Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 22, 2006
Thirty men throw the rope of life
Holy Week, the victory of life over death, takes on a new meaning for this missionary
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
La Campana is one of 70 villages of the Chicam n Parish in Guatemala. I had been there before and it felt like the end of the world because it's very isolated.
I had left the main highway and wondered if I should leave the truck by the roadside and walk the hour or so that it took to get there. A nice truck on a side road leading to an isolated community probably offers few risks.
But leaning on the side of maximum security, I decided to drive on especially since my boss, Father Sergio told me the road was OK.
Rocky road ahead
Sorry, boss, the road was not OK. And after a half a mile, I decided I had no choice but to lock the truck and leave it there. By late morning, after breakfast, we'd pick it up and move on to two other communities.
People in La Campana were expecting us and treated my two musicians and me warmly and offered us a snack before Mass. We celebrated Mass immediately and then had a nice meal. After visiting with the people for a while we retired early as we had a full day ahead. We went to sleep early - and with difficulty - because the accommodations provided - the floor or church benches - were both painful choices.
I thought morning would never come. But it did. We had an early breakfast after which we headed out for the truck to take us to Aguacate and La Lima for Holy Week Masses.
The truck was waiting just as we had left it the night before. Now to get back to the main road! The truck was pointed the wrong way and, because of the narrowness of the road, there was no way to turn it around.
My only recourse was to drive in reverse for the next couple of kilometres. I asked my two companions to be my guides. They were to walk close to the truck, using hand signals to direct me.
I did not feel comfortable when I saw them over 100 feet ahead of me. The road was not straight but rather curvy. I did my best using the mirrors on either side or the one in the windshield.
Then it happened. The truck hit the ditch and suddenly it was hanging at a 45-degree angle with two wheels still on the road and the other two dangling in space in a "ditch" some 50 feet deep that people call a baranco or a ravine.
I got out of the truck in a hurry and honked the horn hard. Soon my two "guides" appeared around the bend. They told me to stay put, that they would get some help.
"What help can they provide?" I wondered. What was needed here was a tow-truck, a good Canadian solution but hardly possible here.
In less than a half hour I was in Aguacate, the closest community. They told me that there was a tow truck in San Pablo Pajuil, a three-hour walk.
Then one of my two helpers came running. "I told you to wait at the truck, that we'd get help," he said. "There are some 30 men from the nearby village of Pancul with ropes waiting to pull you out." At this I started running and 15 minutes later I came upon a sight I could not believe.
On the opposite side of the road from the truck were some 20 men of all ages with several ropes tied to the truck. They were to pull the truck away from the ravine. In front of the truck with ropes tied to the truck were about 15 more men ready to pull it forward.
"Get in the truck," someone said. I was afraid to get in. "Don't be afraid," they told me. "We'll hold you. Get the truck started."
I started the vehicle, put it in the forward gear and gave them the signal to pull hard. Initially nothing happened, but soon there was a slight movement forward and slowly it started to move ahead aided more by the men pulling than by the strength of the motor.
Then it was over: the four wheels of the truck were on solid ground again and I felt I had been given a new life.
I got out of the truck and could hardly find the words to thank them. They quickly gathered their things and they were gone.
I was left to ponder how Holy Week this year taught me much about death and resurrection and about how awesome and life giving is the gift of love and care in the hearts of people.
Meditation of the heart
I then set out for the communities of Aguacate and La Lima for the Good Friday celebrations. During the celebration, the picture of a group of men with ropes pulling the truck and me to safety could not quite leave my mind.
Holy Week - the victory of life over death - took on a personal and memorable dimension. And I realized how profoundly we are meant for each other, receiving life and giving life again and again.
The men of Pancul have been on my mind a lot. Their reassuring shout - "Don't be afraid, we'll hold you" - will be with me for a very long time. God was speaking to me through them, taking care of me in a moment of need.
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