Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 26, 2007
Tragedy shatters villagers' lives, families, community
And the Oblate priest prays, comforts, presides at the burial Mass – and mourns for his people
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
The Parish of Chicaman with its 70 villages has been a rather quiet entity over the years. People make a living out of producing and selling fruit, vegetables, chickens and also by doing odd jobs.
On Saturday, it's market time with people all over taking the opportunity to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables, but also to sell whatever produce that pleases the eye or the palate of onlookers.
This past Saturday, however, was different. A rumour quickly made the rounds of the community. There's been a highway accident near Beleju. A large moving truck with poor brakes rear-ended another truck in front carrying some 50 travellers heading to the city to find work to support their families.
In a second, the truck that was hit tumbled down a baranco, or precipice, a quarter of a kilometre straight down with its precious human cargo totally helpless, hitting trees, breaking bones, knocking their heads and bodies, hitting huge stones, all the way down.
Ten men and a young woman were killed and more than 40 men and women were hospitalized. Eleven families ended up grieving the death of a dear one.
When I heard of the tragedy, I jumped in my truck and headed toward Beleju.
But there was a barricade and I was not allowed to go through, even though my intention was to assist the dying with the sacraments of the Church and help in whatever capacity.
I prayed from a distance and gave them the Sacrament of the Sick and of the dying and called on the loving mercy of God to receive and welcome these people whose lives ended in tragedy.
In the far distance we could see a large number of people from Beleju who had already gathered. Ambulances and firemen near and far showed up to help bring the people to those hospitals that could accommodate the victims.
I drove to Beleju early the next morning and started to visit the homes where dying people rested. It was a shock for me, but more so for the people to discover the sudden destruction.
I blessed the closed coffins in the houses and prayed with the people, trying to comfort them as much as I could.
Once back at home I got a call from our bishop in Quiche who asked me to present his condolences to the people at the Mass I was to preside at in the graveyard the next day.
The people have a love for processions, so we left the church early the next morning and headed to the graveyard - nearly an hour's walk from the church.
I presided at the Mass and in my homily I presented the bishop's condolences and prayers.
After the Mass was over, the burying of the 11 bodies was about to begin. I blessed the graves with holy water and prayed some more.
Then the burying began in earnest. I was amazed at the energy of the young men who handled the caskets with energy, authority and - surprisingly - humour.
Their joking as they worked to have the coffins fit the graves appeared to me to be out of place.
But I felt that perhaps it was a way to overcome the strong emotions and the tears that were not far away.
Time to mourn
Eventually I found myself in the truck, heading home, somewhat exhausted after a couple of very emotional days.
May God grant peace to the dead and solace to the living.
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