractive church built of painted cement blocks awaits us. People soon started coming in as the time for the Mass was approaching.
A simple place
The leaders invited me to the hall, which has a dirt floor and in the middle an open fire pit where food was being prepared. I accepted a tepid cup of coffee. Then I went to the church for the sacrament of Reconciliation. As there were no confessionals, we celebrated the sacrament openly face to face.
A few weeks before, after Mass in Chicaman, a young man from Costa Chiquita came to see me and asked for a meeting with his family and his fianc‚'s family as they were preparing their wedding. So after Mass I went to the church hall and there were about 15 people waiting for me. I shook hands with everybody and then we sat down to talk about the wedding. The young man was 20, but his bride-to-be was not yet 16.
I raised objections about her age and probable lack of maturity for the responsibility of marriage. The parents argued that regardless of her age we should go forward with the wedding as the two young people were living together and that she was already pregnant.
I took the parents to task, reminding them of some beliefs and practices that are basic in the Church's view of marriage. They left somewhat miffed and they did not show up at church on this Saturday, which was the day they had mentioned for the wedding. I felt bad for them to a point, but this is also a way of sending a message to the whole community regarding marriages and its practice in the church.
After Mass, sister had a workshop with young women and girls. So I went to the truck to get rid of my backpack. I opened the door of the truck and absentmindedly put the truck keys on the seat. After locking the truck I realized the key was on the front seat.
My only alternative was to walk back to Chicaman to get my extra set of keys. I asked some of the young men playing soccer if one would come with me as I did not know the trail. So they went and got this old man - a good 10 years younger than me - whom I had seen before in Chicaman. His name was Dominic, I found out. What was particular about the man was that he had no shoes and always walked barefoot and probably did so all his life.
So we set out downhill on a narrow path. I followed him and watched as he walked over stone and pebbles with the same ease as I with my good walking boots. We conversed along the way and soon we were in Chicaman.
An act of grace
I retrieved my extra set of keys and we set out, but uphill this time. I was determined to keep up with the man, but soon I started puffing and slowed down a bit. My guide was no fool and he was aware of my struggle to keep up with him. So he slowed down and eventually stopped altogether mentioning that we should pause and rest a little.
He did not need the rest but he was sensitive to my need for a break. I did not have to ask him to stop, he did so on his own, sparing my feelings and pride by suggesting that "we" should rest a little.
He proceeded to engage me in conversation, sharing about the area and the community.
As he talked I discovered that this man, who probably hadn't had a good wash in weeks and had never attended school, was a true gentleman.
He didn't have shoes or clean clothes, but he had class.
He had a beautiful soul.
I learned not to judge people but rather to give any stranger of any condition my full respect because here is a human being, a brother, a sister, a child of God, regardless of appearances.
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