Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 17, 2006
Father walks with a 'not so bad saint'
Bereft of everything from education to shoes, this gentle man practises the grace of God
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
One day in late January, four men, leaders of various communities arrived in the late afternoon to travel to a pastoral inter-diocesan meeting in Chajul, three hours away. They left at 5:30 a.m. with Father Sergio driving them with the Toyota truck.
Normally I would have gone too, were it not for the people of Costa Chiquita wanting a Mass to celebrate St. Paul, their patron saint. Father Sergio reminded the Costa Chiquita delegation that the feast of their patron saint is not on Jan. 24, but the 25th. But as they say in Rome "omnia parata sunt" - they're ready for the show, so the show's got to go on.
A natural choice
I wasn't disappointed to miss another meeting. Walking over an hour in hilly country to celebrate Mass with a small community had somehow more appeal to me than a clergy meeting.
Someone from Costa Chiquita was to come and meet me around 6:30 a.m. at the priests' house in Chicam n as the Mass in honour of St. Paul was to be at 8 a.m.
I wasn't surprised when my guide who is the president of Costa Chiquita's community council arrived to serve as my guide at 8:30 a.m., a mere two hours and some late.
Besides walking barefoot all his life, the president strongly exuded a strong moonshine aroma, something close to the good stuff enterprising individuals would come up with up in northern Alberta during my youth.
After greeting me, the president excused himself as he had to meet someone for a few minutes. He'd be back right away, he promised. When he returned, the fragrance about him almost made me swoon. The president was suitably invigorated and was more than ready to take on the hills and my backpack all the way to Costa Chiquita.
As we passed a shop, the owner looked down at my guide with disgust and made it clear that he considered his walking barefoot in the mud an utter disgrace.
It was an unpleasant experience for me to see the proverbial rich man expressing loathing toward another human being who happens to be poor. Probably used to such jibes, my guide simply ignored the man and carried on.
When we arrived at Costa Chiquita, to my considerable surprise, there were some 15 women busy with food in the large kitchen that doubles as dining room, meeting room and occasionally dance hall.
Their children were running all over the place; other women were nursing their young ones. I was offered breakfast. They were disappointed when I said I had already eaten: I've learned not to take too many chances as not every community will offer you breakfast.
Time for Reconciliation
I went to the church and met with a group of men, catechists, ministers, celebrants, musicians and leaders of song. I suggested that this might be a good time for Confession. A number of women came and confessed in Quiche, a language I have not yet learned and doubt that I ever will. Soon a few men also joined in the lineup for Reconciliation.
Mass began eventually and, after my homily on St. Paul, his life and writing, we baptized three children all under one year old. A good singing group of five men with musical instruments was a feast for the ears as they harmonized beautifully.
At the end of Mass, my guide, the shoeless gentleman, came up and delivered a talk to the congregation who listened with respect and attention.
Then a meal was served for all, starting with "the father," of course. It was an abundant and tasty meal with all the credit going to the women who prepared the feast.
Then we set out hiking to Chicam n. I suggested to my guide that when I was able to see Chicam n from up the hills I could manage with no danger of getting lost. However he would have none of it and said he would leave me only when he got to the highway.
Walking by myself, I reflected what a noble soul he was. Not knowing how to read or write, he had nevertheless developed human qualities of generosity, respect of others, and service to his people.
In his humble way, he was contributing greatly to building up the people of God by leading people to Christ and to real involvement in the community. He is a man with few possessions, but a real love for his people. He overlooks the jabs and the taunts thrown at him. He has managed well in spite of his poverty, thanks to the goodness of his heart, a beautiful simplicity and humility, and a willingness to serve his people and his Church.
The people are not fools. They recognize his leadership potential, despite his appearance. Humbly he continues to serve despite the taunts, the mockery and the verbal jabs he receives. He may not be the greatest saint, but he isn't a bad one either.
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