The Missions: San Francisco and San José

Unless the mission is oriented by charity, that is, unless it springs from a profound act of divine love, it risks being reduced to mere philanthropic and social activity...Consequently, being missionaries means loving God with all one's heart, even to the point, if necessary, of dying for him. - Pope Benedict XVI

merry Christmas:

our Christmas celebrations continue down here - at 0500 this morning yet another group of drunken stooges found themselves a drum and were serenading us with "feliz Navidad" - otherwise things have been relatively quiet and peaceful, as you would hope the Christmas season would be. below is a pic of the pesebre in the side altar of the church:

My Christmas Day was spent at a sumptuous feast with our American volunteers the Kirby family, Maire Eggers and, of course Fr. Gee, and our friend Fr. Mike Seis from a neighboring parish. This topped off the day and set my equilibrium aright after a less than inspirational morning of saying Mass for a dozen people in the only Christmas Mass the town of Pedro Santana had. The rest of my congregation isn’t accustomed to attending Mass on Christmas Day or they were at the house of a family in mourning. This was how my parish entered into this blessed season: a teacher (of the public school) in jail for manslaughter and a town drunk dead. I’m not too clear on many details, but Deacon Roberto reports that the dead man was last seen by him stumbling drunk, wielding a machete, looking for a fight. Christmas Mass made me feel like the King in our Lord’s parable who gives a banquet and all the guests don’t show because they are attending to “better” things. Likewise, the sentiments of this parable were not lost on me as I headed out to the highways and byways in search of other guests. I found a truckload in two villages and brought them to my scheduled Mass in the chapel of El Córbano where we had a packed chapel. Another anecdote unique to a Dominican Christmas, during our Christmas drama, they were bold enough to use a real baby for our Virgin Mary to hold. Miraculously, he played a good baby Jesus, with no signs of Originial Sin which all too often manifest themselves at inopprotune times during my Baptisms.

i've lost count of the amount of baptisms i've celebrated since the beginning of november, but it's close to 200. here is the latest batch, 42 people in banica:

Spanish Moss Xmas Tree

Yes, the scenes of Christmas are a little different down here, but with some unseasonable rains the temperature is quite cool in the mornings (sweater or jacket weather) and being the shortest day of the year, dark. So, I will say that while riding the motorcycle all bundled up and passing a lighted Christmas Tree in the dark gives me a tangible sense of Nativity ambiance.

My last trip to the Loma afforded me my first opportunity to baptize a child Eduviges, or rendered in English, Hedwig. When I met the mother the end of November she was nursing her 4 week old baby and still didn’t have a name. So, I suggested that we let the stars decide. Which date was she born? I asked. When she responded October 16 she was in luck because it happened to be the feast of two female saints, Santa Eduviges or Santa Margarita. Apparently, Hedwig is the more popular name, the same day Fr. Gee boasted of baptizing a Hedwig in his parish. So at my Baptism, the sad reality of the break down of the family was comically manifest. Paper work is always a task in any culture, but in the mountains there are a lot of approximations filled in the blanks. In following the routine procedures of recording names, the father’s name is asked. What might be a sensitive subject for some young unmarried women doesn’t seem to carry the same discomfort in the Loma. Broadcast loudly across the chapel and the community of houses outside the window was the question, Hey! What was the name of that guy? All the girl or the community at large could come up with was a nickname. I did get a sense from a few faces that this was a laughably sad situation, but they seemed to have given up on the shame of it all long ago.

You all may be burned out on Christmas by the time you read this, but if anyone is still in the giving spirit, I’m looking to raise $2,500 to fix my leaking church and parish center roofs. All one needs do to make sure that 100% of a donation goes to this project is write the check to the Diocese of Arlington and include a letter stating that this is for the roof of San José parish, Pedro Santana.

just after posting the two pictures below a young woman (fifa) comes to my office and says
"hey, sofie's having her baby, she needs a ride to the hospital"
"okay," i reply, "let's go"
so, after helping her into the car and beginning our 4 minute cruise to the hospital she starts intermittently screaming and moaning.
"hey fifa, check to see if it's coming out"
fifa reaches into the back-seat, lifts her dress and says,
"oh yeah, it's looking good"
"do we have time?" i ask
as we pull into the hospital i tell the guy on duty to grab a wheel chair. as he rolls up i am trying to help this woman out of the truck, but she refuses to close her legs. we are forced to give her the old 'double leg hold and lift' and set her in the wheelchair and head back to the delivery area. when we enter the maternity suite she decides to get up and stand. so, the guy removes the wheelchair and leaves. sofie then then decides to squat down over the cold ceramic tile floor. i'm thinking to myself, "well, this can't be right" and the doctor walks in and screams
"get off the floor, stand up, get on the bed." and then says to me,
"hey father, she'd just drop it right there, head first."
we finally get her on the bed and she pulls up her dress above her belly and starts screaming again. the doctor then starts laughing and calling her a coward and the nurse is telling her to shut-up and be quiet and then this baby basically falls out and i'm standing there like a deer in the headlights and i have no escape route because the door is blocked. so, i guess you'd have to say i was finally present for a complete birth...

hopefully she'll name the baby after st john of the cross, but only time will tell.

the houses are just about finished, we're waiting on the windows to arrive. here is yaya and 5 of her 6 kids, (the other boy was playing in the river...). she was widowed a few years ago and has managed her family very well, all things being considered. this is a huge upgrade from the rented mud shack in which they were living.

i must add a second shot because when i arrived and told them we needed to take a picture the girls were in their lounging clothes and it took a good 20-30 minutes to get dresses on and hair done...

For those wondering of my whereabouts, at least for the past week, I’ve been in my parish’s backyard. 25 hours, from 2:30pm to 3:30pm, to traverse from the top of the parish, Francisco José (home of the world’s best coffee), to arrive back to Pedro Santana (base camp). Quite a profitable trip: 30 baptisms and 4 marriages. The marriages are the first I’ve performed in either Bánica or Pedro Santana in the 2 and a half years I’ve been here. I would have had more marriages but two couples told me that they couldn’t get married in November because it is the month of the dead. Despite the non-sequitur, I have to respect the catholicity, I don’t think there are many of those married in the Church in the US that could tell me that November is the month of the dead. When it comes to the marriage issue, one would think that the Catholic Church just arrived on the shores of this island, then again, there are things that are just beautifully Catholic. One of the couples whom I married had their proud godparents in attendance. I may have not explained too clearly here. My couples had all been together, living as man and wife, for on average 20-30 years. Another personal interesting anecdote in gathering the facts of the couples, is that a few of them were grandparents by my age. (For those unfamiliar with the Fr Murphy bio that would be 37 years). I don’t know about you but that’s a challenge to my modern Northern Virginian perspective. When life is simple, why wait around? And by the way, why is our life so complicated? Is it our pursuit of things? Or is there a nobler reason? I’ll save it for another blog.

Back Yard of San José Parish


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