Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 28, 2008
Prairie love, money built $6,000 church
Guatemalan place of worship funded by family, friend's dollars
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
This past week was both hectic and euphoric in the Chicaman parish of Guatemala as we blessed three new churches built by local people, but sponsored by Canadian friends, including my family in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan.
Most of our new churches are 8 by 16 metres in size, large enough for over 500 people to squeeze into. Moreover, the cost of materials varied from $6,000, with larger churches 10 by 20 metres costing up to $11,000 for the building material.
The only person to be paid was the contractor.
It turned out that on that Sunday evening, the Mass and the blessing of the "new churches" was crowded with people participating in the ceremony.
Seeing that huge group of enthused people over-filling the churches moved me greatly.
In the homily, I shared that when I arrived in Chicaman more than two years ago, the La Lagonita church was a mere dream for the Catholic people of the area.
When I was asked by the Oblate superior to celebrate Mass on a Sunday morning at La Lagonita, all I could connect with was a short piece of land infiltrating onto the highway with mercifully little traffic. Nearby was a beautiful tree, about three metres off the highway, providing us with a bit of welcome shade.
People began to show up with their chairs on their shoulders and carrying musical instruments. Fifteen people initially seemed like a crowd. But after that Sunday, the word went out and more people came. Four musicians unexpectedly appeared and they gave me hope that a church might be a possibility down the road.
Surprisingly, new people started coming out of nowhere. Close to where the church was to be built was a family with four children and two parents. The mother is blind but it did not seem to bother her much. I became friends with this family, stopping over for a cup of coffee or a chat when I drove by on the way to other communities.
The family circle
I was always welcomed like a member of the family, which was very nice. One evening I asked them how many Catholic families lived in the area. They started naming names and I wrote them down. By the end, we counted 60 Catholic families. Multiply that by an average of two parents and four children per family and we came up with a number that staggered us quite a bit: more than 250 Catholic people.
This got us dreaming of a church. Their house was a bit bizarre but there was a large room with little in it. We knew that we had to do better than a mere tree for shelter as it had rained on us a few times.
So we decided to celebrate Mass in that family's living room. The children didn't seem to mind. So we invited a few people to join us. Soon the place was packed with more people outside trying to come in.
At that point I connected with my siblings in Canada and told them we had to build a church for these people. Could they help? All that I needed was $6,000.
Having 12 siblings sometimes helps in life. They heard me and supported us, as well through their adult children who contributed generously. The La Lagonita church was a done deed.
I really don't remember how I broached the money issue to them. I think that all I did was to mention it to a couple of them and the word went around. Soon we had enough money to start building a church, something the local people supported gladly by contributing their time, their work and their talents.
A place of worship
After a good while, the La Lagonita Catholic community had a roof over its head as well as a cement floor under its feet and a truly beautiful church where they could worship.
I blessed their church one evening with a crowd estimated to be more than 500.
So this poor Catholic community of some 15 members now has a church it can be proud of. As well, the family that took us in for a couple of years, quietly put money aside and bought a great statue of Christ on the cross which now is hanging on the wall behind the altar. Nearby, slightly to the side, is a statue of Our Lady that the family offered us as well.
May the Mother of God cherish and bless them well. Amen.
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