This week we have had our friend, a priest from the States here visiting us. It has been a busy week, but a good one. Ministry is picking up in pace quickly as the priests introduce to more and more aspects of the work they do here and the need for additional help.
Last Sunday, we hosted a fiesta for our community in Grano de Oro after Mass. It was to honor the youth of our community as they begin a new year of school and catechism, but all were invited to attend. We provided food and drinks, built an incredible bonfire and introduced the concept of s'mores. There was music and a clear sky full of stars. We roasted most of the marshmallows for everyone as the fire was so hot it was nearly impossible to stay close to it for very long. I handed roasted marshmallows smashed between cookies and chocolate to my new friends and smiled at their appreciation. In one dark corner sat a mother holding her baby and her small son. They were Chirripo, indigenous visiting town to buy, sell, or begin a longer voyage to another city. The indigenous people are very shy with us, rarely talking to us or even making eye contact. But this mother had joined us with her children that night and I wanted to make sure that she had her taste of the goodness that is s'mores. It was dark, so I leaned in closely to ask her if she had already had one. Her baby slept peacefully in her arms as she sat rocking back in forth in the light of the fire. And as I began to speak and I saw her face in its flames, I smiled wide. There she sat, face happily covered in sticky marshmallow and cookie crumbs. And she smiled back at me, wide and lively, as she shook her head yes. She had tasted the goodness. And so had I. I pray I shall never forget the sweet joy I felt in that moment.
I pray too that that night that mother felt remembered, appreciated, cared for. That all of our community felt that. For is it not the longing of every human soul not to be forgotten? And isn't it easy, when we suffer with our day to day cares, to feel all alone in the world. Even in a house full of people or with our arms full of baby love, we can feel forgotten and alone. And even more common, right there, in the center of our church, we can feel like no one notices us.
Yesterday, Padre Johnny came to our house early in the morning. We loaded up into his truck, the back full of happy boys, and headed up into the mountains to the indigenous villages closest to our town. The two priests of our mission are responsible for ministering the entire Chirripo reservation, thousands upon thousands of acres of mountain land dotted with small communities of people, our brothers and sisters, wanting to be remembered. They minister to some 40 communities, all of which lack proper chapels to gather for worship. They walk for hours every week to visit, to baptize, to say Mass, to tell our brothers and sisters that they are not forgotten, that they are remembered by their church.
We stopped to visit one village and look at the land that a member of the community is willing to donate for the building of a proper chapel. A man approached and introduced himself and we began to chat. He was so thrilled for our presence and begged for us to help them. He told us of their need for a chapel, of their need for help with ministering to their youth and the people of their village. He looked straight into my eyes as he told me of his fear that as his people lose their faith, they will lose their culture and their history. My heart ached to do something right then and there. I held his hand and listened. I promised that we would be back. I invited him to our home. I asked him to invite anyone in his village to our home. It didn't seem enough.
He asked me not to forget them. Not to let the Church forget them. Oh, kind sir, if only you knew. My heart is marked indelibly with the memory of that conversation. The blue sky, the mountain view, his hand in mine, his face lit with zeal for his faith, for his community, and his voice begging not to be forgotten.
God has not forgotten his people tucked away at the ends of the earth. He has charges us with the responsibility of bringing them His love. Oh, that we can find a way. Please pray with me for the indigenous communities here and for their needs. Please pray for priests and missionaries to serve them. Please pray for us to be able to find parishes who would be willing to help build their chapels. And in their honor, today, find someone who needs it and make them feel remembered, special, loved. Perhaps the end of the earth could be right there in your own home, your own office, your own church today?