Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 31, 2005
Look to your own flock for priests
People hunger for the Scriptures
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
The new bishop of the Diocese of Quiche in Guatemala, Bishop Mario Alberto Molina Palma came for a formal visit to the parish of Chicam n where I've been working for the last year. It was a great event for the people who prepared well for the visit.
I joined a group of people who gathered at Puente Seco, the first community of our parish that the bishop was to meet.
The bishop was ordained as bishop only a few months ago. He's 56, in the prime of life, a theologian and seminary professor and a very down-to-earth guy. He drove his own van for the four hours it takes to get to Chicam n.
A people's bishop
He stopped his vehicle, got out and shook hands with the 200 people gathered there. Then he produced his bishop's wooden staff, gave the keys of his vehicle to Sister Rosa and led the crowd walking through a couple more villages all the way to the Chicam n church. By that time, his followers had swelled to more than 2,000.
The church's courtyard where he celebrated Mass was full of people. He took time to freshen up, had a cup of coffee, met with the parish council, then he led us into worship.
The next day, we drove to Beleju, a very populated area over an hour drive from Chicam n. Along the way, we stopped three times as people and countless school children had gathered to welcome us with arches of trees over the road, an abundance of flowers and welcoming speeches by the spiritual leaders of the community. Then we were invited to share a bit of food.
Our ultimate destination was the soccer field, a beautiful natural enclave surrounded by higher grounds where the people sat. The people numbered in the thousands. Groups of singers alternated with accompaniment by guitars and other musical instruments.
To my surprise, the bishop spoke in Quiche without the help of notes. Quiche is one of the local indigenous languages of the area. How he came to know that particular language is a mystery to me. He also preached in Spanish.
After Mass, we were invited for lunch at the hall of the San Pedro community nearby. After we finished eating, one of the local leaders stood up and presented a request to the bishop - that they be given their own parish, independent of Chicam n as well as their own priest. He felt that the request was justified as their area included 14 communities, adding up to nearly 20,000 people.
The bishop's response was direct and to the point. He said that presently in his diocese there are seven parishes that include large numbers of communities that have no priest at all. Where was he to find a priest for a community that is already being served by two priests when he can't find a priest for these seven large Catholic areas?
He told them that their request, reasonable as it might appear, just cannot be met because he's suffering a shortage of priests.
Then he gave them a challenge by asking them: "Where do priests hail from? They don't grow in trees," he stated. "They come from families such as your families. And unless you provide us with priests from your own families, we won't be able to serve the people as they deserve in our Church."
Priests come from away
He pointed out that of the two priests serving the vast Chicam n parish with its 70 communities, one is from Mexico and the other one from faraway Canada.
I hope his challenge has been heard and that people will pray and speak about the priesthood to their children and that vocations will flourish.
But there is also a message that has been sent to Father Sergio and me. The message is that the people are hungry for God and that they feel we're not doing enough. I think we can be more present to people than we actually are by offering them one Mass every two months.
I also feel that people are hungry for teaching, not just for a rare and brief sacramental presence. One important area is opening for them - the Scriptures. We need Oblate Father Ubald Duchesneau and Redemptorist Father John Spicer who for the last few decades and more have been leading groups of people in the knowledge of the word of God in Western Canada. We need them both and more in Guatemala.
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