First, here's a short story about getting a visa. First, I went to the local bishop to get sponsorship from the diocese. He's the same bishop from the province where I had made the donation for the church, he's now in this diocese temporarily since the previous bishop passed away about a year ago. So everything went cordially, and we recognized each other. The next step was to go to Quito to drop off the sponsorship letter with a fee. Padre Martin was going there and offered to take it for me, that saved me a day of travel.Then, on one of the days when the mission group was here, I had to take a bus into Quito last week to go the visa office at the church headquarters and bring a small photo for the visa application. I got a 6am bus from Puerto Quito and about 3 hours and a taxi ride later I was in the agent's office in the diocesan headquarters. After a few minutes, she told me to wait outside in the lobby, that we are all set to go somewhere. I didn't really know what she was talking about, but I waited around, wondering what she really meant. A few other people came and went, and since the office closes at 11am for lunch and reopens at 2pm, I decided just before 11 to go out and get a bite to eat and then come back at 2pm. On my way out, across the hall I noticed a gift shop, so I stopped in to look around for a bit. Well, the next thing I know the agent comes in with her arms overflowing with a folder and an overstuffed envelope. "Come on, let's go," she says. So I start to follow her, not really sure what's going on. Is she taking me out to lunch? Do I look that pathetic? So we go out to the parking lot, and she tells me to get in the front seat of her car. I get in, and she tosses the envelope and folder in the back seat, and we head off. She's on one of her two cell phones, then on another one. "Where are we going?" I ask. To the municipo. Whatever that is. So, we are zipping around corners, and she tells me to get the folder from the back seat. It's stuffed with visa applications and passports clipped to them. I pull out mine, and she's giving information over the phone. Then, suddenly, after about 5 or ten minutes, we pull over to the side of the road, and a friendly woman comes running up to the car. The folder is for her, and I basically get handed off to her, as the agent takes off after dropping me off. Now this other woman and I kick it a few doors down to the migration office, and get in a short line. She speaks to a few people, and then they give me a slip of paper with a few numbers on it. We move on to the security guard, and I show him the piece of paper with the numbers. We go past him and zip up a few flights of stairs, to finally get to a waiting room, where the number is like the number in a deli line in a supermarket. The woman, who is very friendly, tells me that the security guard standing there will call my number, and they'll take care of everything else. Then, she takes off. So, I waited about 40 minutes, and then finally I heard the call. I went into a small office cube, they asked me a few questions and took my picture. Then, that was it. A bizarre experience. I left and had a little lunch, then took the taxi and bus back to Puerto Quito. I should get the visa some time this week or next, thanks be to God. My passport stamp expires on March 28!
A few Saturdays ago, there were confirmations here at the church in the center. There were two Masses with the church packed full, with a total of about 700 young people being cofirmed. The local bishop came for both Masses, which is a lot for an older retired man. I was helping out behind the scenes at the Masses.
Early Monday morning, a mission team from Franciscan University at Steubenville arrived for almost a week. There were about 50 or so people, including several priests, a few doctors, nurses, a religious sister, a few other lay helpers, and maybe 35 or so students. The team was divided up into 3 groups, each to go out on 3 missions throughout the week to different villages. I got to go with one of the groups on their missions for the week.
The students are from Franciscan University at Steubenville. A few of the priests are from a new community called the Family of Jesus in Peru, and there was also a wonderful lay missionary from a new community also in Peru animating everyone with music.
(But before anything else, of course, you have to always get the chicken out of the church, and I don't mean KFC.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnoZUFjbyAc
On the first stop, I spent time with one of the groups at the farm center for the disabled. The team set up a place for the medical care, and a long line of people showed up. Fr. Lucas Maria set up the Blessed Sacrament on the second floor where the team would be staying overnight. They would use mosquito nets, which are like thin tents, for protection from the bugs at night. This is pretty cool, because the tabernacle that is used in a church - and the vessel that was being used here - is really meant to be an image of a tent. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt, they traveled through the desert pitching their tents one step at a time, and Moses set up another tent, the meeting tent, for the dwelling place of God as He accompanied them. And so for the nomadic people, to pitch one's tent with someone like this is to join their clan and live with them. John in his Gospel writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (Jn 1:14) "Dwelt" here really means "pitched a tent". So the imagery John is using is from the escape from Egypt and the journey through the desert. This is what the Word did, He became flesh and pitched his tent with us, in our own journey to our promised land. His tent is human flesh. To see the Blessed Sacrament in its vessel and all the tents pitched in the farm center, I couldn't help but think that it was really happening here!
The mission team did a variety of things around the farm. A few students began to help sorting cacao beans, which is one of the efforts of the farm. A few others did some painting, and several others helped to dig out the ground to plant a hedge. One of the guys and I went to visit some of the folks who were receiving horse therapy. Another group went out to one of the local villages to invite people to a Mass later on in the evening. It was a very active and full day.
