It's been a busy two weeks! Last week was Holy Week, and I spent the week in one of the villages on mission with a Franciscan sister that lives here in the town center. Unfortunately, the battery in my phone ran out early on, so I really didn't get much for pictures or videos. But I hope to share some of the week here. We went out to the village as sort of animators to initiate the organizing and planning of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil on Saturday evening. So for Monday through Wednesday, we went out on foot to the different homes to visit and invite people to a late afternoon planning meeting. Each day we had a meeting to plan for one of the three days of the Triduum. We walked down up and down the main road in the village, which goes for a couple of miles I'd say through an agricultural setting.
This was underneath some of the hottest sun on the planet, so needless to say we had hats and we sweated profusely. Then, we have to deal with some of the dogs. The homes usually have dogs, in part for security. So you get ready for the dogs when you approach the property. There ain't no leashes here, so it's a mailman's personal hell. Sr Jenny got bit real quick by one, but it didn't break the skin. We all just shrugged it off, it's a part of life... At the meetings, we talked about getting ready for the Last Supper and the Via Crucis and liturgy on Good Friday, and then the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. Sr Jenny is very, very good with getting people involved, and with group dynamics, it was a blessing to be with her. And we had a decent sized group of people, about 10 or so, mixed from high-school to young adultish to grandparents (which would be about 50 years old). The village probably is a couple of hundred people, at most. But right from the beginning, it went well as one of the youth, who had just become a catechist in the village, wanted to play the role of Christ, and he brought an enthusiasm and motivation to the villagers.... The elements and such always come into play in planning, and so one day that we met, the rains came with full force. The roofs here are (I think) aluminum, so it gets loud when the rain is heavy. It was so loud that we really couldn't have the meeting, and we gave up after about a half an hour. For some reason, none of us had any ponchos or rain gear either. So the Vigil we had to plan on Saturday itself, and we went home wet!
Most of the nights, we stayed with a different family - I think we stayed with 4 different families in 4 different homes. It was a blessing to be their guest, and to live in a style so different from what we are used to. Here, the life is agricultural, so it is farm life. The rural poverty is felt pretty quickly: what we are accustomed to for privacy and hygiene is not there, for the most part. Outdoor showers with partial curtains, a little pot for a toilet, shared sleeping spaces, things like that. But you get past it. Rice is served with every meal, and each meal is like a dinner, so we ate a lot. There is a local fish called the Guaña, it's like a half-foot-long sucker fish from your fish tank. We had a bunch of those. The food was very good, but also a bit much for me, as each family wants to give you more and be hospitable. I had to start to back off some of the eating without offending my hosts, that's a challenge… Each day, after the meeting, we would come back as guests to someone's house and then bathe, and then have merienda, or supper. Bathing was using a barrel of water and a pot to dunk into the barrel and pour the water over you. (of course there's soap and shampoo!) One day, we bathed right in the river (wearing in bathing clothes). But either way, once you get used to the novelty, it's really very beautiful, as you're close to nature with the warm weather cooling off, the earth under your feet, the sound of the river a stone's throw away. You don't have any of the conveniences, but I never got sick or had any problems …. In the farm life of course you're close to a lot of animals. These were little ducklings that I got a picture of in my first day:
There is no priest for the Easter services of course - each village has their own holy week celebrations, or sometimes teams up with another, because there's only 2 priests for 97 locations. So, the planning is for celebrations that are spiritually linked to the celebration by the priests in the main church in the town center. We all use the same book as a guide, and make the practical modifications. Anyway, we had a Last Supper that was very beautiful. The youth catechist was in the role of Christ to wash the feet of his neighbors, and I helped him with the bowl and whatnot. It was a great privilege first to support a young local man in his stepping into the role of Christ, and second to share in the washing of the feet of the people I've come to know and serve and love. Even though a lot of times it's like they're speaking a whole different language :)… On Good Friday, there was a Way of the Cross through the village, with 10 different residences hosting the 14 stations of the cross. I wish I had the camera working for this. We made signs for each of the stations, and each family cut out a large cross out of bamboo to put at the front of their property. There was a whole script, with the young catechist as Christ (including the best wig!) carrying a wooden cross and two thieves with their own on either side, Mary, Veronica, the soldiers, Pilate, Herod. And we walked a long stretch of the village, stopping at each station with each property owner leading prayer, followed by the script for each station. Finally, we got to a hill, and finished with the last stations. Then, on the hill, we began the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, with the reading of the Passion, and then I got to distribute Holy Communion. It was very humbling for me and such a grace and privilege. Here's an earlier picture of the path to the hill:
