Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 29, 2005
Guatemala's lay leaders keep the Church alive
So many parishioners, so many churches, so few priests
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Early this morning I was hearing voices outside my door. Who might that be? Being nosy by nature I went out and saw two sisters and Father Sergio ready to go.
But to where? To the Beleju area with its three communities, each having its own church and a total population of some 8,000 parishioners. Two of the three churches are huge and each can accommodate 1,000 people.
Then I remembered that today was a day for training the catechists of that area which, besides Beleju, includes another 30 communities. It will be an all-day affair with over 400 participants expected to attend.
Behold the sisters
One might wonder how two priests only can serve the spiritual needs of some 30,000 parishioners which is the population of the Chicaman parish. The secret is simple. Father Sergio and I are not alone. The sisters are a great help.
More important are the hundreds of trained catechists, ministers and "celebrants" who are the life blood of the parish. Some are prepared to journey with young couples who are planning their marriage. Others are preparing parents for the Baptism of their children. Courses are offered them for these important steps in their lives.
Others are providing religious instructions at all levels, from the first communicants to the teenagers. Some are visiting homes, bringing prayer and the Eucharist to the sick and the elderly who can no longer make it to church.
People are happy to help out, happy to be involved concretely in the mission of the Church. Not only are they trained to prepare people for various sacraments, many are also trained to teach and to preach and they're doing a great job of it.
This brings to mind the prophetic work of Oblate Father Ubald Duchesneau who, out of St. Albert, has reached out to First Nations communities in southern Alberta as well as in the dioceses of St. Paul, Grouard and Mackenzie for several decades.
He has been pastor and teacher, and he's taught me all the philosophy I know, not to mention biology, Latin, chemistry, religion, French, hockey and much more - all this out of Edmonton's College St-Jean as it was known then.
In the last 20 some years , Duchesneau has been teaching the Scriptures to adult students, from the Blackfoot and Blood people east and south of Calgary to other dioceses in Western Canada.
He's been a one-man crusade, bringing the Good News to countless people and empowering the laity to teach and to preach the Word of God. He's been a prophet of sorts and, as prophets' experience, he's not been always understood by all. However the ones who needed to learn from his teaching did understand and grew from it and have been key in helping the Church to grow in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Here in Guatemala, the Quiche Diocese in which I work has had its Father Duchesneaus for decades now. They are sisters mainly, along with a number of trained lay people who have taken courses and specialized in a variety of fields: theology, pastoral work and especially the Scriptures.
I have not been involved in teaching in Guatemala. However I've been celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments such as Baptism, Reconciliation, Marriage and the Anointing of the Sick. Mercifully the area of training and empowering lay people to minister in many areas, especially that of teaching the faith, appears to be in good shape.
On the road again
As a missionary, I find myself celebrating the sacraments a lot but also preaching in the context of the Eucharist especially. I've been preparing homilies, several a week, as I'm on the road a lot visiting communities. Having more than 30 churches to look after, I realize that each visit is a very full day as people have many pastoral and spiritual needs.
I work on my homilies a lot and try to prepare strong and relevant messages. One limitation however is that the majority of people cannot understand Spanish and I don't speak any of the indigenous languages. That is why the local catechists and celebrants preside and preach at services in the absence of a priest and they communicate the faith to their people in various languages. After the homily, I invite them to share its core message in their own indigenous languages.
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