At one point, to set up the painting, I went into the steel shop where Hover works. I had worked with Hover when I was here back in July. When I went into the shop, I noticed the whiteboard that was there. The sketches that I had put up there back in July were still there. This one was there, too:
It was an attempt at explaining to Hover the mission that I saw I was a part of. USA and Ecuador, sharing with each other as brothers, with Our Lady of Guadalupe in the middle. When I saw it this time, still up there on the board, I was amazed. I thought to myself, "It's happening right now!" So, I went and got the group leader Mike and showed him the picture. "I put that there back in July. It's happening," I told him. Wow. That image kept coming back to me the whole week. It's happening.
"Fight hunger by changing your lifestyle" is a motto which has appeared in Church circles and which shows the people of the rich nations how to become brothers and sisters of the poor. We need to turn to a more austere way of life which will favor a new model of development that gives attention to ethical and religious values. To the poor, missionary activity brings light and an impulse toward true development, while a new evangelization ought to create among the wealthy a realization that the time has arrived for them to become true brothers and sisters of the poor through the conversion of all to an "integral development" open to the Absolute. -Blessed Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 1990, #59.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I wish I had more photos of this site, so much went on. Here's only a few:
Here's a cacao fruit, cut open to reveal the seeds that shell the the chocolate base. The seeds are coated by a thin, almost peach-skin-line pulp that you can eat. It tastes great to suck on the cacao seeds. I thought the plain chocolate base inside the shell was great too, but others thought I was nuts...
(Top) The mission group praying in the brand new chapel, and (bottom) eating. The floor tiles in the chapel were finished the day of. You can see the back open out into nature, and this photo is a quiet time of prayer. A Mass was held in the evening, with a packed room and many of the local people who accepted the invitation to come.
The second trip was to the village called Piedra del Vapor. I covered some of that already in my last post, how we arrived on the day the Pope was chosen. Piedra del Vapor means Rock of Vapor, and it's because of this huge rock that sits in the middle of the river at the edge of the village. Some of the kids took a few of us to the rock to see it. I was thinking at the time about what Isaiah wrote about the Messiah, about the reconciliation of very different peoples led by a child: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Is 11:6)
Normally the water is dirty and you can't swim in it, but for a few months starting in August, the water becomes clean and the people swim and tube in it.
The team used the little school to set up a base camp, a chapel, and the medical area. Again, there was a long line of residents looking for medical attention. One of the doctors said that he didn't really see anything too serious, just routine stuff, remarking that some places in the States have worse things going on.
The team also got involved with the people with sports and with praise music and some witness talks:
A little after the Pope was elected, some of the missionaries gave testimony talks, and I was invited to share my own story with the local people of Piedra del Vapor. I told them how, like Francis, I had gone from having a lot and being empty inside, to having them and what God has given me and being more full. It was a privilege to share, though I was a bit saved by being able to speak in english with a translator.
Groups also went out at the different sites to visit homes and to invite people to come to the Mass in the evening. There always seemed to be a positive response and a good turnout.
The third trip was to another village called Bosque de Oro, or Forest of Gold. I still didn't get any pictures of the medical side of the mission, I was thinking of respecting the privacy of the folks while they were in line and getting treatment. I'm not a big fan of going around and snapping photos of people unless it were my job, but when I see good shots I try to get them, especially if the ones getting their picture taken will want them to remember the time. Here is the team praying after getting off the bus, and a few group shots of the sports team, arts and crafts with the kids, and some of the people together.
All these take me back to the very first photo.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about the unity of peoples that Christ accomplished in Himself. It's in His body, the Church, that peoples from different ends of the earth, from the US and Ecuador, from far different cultures, are reconciled into one.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-22)
On the last day, at mid-afternoon, the students and priests went out in the town center of Puerto Quito, visiting people and stores and inviting people to Mass. There was a praise and worship concert that the rain drove out of the park into the church, and then there was a healing Mass, followed by a healing service with laying on of hands. I have a short video here of the beginning of the Mass, and a photo of all the people up at the front of the church looking to be prayed over:
During the laying on of hands, one of the mission leaders asked me to join in, in praying over people and laying on of hands. When you do this, you always need a person standing behind the one who is being prayed over, because people will sometimes become overwhelmed in their spirit, lose their strength and fall backwards peacefully. So one of the students helped me out. We prayed over a lot of people, and then this boy walked up with his younger brother to bring him to me. My guess is that the little boy was about 4 years old or so, so I got down on my knees and put my hands over him and began to pray. Well, when I was done, I looked him in the eyes and smiled, and said, "A hug?" He smiled a big smile and walked into me, putting his body into mine. I wrapped my arms around his little body and gave him the longest hug I could, I held him like he could have been my own son. When I was done, he backed away, and it was then that I noticed it. My heart was so moved when it struck me: this little boy couldn't move his arms. They stayed always at his side. So my helper hugged him too, and then his brother, smiling, took him away and they disappeared into the crowd. I tell you, I will never forget that little boy, I will never forget looking into his eyes, and I will never forget the empathy I felt in that moment I realized his smile in the midst of his suffering, I will never forget that it was Him who I put my arms around ....
And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." (Mk 9:36-37)
Until the next time ...