Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 14, 2005
Oblate pre-novices bring joy, life to a parish
Different cultures bring different values to situations
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
For the last couple of weeks, the parish of Chicamán, Guatemala, where I serve as missionary has been blessed by the presence of three young men averaging 20 years of age. They are Oblate pre-novices. They've completed the necessary schooling to enter the seminary and they are presently on a "mission experience."
Father Sergio and I have taken them along whenever we went out to the villages. While I was hearing Confessions or getting Baptism or wedding papers up to snuff, they'd be around meeting people, sharing with them. After the homily, I'd invite one of them to share his story with the folks. It's been a good experience for them as well as for the people and me.
The Oblates began working in Guatemala in 1988, about 16 years ago, as a mission of the Oblate Province of Mexico. At first there were five priests. Now there are 12 of us. So far we have no Guatemalan priests, but in less than two years we'll be ordaining the first Guatemalan Oblate.
We are currently supporting 35 young men preparing for the priesthood and missionary life. The youngest ones, about 10 of them, are finishing their high school program in Playa Grande, the other Oblate Parish, which includes 145 villages, double the number of communities that we're serving in Chicamán.
Then there are pre-novices and novices; four are doing their philosophy studies while another six are studying theology.
What first struck me about these three young men was that they are a happy bunch, laughing a lot, teasing and full of life. Typically they have their turn to be late for Morning Prayer.
They eat heartily like healthy young men do. And they are always willing to help out. They particularly enjoy going out to the communities and we never leave home without them, even if the odd time they'd prefer staying at home, to do what? Watch TV, what else? They never had TV at home so it is novel and entertaining to them.
Close to the people
These are men with a long experience of poverty and they've told me that one reason they chose to join the Oblates is our dedication to serving the poor and that we are close to the people. Don't all priests and missionaries have an attraction to the poor? I'd like to think so. Our regular visits to the small villages and communities seem to be something that struck them, as it was a good and real mission experience.
One day, Dario told me that he'd like to learn to drive the truck. "Please teach me how to drive the truck," he insisted. At first I just brushed him off having visions of him driving down one of the many cliffs in the area. But he insisted.
So one day I invited him to come with me. Near Chicamán there's an open field that is used primarily for sports. On weekdays there's no activity there so I showed him how to start the truck, how to put it in gear and the whole catastrophe. I went out three times and now I want to take him on the highway and let him drive.
Teaching a skill
In this country, there is no control like a driver's licence. But the terrain is such that much skill and prudence are required. Still I hope to provide him with the accomplishment of driving a truck down the road.
It's a small thing for us, but for a 20-year-old man in this culture of poverty, it's the accomplishment of a lifetime. This experience might do more for his vocation and his sense of self-worth than a lot of classes and sermons.
When the three of them left us after a month I felt a sense of loss. Their presence had created a sense of community with common prayer time, common meals and common out-reaching activities. Now the regular program is kicking in and the familiar rhythm of life has returned and will command our weekly activities for months to come. All I can say is: "Bring it on!"
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