Let the Children Come Unto Me

Yesterday was our first full day of pilgrimage.  We had a tour of the town in the midst of the blazing sun and met some students and officials.  But most impressively, we witnessed the great work done by the missionaries of PIME and our Sister parish San Augustin.  We saw the clinic staffed originally staffed by Mary Moon to whom we owe our partnership with this great community.  (Mary, I am more grateful now than ever for your Christ work here and bringing us together.)  It is the only clinic in town and is now staffed by a doctor from a nearby village.  It is a spring of salvation.   And speaking of springs, we saw the tremendous water purification system installed at St. Augustin.  Their own well leads to an elaborate purification system.  It not only supplies the St. Augustin compound (which by the way is Cuana’s biggest employer) but at a tremendously low price it supplies clean water to many homes.  Following a delicious lunch, I did what I thought was most proper in Mexico and took a siesta as a retreat from the grueling sun.

When we gathered together, Fr. Graziano joined by his fellow missionaries Fr. Ferdinand from the Ivory Coast and Fr. Deodata from Sicily, led a fascinating conversation about the spiritual situation they face.  Since coming to the mission in 1999, the PIME missionaries have focused on the children, catching them for first communion around the age of nine and Confirmation two years later (with the fabulously named year of perseverance between them.)  The concentration on the children is explained by a formidable spiritual/theological challenge.  While almost everyone would identify themselves as Catholic, they also turn to witches named Brouhas for advice and understanding.  This remnant of indigenous belief has left a dark path through the faith life of this community.  Through intimidation and fear, the witches cajole money and place blame on others for whatever ails their client.  This of course leads to recriminations, revenge and violence.  They turn to saints and especially the Virgin of Guadalupe not so much as an example or for prayers, but for magical assistance.  Fr. Graziano is trying to preach the love of Christ  which surmounts revenge in favor of forgiveness, brings freedom from fear and whose love is a favor that cannot be bought.  While the unending challenge seems wearying every good work shows that fickle fate is not in the hands of shysters; every newly trained catechist, often the newly Confirmed and married, means another child is told the story we proudly proclaim as Good News, and every joyful mass combats these darker forces.  It is almost impossible to measure success in such an endeavor, but the number of murders in Cuana has dropped from 79 the first year PIME came here to a place we could comfortably and securely walk freely.

I was still troubled by the session and feeling deeply for my brother priests when we all went to mass.  I was asked to concelebrate and did so after extracting a promise of never saying a word out loud in Spanish.  As only the mass can do in my life, my spirits lifted.  There is no way the Eucharist has ever  failed me nor will it fail the people of San Augustin.  There is no way that the Good News will lose to the superstition and evil intentions.  My inspiration came most forthrightly from the four young people.  Their prayers after communion radiated intensity.  It turns out, during my siesta our week had truly begun.   The children of the neighborhood shyly came to the compound.  And with encouragement from our group began to play and began to adore our young people.  Joe, Eileen, Olivia and Kelsey, like Jesus, invited the children to come unto them and taught them a lesson in the Good News by their care, invitation and love that my most profound sermon could not match.  I have been privileged to know all four since coming to Niskayuna/Schenectady and it is impossible not to see Christ in them.  They showed it to strangers, to children who without a supporting community and the gift of grace they would never was met.  And the Gospel was spread.

Written 10/6 pm