A few stories along the way of the Cross:
They sell a bottled drink down here called Guitig (pronounced wee'-tee) that's basically carbonated spring water. I like it, as the bottled stuff is safe and this is basically plain water. Each day, I would usually go and buy a bottle of Guitig to share with everyone before the meeting. Well, before the Way of the Cross, I bought a bottle of Guitig to share, and we all walked about a mile down the road - in costume (I was a fill in for different roles, so I didn't have a costume, lol) - to the first property. There was a spring there, so everyone could get water to drink, and I had the Guitig, and between the two everyone got what they needed to start. Well, I put the now empty Guitig bottle down on the ground near a pole at the entrance to the property, to go and help with something, and then everything began. Well, at the first station, part of the script calls for the soldiers to put Christ up against a pole and scourge him. It finally gets to that moment, and the soldiers, who are kids, turned Christ around and put him against the pole. One of the soldiers has a banded rope that looks like something that can scourge, you know. So as I look through the people and get a good view, I can see Christ being scourged by one soldier with a rope. And by another with an empty Guitig bottle ……
At the top of the hill with the crucifixion, we started the celebration of the Adoration of the Cross. This is the big celebration with the reading of the Passion, where we all kneel at the death of Christ on the Cross, where the priest holds up the Cross and proclaims, "This is the Cross …!", where we each go one by one and kiss the body of Christ on the Cross. But we had one big problem. No one brought a cross! We're up on the top of a hill with about 30 people, and we have a handmade wooden cross that's two pieces of wood attached to each other, without a body on it. So Sr Jenny and I start thinking, and asking, and looking around, and then someone has a rosary. One of those $2 special plastic ones, with a crucifix on the end of it. Sr Jenny brings it up, and we look at it .. OK, let's do it. So we taped the rosary around the wooden cross, so that the crucifix dangled from it, so someone could lift it up with their hands to their mouth. Then, in the celebration, I held up that wooden cross with the rosary dangling off of it and the tiny corpus on the crucifix flopping around and said the words, "This is the wood of the Cross, where hung the Savior of the world!" and the people responded, "Come to adore it!" And then each of us came up and kissed that little plastic crucifix on the end of the rosary, while I wiped it off in between each kiss…."And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (Jn 12:32)
The kids of course are always a joy to be with here. In the first house I stayed in, there were a few grandkids around who would come and go, and Sr Jenny brought a small, squishy football (American football, I have no idea where she got it from, being Ecuadorian) that the kids started to play with. Well, la pelota became the center of their whole time. Playing catch in the yard, on the road, at the stopping points. I threw la pelota so many times … At one point, while we were meeting, I hung up an umbrella upside down from one of the spouts of the building, and that became a basket. When we got back to the house later on, after bathing, I came into the living area, and there was the umbrella hung up in the room, and the kids taking shots with the pelota. La pelota kept all those kids occupied for 3 full days. I wondered why, and then I realized: it's their only toy. Here are a few pictures I was able to take on the first day, before my phone battery died out.
"I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 18:10)
In the evening we played games together, I learned a few new card games .. And then the pelota came out again …
At one of the houses we stayed at, there were about 5 little girls who we gave our attention to in the down times. One game with the hammock lasted about an hour. But then we learned a game where we all got in a circle with one person in the middle, a kids' game, and we played that for a while. I could make out some of what was being said, and I got most of the gist of it, but not fully. There was something about a butterfly, a mariposa. So anyway, afterwards, I was joking around, singing, "I am a mariposa...", thinking I was singing the song from the game. Not quite. Sr Jenny laughed, and then explained to me that the song was a little bit different. What I was saying without knowing it, was that I was gay! Fortunately, the kids didn't get it, but all the adults did ….
