Missioner Tales, March & April 2016
A homily I heard recently reminded me of my ministry with women prisoners in São Paulo, Brazil. The priest shared some wisdom his mother taught him as a young boy. “The grace of God is like rain. We all have a bucket and rain falls evenly, independent of our positive or destructive actions. The difference is that some people’s buckets are overturned. Anyone can turn the bucket right side up, but it is often easier with the support and affirmation of others.” A beautiful moment in prison ministry is witnessing women not only take steps to rehabilitate themselves but also seeing them support their companions on their own journeys to rebuilding their lives.
Kathleen Bond, MKLM
I was distributing Communion at a heavily attended Mass late one Sunday afternoon here in Davao City, Philippines. Sitting in a pew just an arm’s length from me was a young family with a 3- or 4-year-old child occupying his father’s lap.
As I finished the long line of Communicants, the boy reached his hand out to me in a way that indicated he wanted to press my hand to his forehead, which is the traditional greeting in the Philippines of children to elders and priests. Holding the ciborium of consecrated hosts in my left hand, I extended my right hand to the child. With enviable speed and dexterity, the boy’s hand darted into the ciborium, grabbed a host and put it into his mouth before I could react. I won’t be so easily faked out next time.
Jeremiah Burr, M.M.
The late Maryknoll Father William O’Leary, who helped many hundreds of desperate people in Asia through difficult times in their lives, was also a great storyteller. The following is my favorite:
In Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot’s brutal communist Khmer Rouge regime tortured, starved and executed people with “Western influences,” while many others died of disease and overwork. It’s estimated that 1.5 million died, one in five Cambodians. Their mass graves are known as “the Killing Fields.”
One thing the Khmer Rouge did was to take young villagers captive and make them work. Eng was taken from his village to work in ruby mines. After he was liberated by the Vietnamese, Eng returned to his village. While he was clearing land for farming, he stepped on a landmine that blew off his leg. Eng was brought to Phnom Penh for Father O’Leary’s prosthesis program. Eng received a new leg, which required a few months for healing and training. While recuperating, Eng asked Father O’Leary for permission to grow flowers to beautify the drab orphanage. All he needed was some seeds. The orphanage grounds soon blossomed.
When Eng was nearly well enough to go home, he asked Father O’Leary to let him stay on as the orphanage’s gardener. “If I return to my village, I will still be a burden to them,” he told the missioner, because everyone’s labor was needed in his village to survive. Besides his talents in the garden, Eng was also a favorite of the children. Even though Father O’Leary had no money in his budget to pay Eng as a gardener, he let him stay on anyway.
As a member of a Catholic women’s religious community, I have the title of “Sister” in the United States. In Peru, which was my mission location, Sisters are often called “Madre,” meaning “Mother,” or “Madrecita” (little Mother), but we are also called “Hermana” (Sister). Our elderly chaplain referred to us as “Hijita” (little daughter). The Maryknoll seminarians I often supervised in their pastoral work settled for “Tia” (aunt). Then there was Alfie, a tot in our neighborhood who had a speech impediment. He couldn’t manage “Madre Margarita,” so his rendition was “Mama Rita” and his pals soon dubbed me likewise. But with 4-year-old Sonya my identity took on another dimension. Sonya was abandoned as an infant at the door of the parish social service office when I found her. God blessed our efforts to find a wonderful family in the barrio that received her into their home. As she began to use words, her amused adoptive father taught little Sonya to call me “Abuelita”—meaning “little grandmother!”
What’s in a name? I answer to them all.
Margaret Kehoe, M.M.
Featured Image: S.Sprague/E.Timor