Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
Priest's path is a rocky one
Guatemalan rodes shred this missionary's timetable, but the faithful people are patient
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Early last week, I left Chicamán for a mission tour. In three days I was to visit five of our 69 communities bringing the good news to the people and receiving it from them as well.
I set out early, eager to get to Pancul for the 10 a.m. Mass, which normally includes the sacrament of Reconciliation as well as the Baptism of children, and sometimes the odd marriage.
I had driven about 45 minutes on a twisted and bumpy road when I was stopped by a huge rock in the middle of the road. It was about five feet high and five feet around. The country is mountainous and, with days of rain, avalanches of mud and rocks occur frequently.
A rock and a hard place
Four road workers had started attacking the rock with heavy hammers, doing it little damage. The rock was blocking the way. On one side was the hill from which it rolled off and on the other side was a steep cliff some 500 feet straight down. Incredibly, the leader of the group urged me on.
I left the truck to check the situation up close. There was perhaps five feet between the rock and the precipice. I assured him that I would wait all day if necessary until the rock was removed.
So I waited. There was little traffic with few vehicles lining up on either side. After finding the uselessness of hitting the rock with sledgehammers, the workers tried a new technique. They got a few used tires and set them against the rock. Then they poured gas on them and set them on fire.
After the tires were burned they poured water in the fissures of the rock and they were rewarded by chunks of the rock falling to the side. Then the boss asked me if I would help by picking up a couple of used tires on the back of my truck. It's just down the road a bit, he said.
The boss was less than candid but I didn't mind too much. So a dozen kilometers later we got to an old garage, hauled four huge tires and unloaded them by the rock. The action of heat and water got the better of the stone and after a four-hour wait I was finally able to move on.
I drove as fast as I could to get to Pancul. I left the truck behind as the road ended and the walking trail began. A man from Pancul had been waiting for me for a long time, never giving up. I was over five hours late for the 10 a.m. Mass.
The people had gone home, but word got around that I had finally arrived and within a half hour the church was full. This was to be one of six Masses that will be celebrated there this year. People sang with great gusto and there was joy all around.
Time to worship
As Mass ended, I quickly left with a guide for La Campana where the Mass was to be celebrated at 3 p.m. We hit the trail and walked quickly.
By the time we got there an hour later, it was dark. The church quickly filled up. There were many confessions to be heard. Then there was a long list of intentions and mass offerings that was read.
People were not in a rush.
Knowing that the next Mass would be in two months, it was as if they wanted to make the event last as long as possible. It was past 8 p.m. by the time we started the Eucharist.
Since there is no electricity in these isolated communities, an array of candles provided a prayerful atmosphere. Mass seemed to go by quickly, but incredibly it was 11 p.m. by the time it was over.
A small building sat next to the church - the priest's little quarter. It had a wooden bed, and I mean wood - no mattress or pillow - no doubt a luxury for them as most of the people sleep on the ground. I had my compact, warm sleeping bag and quickly went to sleep. The next two days were uneventful as I made it on time to the next three communities.
On Friday I attended the blessing of the new church that the people of La Lima had built. They received financial help from CAPS, an international organization that funds churches in the Third World by making available the material for construction. Local people provided the work and only the master builder was paid a salary, 50 quetzals ($8) a day. Behind the church built of cement blocks one could see the old primitive chapel built of sod.
Good Albertan souls
In the Chicamán parish, seven of our 70 communities are still without a church and another four are in dire need of repair and upgrading. On my recent visit to Alberta, I knocked on a few doors with cap in hand and I experienced again the awesome generosity of Albertans. With the money received, we'll be able to buy the material to build the churches, with the people contributing the land deeded to the diocese.
The people cannot afford to buy the building material as the average working man makes only about $3 a day. But they will contribute their skills and time to build their new church. If you wish to help, please feel free to send a donation to the Missionary Oblates, 21 Meadowview Drive, St. Albert AB, T8N 2R9. A receipt for income tax purposes will be forwarded to you and your gift will reach us in its entirety.
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