In early 2013, I arrived at the parish of El Calvario in the diocese of Verapaz. After some 14 years of commitment to the missionary ministry in Mexico, I dedicated myself completely to the observation and discovery of my new mission field in Guatemala.
I spent a long time learning the local language and familiarizing myself with the Q’eqchi culture of the Maya people here.
I now spend a great deal of time visiting the different villages of this territory, sharing faith with the people that God has put along my “missionary road.” The parish spans a substantial section of the city of Coban. We attend to more than 120 small communities.
Together they constitute an extraordinary cultural richness and diversity, provoking a change in our patterns of thinking. How does God speak, and how do we speak about God, in these cultural contexts? The answer is constantly evolving, challenging us to adapt. This landscape calls for mobility, not just physically, but in our hearts and minds as well.
Poverty and Richness through Missionary Work
Doing missionary work in the villages is a constant challenge, requiring psychological preparation. The majority of the distance to the villages is traveled on foot. These journeys teach me about the lives of the people I am here to serve. I perspire as I cover steep terrain in boots, getting covered with mud. I teach my stomach to accept breakfast, lunch and supper of only chicken soup, be it cold or warm. I learn to drink coffee and cacao at any time of the day.
This way of being makes me face the poverty and the richness of the people; I experience their surrounding culture. By doing so, I can better understand their pains and joys, their deficiencies and happiness, their worries and their achievements.
This type of presence is a continual learning process. I am constantly invited to examine my values. “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be,” reminds the Gospel.
I walk from one small settlement to the next: in the morning, at noontime and in the afternoon. I practically lose the notion of time. Because of the distances, a pastoral tour may last a whole week. Catechists, a translator, extraordinary ministers of communion, and area guides usually accompany me. At times, I am beset with doubts and indignation about the conditions in which the people live. Their milieu is far from desirable, with a lack of access to health clinics, schools, electricity and even water. These deficiencies seem unjust. In spite of the many things that are lacking, I discover happiness and joy on the faces of the people. Their struggles and courage, the longing for change and their enthusiasm for life, all animate me.
When I worry about a steep or narrow passage, or falling in the mud or between the rocks, the good Samaritans lend me a stick, and I am protected against the blows and the falls.
At times, I hear the voice of my translator: “Take courage Padre; be not afraid of dirtying your boots, be not afraid of stumbling––you can only fall to the ground! Such are the caresses of the mission.”
Indeed, the dirt and stumbling are gentle reminders that humility serves one well in mission work. We can only authentically walk in someone else’s shoes when we have truly left our own behind; it is give and take.
Q’eqchi Women at the Heart of Parish Life
Our catechists are mainly women: mothers and wives. Often they go before us on our visits to the villages. The heat of the sun and the shocking temperatures of the rainy season cause them to perspire and get dizzy like the rest of us. But these women evangelize and witness to young and old through their way of living. They are steadfast, wise troubadours of the Good News. They are like leaven in the dough: the feminine face of God transmitting tenderness and love.
Many Q’eqchi women, who are the head and heart of their families, also happily take on the roles of catechist, extraordinary Eucharistic minister, preacher, evangelizer, coordinator of various ministries, and more. This dynamic participation of women in the pastoral ministry demonstrates their strong sense of their leadership potential.
During my nearly three years in El Calvario parish, I have encountered scores of female parishioners who are truly committed to our pastoral initiatives. In all 123 village communities, women are sharing their talents and engaging enthusiasm to announce the gospel in simple, joyful, and humble ways. It feels good to be in their midst: learning from them, encouraging them, recognizing them as valuable stakeholders in pastoral decisions. They bring a new and welcome dynamic to the pastoral maturing process.
Pastoral work in the El Calvario parish needs the participation of women and to recognize their role is to animate them further. They are invigorating the faithful through their deep commitment and good works. We continually strive to strengthen the formation of these invaluable community leaders.
The Mission is of God
Missionary endeavors require humility, availability, openness to other cultures and religions, a preferential option for the poor, commitment to justice, peace and integrity of Creation and, above all, passion for the mission of Christ. We must continually foster and develop these attitudes in ourselves and our faith communities. We are called to sharpen our hearing and open our hearts and minds in order to be His instruments in mission.
Working with needy people, and discovering the face of God in them, is what all Christians are called to do. Many people accompany us in our mission endeavors, adding value to what we do. Those who accompany us on the road in turn help us to discover the true caresses of mission work: they demonstrate hospitality, solidarity, and willingness to serve with us. They too stand in the heat and the rain, take on the risks, and throw in their lot with us. They worry to make sure that we are well. They facilitate our journeys, aiding us along the way. God has indeed sanctified the missions with the presence of loving co-missionaries around the world.
We are ever grateful to the benefactors of Missionhurst, who sustain our missionary presence in the parish of El Calvario. Thanks to your support we are committing ourselves to the formation of catechists, ministers of communion, leaders of youth and women, and engaging in social ministries to the needy.
Your care for the people of Coban allows us to continue to act in pastoral situations that bring growth and hope to our mission and our community. Thank you for walking with us.
This story was originally published in Missionhurst Magazine. For the complete article, along with many others, check out Missionhurst Magazine.
Want to show your support for our mission work as we aid the needy in El Calvario parish and other places around the world?