Last year, we were assigned back to João Pessoa and I decided to visit Jose. I found out that after I saw him last, he had separated from his wife, left the Church and moved in with some friends. One day he was so drunk that he suffered an accident. At the hospital, he reflected on the direction of his life. He moved to his parents’ home, stopped drinking and got a job.
Jose is now married to another woman and has two kids, but he did not lose contact with his child from the first marriage. Jose is studying to be an accountant and is back into theater. He organizes the Holy Week Passion Drama at the parish. His journey reminded me of the prodigal son. I am happy he found his way back.
From 1997 to 2003, I worked on the polio eradication campaign in Toposaland in what is now South Sudan. We trained local health care workers to take polio vaccines up to the Kauto plateau, above our mission at Good Shepherd parish in Nanyangacor.
One day, I sent off two strapping young Toposa men with 1,000 polio vaccine doses boxed in coolers. They were to place three drops of the vaccine in every child’s mouth and make a check on a tally sheet. Of course, there is always wastage when the dropper misses its mark or the kid spits it out, and the drops have to be repeated. We aimed for 80 percent distribution, expecting 20 percent wastage according to World Health Organization (WHO) protocols. The young men came back a couple of days later with their tally sheets carefully marked to record the distribution of 1,100 doses!
I was never sure exactly what happened in the far reaches of Toposaland, but somehow, those two young men did what needed to be done. On Aug. 26, 2020, the WHO declared polio eradicated from the continent of Africa.
They said things like “It is our mother” or “The soil gives us life.” In fact, every description they gave about soil was relational. They understood our connection with the earth.
One day as I was visiting people in the U.N. camp for the Protection of Civilians, my feet got stuck in the mud. As I tried to move forward with my boots on, one leg became stuck and the boot came off. I tried to balance myself on one leg while attempting to get the other leg back into the boot.
Finally, three young people came to my rescue. Two held my arms as the other put the boot back on my leg. At that moment, I realized how much we need one another in journeying through the difficult, muddy roads of life.