Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 19, 2005
Blood, sweat and tears = a church
Guatemalan peasants endure back-breaking labour to build their place of worship
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
I never thought that I'd be involved with church building projects.
A couple of days ago, I was at La Lagonita where we celebrate Mass under a small thatch roof as there is no Catholic church there yet.
I got to the "church" on time, but there wasn't a soul around. Eventually people came and told me they had no idea that there would be a Mass on this day. That was a signal our information system needs some fine-tuning.
After a while, two men showed up, surprised to see me hanging out there by myself. One of them smelled strongly of alcohol - and this was at 9 a.m. Later, I realized he was the president of the local church council.
I took the opportunity to check them out a bit by telling them that we're ready to move ahead with the construction of their new church. I said I was hoping to meet the church board after Mass, but as there were no people, there will be no Mass.
We could talk now.
I told the men we are as anxious as they to see their church built. I told them that as members of the local church council, they are the people we count on to move forward with the project.
I invited them to spearhead the project, coming up with a plan to be discussed with us. They would also be responsible to put together a budget.
Of great importance also is to find a good "albanil" or a mason who doubles as the project manager.
Of all the workers on the church project, the albanil is the only one to pull in a salary: 60 quetzals a day, or Cdn$10. The president of the church council - leering a little bit through his fumes - announced that he would be the albanil. I wasn't about to argue with him and I thanked him for spearheading the project.
They took off and this morning the president showed up at our door with a good plan, having done a lot of research about costs and had a credible budget that he showed us. The man had done his job well. And to my considerable satisfaction, he was sober.
Take the goat trail
When I reflect on church building projects, I can't help but think of the Buena Vista (Nice View) community lodged way up the hill where probably no one else wanted to go. It's a 45-minute steady climb up the trail on foot, since no road goes there.
Their church, made of wood planks, looks okay from the outside. But inside, one sees the shocking floor with stones sticking up .3 metres above ground. Nearby is a .3 metre hole. One has to watch every step as one could easily get hurt.
Thinking about fixing that floor gives me a cold sweat: How could we haul cement bags, gravel and sand so they could make a decent floor?
I was told that many years ago the people of this parish built huge churches long before the present road system came to be. There was no easy way to get the material up the mountain trails except for people to carry most things on their backs including 50 kilogram cement bags, sand and stones, gravel, lumber, tin sheets for roofing, iron bars.
The price they paid
When one beholds St. Sebastian or San Pedro's churches in the Beleju area of the parish and realizes that these churches can hold more than 800 people, one is amazed at the faith and dedication of these poor indigenous people of a former generation.
And one forgets - but should not - the human cost to bring each stone, each bag of sand or cement, iron rods, wood, tin sheets.
Yet when one beholds the great basilicas such as St. Peter's and St. Paul's in Rome or Santiago de Compostella in Spain, one realizes that all these masterpieces that we hold as great human and artistic treasures were made possible through great amounts of human sweat and tears.
Behind architectural feats are stories forever untold of human determination and will that overcame all obstacles for spiritual and artistic values.
The blood, sweat and tears of Guatemala's little people to bring into being great historical, religious and artistic projects enrich us all. Their hard work and sacrifices are both blessed and honoured and will be for generations.
Buena Vista will have a decent floor in its church. The cost of that floor will be in human sweat and hard work. But it will be done.
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