Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 12, 2005
Canadian dollars buy bricks, mortar
Rural Guatemalan parishioners finally build two, long-awaited churches
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
This afternoon I went to visit a couple of communities in dire need of a new church. I drove the truck for some 40 minutes and arrived at the community of La Cumbre de las Flores which translates as "the hill of flowers." It is a beautiful area with rolling hills. I parked close to the little chapel they've been using for more than 20 years.
Presently there are a few problems with the chapel. First, it is too small. The community has grown but it hasn't. When it rains, the water runs into the chapel as it is located on the lower part of a hill.
Finally, the chapel is not on church ground, but on someone's land. Diocesan policy is that the land title for a church or chapel has to be in the name of the diocese. There's been no problem with the owner that I know of, but the time has come to correct this situation.
It so happens that a local woman, Maria, decided to give part of her land to the diocese so a new church could be built there. This afternoon I met this wonderful woman who is so pleased that we've accepted her offer. The church will be built after the bean crop has been picked in two or three months from now.
Maria is beaming as we talk about the church becoming a reality. Around her house are gentle hills all green with bean plants coming to flower. The abundant rains have guaranteed a great harvest.
Two men, members of the local church council, met with Maria and me. We talked about a plan they will devise for the church, pulling ideas from other members of the community. They are quite pleased with the proposal that it be eight by 16 metres, or about 26 feet by 54 feet, very adequate for the population it will serve and a huge improvement over the former chapel where 30 was a crowd.
They will also hire a foreman who will run the project and do much of the work with local help. He alone will be offered the going stipend: 60 quetzals or $10 a day, which is the norm for a foreman. All other workers, members of the community, will contribute their time with no pay. They will start building in late January 2006. They plan to meet with the mayor to ask for support such as building material or however the mayor can help them.
After my jaunt in the Cumbre, I stopped on my way home at Las Culebras where I was to meet the president of the church council, Senor Ramon Calderon. They are also on the list for a church.
I've celebrated Mass a few times in a very small church five by six metres where the cement blocks are merely laid down, not cemented. A parishioner owns the land and allows the community to temporarily use that land for the chapel.
A 10-minute walk from Ramon's house will bring you to the community's hall - really a huge gym. Right beside it is the small plot of land they hoped to buy to build a small chapel. They already have 1,000 cement blocks for their church
Just the right place
We felt that the gym would grossly overshadow a small chapel there. Ramon's point was that it's a central location for the community. A good point, I thought, but why not explore other plots of land in that central area?
The next day I met with Ramon again and he had another piece of land in mind: A property is for sale just across from the little church. Walking in that bushy land is like walking in a jungle with exotic trees and plants fighting for space to grow. We agreed that it would be a very adequate location - central and right off the highway.
The local community must secure and pay for the land for church building projects. The parishioners are also expected to provide the work needed to build the church. Only the foreman is paid a salary. The people don't have the financial resources to pay for materials such as cement blocks for the walls, cement floor metal bars and tin roof.
However, through the generous support of many of you readers, we are able to take care of these costs. We've calculated that the cost for the basic material required for an average church eight by 16 metres would amount to 35,000 quetzals or $6,000: not an impossible amount in Canada, but a definite no-go in Guatemala where the daily wage for a working person is 20 quetzals for an eight-hour shift or $3.33.
In this particular case of Las Culebras Community, the members of the local church committee asked for the Church (meaning the Oblates) to pay for the land and that the parishioners would look after the material and do the construction at no cost to the Church.
Since the building material will be worth more than twice the cost of the land, we didn't bicker too much and accepted the deal. The money saved will go to help other communities get their church built or upgraded.
The papers will be done shortly. Within the next few months, Las Culebras will celebrate their faith in a spanking new church with no debt thanks to your generosity and some creative initiatives by members of the local church council.
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