In our United Nations camp for internally displaced people in Malakal, South Sudan, we have a Catholic church that is made out of metal sheeting and is affectionately called our “Tin Box Church.” One particular Sunday a young boy named Obech came into the church. He has trouble speaking and has learning challenges that prevent him from attending school in the camp because he is hyperactive. However, we welcome him as part of our parish family. We have helped him learn the Sign of the Cross and to say the words: “Yesua fee” which in Arabic means, “Jesus is here.” Everytime Obech enters the church he looks at the cross high above the altar, makes the sign of the cross with his hands and then says “Yesua fee.” The childlike faith of Obech teaches me that Jesus is here with us always on our journey of life.
Michael Bassano, M.M.
It had been a few days since the elderly woman had been seen by folks around the village in the rural area of Chom Chao, Cambodia, where I serve as a Maryknoll lay missioner. She was known as Om, meaning “elder auntie.” Rain or shine, Om would sit under her patched umbrella in front of the Missionaries of Charity house, selling bottled water or soft drinks out of a small portable cooler. She stored her gear in the missionaries’ house.
We learned that Om had passed on. I went to her family to pay my respects and offer my condolences. Her home, like most other homes in villages, has limited space. It is customary that tents are erected in the alleys or sidewalks of neighborhoods for wakes and funeral ceremonies. Looking at her picture, memories of our past conversations and her toothless smile came back to me. Om loved to speak with me in her Cambodian language mixed with French. She often reminisced about her youth in schools modeled after the French education system, and shared her survival stories from the Khmer Rouge time. Her family handed me some incense, which I lit and which lifted up my prayers and thanksgiving for the gifts of Om’s life.
Hang Tran, MKLM
At 6 years old I lost my father, a disabled World War II veteran who died one evening in a Veterans Administration hospital. That night our Aunt Lillie, who was caring for us, took us into her backyard to pick a star. Aunt Lillie told us, “Your father has died and become a star.” Science tells that inside us, our bodies are made of water, salt and … stardust! I share this true story with children who have lost a parent.
Last year, I wrote a sympathy note to a 12-year-old girl who lost her dad to cancer in 2020. She wrote back, “I would like to say thank you for the letters you sent me. It made me feel really better. I loved reading about your dad, but I’m sorry to hear that he passed away when you were so young. These letters from you … made my day. I can’t thank you enough for everything.”
I received more than I gave.
Margaret Sierra, M.M.
Here in New York, I was invited to a Muslim interfaith assembly hosted by a community comprised of Muslims from many countries. After the prayer, for my meal, I gravitated toward the food from Bangladesh, offered graciously to me by a young woman. I returned to my table to eat. Suddenly, she came and sat next to me with her girlfriends. I was aghast and uncomfortable. During my 10 years of living in South Asia, I never sat next to a Muslim woman, nor did any ever choose to sit next to me. It was totally improper and taboo. At the dinner, I became aware of the influence of our multi-cultural and tolerant society. I did not realize how deeply I had assimilated this custom until a Muslim woman sat down next to me!
John P. Martin, M.M.
Featured image: Sean Sprague/Bangladesh