Finally, at the Vigil on Saturday night, the little school room where we had the celebrations was filled. The young catechist had let the procession at the beginning with the Easter candle, "Luz de Cristo!" The lights came on after the readings, the whole thing. Finally, I led the time for communion, and we closed, and afterwards I got to add a few closing words of thanks. And then began a resurrection party with dancing. Now, one of the little girls in what must have been her first communion dress it seems claimed me as her partner for the dancing, because I danced with her the whole time. (And of course that conveniently kept me safe from any dancing proposals from women, if you know what I mean.) A lot of the people who really participated in the holy week were dancing and serving foods and drinks, and at one point when I was walking in and out of the door, when they were all together, it dawned on me and I said, "Hey, have you guys thought of forming a youth group?" They liked the idea. A name? "Luz de Cristo". As it turns out, I found out later that there used to be a youth group here. I thought, wow - tonight, it’s resurrected ... So I'm stepping outside for some air, and one of the men from the community, who speaks some english from living in the states for several years, got to talking, and he said to me, "The people here really like you." Now, that's big, because when you're an outsider all alone, it's hard to know really what others are thinking about you. You're completely vulnerable, and you step all the way out on a limb, in faith. So, just then the little girls, including my date in her little white first communion dress, come drag me into another game about the mariposa (this time I know what they're saying), and then Sr Jenny and the girls' family and whatnot and a whole bunch of people are in it. And I'm thinking what an amazing Easter: the youth group has come back to life, I'm singing and dancing with little kids, and the people have really come to like me. Well, finally, at about 10pm, Sr Jenny said to me, "I think it's time to go." I agree, I said.
"Our mission is done here," she said.
Yes, it was.
Christ is risen. He is truly risen.
"I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (Jn 8:12)
We've been starting to get prepared at the school, I'll be teaching english and physics to sophomore level kids. A lot of conversations I don't catch everything, and some of them sail by me like shooting stars, so it will be an adventure to say the least. But I'm looking forward it …
I'm hoping to begin a language collaborative group in the parish, basically a bunch of people who get together to learn english and teach me spanish. I brought down about 6 books from the States for latinos learning english. There's a good interest, and the first meeting will be a week from Saturday….
I've been living also with a seminarian from the local diocese, David, who is a transitional deacon right now. We've become friends, so it's great having his company, especially being a younger guy. We've had the chance to do some local traveling together and visit the villages together, it's good. We also have begun our own english-spanish classes together, a couple of hours a week. We've also re-started up Eucharistic Adoration on Thursday evenings, inviting local people from the center. Hopefully, that can expand too ….
A few Saturdays ago, I led up the celebration at one of the villages. With priests' visits being once a month, and sometimes rarer, in some of the villages, there's the possibility of having weekly services led by lay people that are a remote participation in the Mass at the center. It ends up being like a Mass, but without the Eucharistic prayers, consecration, and blessing. The village that I was sent to is a small, new community. But the first time went well enough, and I'm happy to go back. Padre Finbarr suggested that I continue going. I hope to get to know the people and listen to them and see what opportunities come up for offering more spiritually. And hopefully, I can find some of the people from the village who can take my place, with the hope always that a priest can become more available for the Mass and sacraments...
A group has started with Pd Finbarr reading and praying the Sunday Mass readings together. I'm hoping to join in ….
On Fridays, I usually go to the center for the disabled, and the farm center, where the living center and horse therapy are. There, all the patients and residents, with their families, eat together a meal. Then, afterwards, believe it or not, the dancing begins. Dancing is great socially and physically for the disabled, allowing them to express themselves to each other and to move their bodies about in a fun and social way. It's a great time, though you sweat profusely! Sometimes we play sports, too, while others receive horse therapy. It's a great day for everyone to be together… I'm hoping to get a Facebook site up and working for the project sometime soon ….
I got my visa! It's a missionary visa valid for 2 years. I took a 2-hr bus trip to the nearby city, got a taxi to the bishop's place, picked up the visa from the secretary, then got back into the same cab and returned by bus. That was my 4-1/2 hr "errand" the other day ...
This Saturday, the guides from each of the villages are all going together for an annual paseo, or outing, to the beach. So I'm looking forward to going, and getting in the ocean for the first time in a long time!
That's all for now, I'll write soon I hope. If you have skype and want to connect, my skype name is jeromekiley.