Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 20, 2006
The bells toll because of Emile's gift
Esquipulas parishioners can hear the Church calling because of a farmer's generous heart
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Two of the 70 communities of the parish of Chicam n in Guatemala, Central America are San Pablo Pajuil and Esquipulas Pajuil. Initially they were one community.
But as often happens, division shows its ugly face. Jealousies crop up, a neighbour is offended, a daughter gets pregnant and before you know it, the war is on. Not the kind of war that kills people, but one that strikes a death blow to relationships.
So some people packed up their limited belongings and moved across the creek. Even brothers and sisters became enemies . . . sort of.
San Pablo Pajuil and Esquipulas Pajuil became two separate communities. Instead of one church, now two churches serve the same population. They are large churches and most times when I celebrated Mass in either community, the church was full.
Now there are Esquipulas people who don't attend church there. They'd rather attend at Pajuil. And there are people living in Pajuil who prefer to attend services in Esquipulas. The pattern of division and distrust is still at work.
One difference between the two churches is that Pajuil has a bell on top of its church. Esquipulas' church doesn't have a bell, but some of the people there want one very much.
So one day, after celebrating Mass at Esquipulas, I was approached by three young men who had a request: Could I buy them a bell for their church? "You appear to have done quite well without a bell all these years. What's the compelling reason for this request?" I asked.
They were quite candid: "Pajuil has one and we want one."
They had been at Coban, one of the largest communities in Guatemala, and discovered a bell manufacturer there. They saw a bell that attracted their attention: it was three feet high, weighed 118 pounds and the cost was only 40,000 quetzals or $6,000 Canadian.
They wanted me to buy that bell for their community. The major benefit would be that they would have a much larger bell than Pajuil. I asked them where they would hang the bell. They would build a tower for it. Who would pay for the tower? "Well, you of course," they said.
I told them we did not have that kind of money and that our priority is to support six communities who are each in the process of building a church. I told them that for the cost of that bell we could provide the material to build a whole church.
I told them that their attitude to their neighbouring community wasn't Christian and that I'd have nothing to do with their project of securing a bell. Case closed!
Or so I thought.
A few months later, a delegation of three men from Esquipulas came to Chicam n to meet with me. These were older men who appeared to be in their 40s and all were members of their community council.
After the usual courtesies, they came to the point: They needed a church bell. I cut them off, telling them that I'd been there before.
They recognized that the younger group who had approached me was wrong in how they dealt with the issue. The main reason a bell would be useful is because the people are poor and cannot afford clocks or watches. They hold several activities at the church such as Bible study, catechism classes, preparation for various sacraments, gatherings of women.
People, not knowing what time it is, don't know when these important activities are taking place. The bell would remind them of these activities.
This more mature, sensitive approach to a real need led me to change my mind.
Now, where was I to find a bell and the money to purchase it? It just so happened that I was in Canada in December. I was visiting my brother Emile - farmer by profession and collector extraordinaire by vocation. I spent a day sharing my missionary experiences with him and his wife Lorraine.
I mentioned the bell issue with the community of Esquipulas. After sharing awhile, we took a break and Emile disappeared momentarily. He returned with a brand new 27 kg church bell, all wrapped up and ready to go to Guatemala as part of my baggage. It went through the X-ray machine at the Edmonton airport and was allowed to fly.
The first opportunity I had, I went to Esquipulas to bring the bell to the people. After an hour-long drive, I got to Beleju, a large centre in our parish. I forgot that it was Friday, market day for this community, so that the one road through the community was blocked by merchants of all sizes and colours. One thing was certain: I could not go through to Esquipulas for the next four or five hours.
Then I bumped into a few people of Esquipulas, among them members of the community council who had asked me for the bell. They were so happy when I opened the cardboard box in the back of my pickup, they decided to take the bell to their community immediately.
One of the counsellors tied the box containing the bell to his forehead and, bending forward the way men do when they carry huge bags of beans or corn on their back, began walking. I walked at his side for an hour and a half. When we arrived at the church, we assembled the six or seven pieces and got the bell functioning.
All that remained was to hook it up inside the church steeple.
The following day Father Sergio, our pastor, went to celebrate Sunday Mass at Esquipulas. Returning, he informed me that he had blessed the bell that was hooked up in the bell tower of the church and that it was ringing beautifully.
He also "baptized" the bell giving it the name of Lorraine in honour of my sister-in-law, (Emile's wife) who is presently struggling with her health.
I told the Esquipulas people about her and they promised they would pray for her. I know they will. And so will I.
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