Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 28, 2005
Faith purges poverty's pain
Guatemalan peasants' joy for the Lord softens life's hardships
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
I was having my breakfast when I heard someone outside the kitchen door calling "Padre." People rarely knock at the door. I don't suppose that it's part of their culture. The call is a more gentle way of letting us know that they're here to see us.
I went out and there was a man with a worn-out shirt on and jeans that needed a good washing. His daughter Cristina, 11, accompanied him. They were from one of our communities, Vera de Canasto II. There are three communities of that name with the numbers I, II and III to distinguish them.
Vera de Canasto II is the smallest of the three, with just a handful of families. They have their land and they're reaping enough corn and beans to tide them over, along with chicken and a few cattle.
The man came right to the point as he pulled a small plastic container out of his jacket. They ran out of consecrated hosts, he told me and had come this way in order to get more hosts for their Sunday services.
I was able to quickly replenish his container with enough hosts to last them for a month or two.
"The Body of Christ," I told him as I handed him the full container. He acknowledged the Lord by bowing his head and received what in our society would be the ciborium made of metal and gold plated as well.
The Lord, born in a stable, knowing the meaning of poverty, felt quite comfortable I'm sure, surrounded by cheap plastic in the inside pocket of this humble and gentle man's jacket.
They were promptly leaving when I asked them at what time they had left home. It was at 4 a.m., he told me. Had they eaten yet today?
"No," he told me. "We'll eat when we get home."
"I'm just having my breakfast," I told them. "Why you don't join me for a cup of coffee?" He gladly accepted my offer.
I had just begun eating my regular morning bowl of oatmeal. I offered each a cup of coffee and pulled out a container of chicken stew I had prepared the day before and filled two bowls and heated it all in the microwave.
I also heated up a few tortillas which is their most common fare. When I ran out of tortillas, I resorted to bread, toasted and buttered. They accepted a second cup of coffee and ate with relish.
I've been to Vera de Canasto III only once - when I first arrived here. It was my first visit to the communities and it turned out to be like the baptism of fire for me. It was a three-hour climb up an endless trail. After awhile, Pedro, our dedicated guide, noticed my puffing and huffing and proposed a break.
A gentle pause
During the pause, he pulled out his machete and cut me a walking stick which was a major help. It was a very long day for me, as we had to return home that same afternoon. I found out going down the trail wasn't much easier than the going up.
Almost every Saturday Pedro shows up at the Chicam n market trying to sell something in order to support his family. Most times he's got a bundle of Jocote wood that has a very rich sap and burns with great intensity. Local people buy it for their kitchen stoves.
Another time, he had carried on his back three poles, about four or five inches in diameter and 14 feet in length. Up and down the mountain trail that frail-looking little man had carried that heavy load on his shoulders. I spoke with him when I met him at the marketplace and felt like buying the stuff from him but didn't. The next time I met him I asked him about it and he told me he was able to sell all three poles easily, which was a relief for me as well as for him probably.
There are many Pedros - good, hardworking and gentle people who are people of faith. Pedro is the catechist and celebrant for his community as he leads the Sunday services in the absence of the priest and prepares people, young and old, for the sacraments.
People like him are truly the salt of the earth and light of the world. And they are the lifeblood of their community. Thus the life of the Church is assured through the hard work of these dedicated and faithful people of God.
Another thing about Pedro is that he's also a happy man, beaming with joy, generous with his time, a true man of God and of the people.
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