The day began with an early start, 6:00 am departure from our hotel in Guatemala City. We first returned to the airport to pick up two of our group whose flight was canceled the previous day. From there we left Guatemala City, and made the 2.5 hour drive to San Lucas Toliman.
I have a bunch of pictures and information to share about the various projects of the mission, the amazing work of the New Ulm (Minnesota) Diocese, and Fr. Greg Schaeffer who died in 2012 and is responsible for the legacy of this place.
Right now, before I head to bed, I have the following on my heart.
About ten days ago, my family attended 8 a.m. daily mass at our parish in Northern California.
As we walked into the church, we all noticed a pink coffin, the color of a pale carnation, sitting in front of the altar. Atop the coffin stood two framed pictures of a pretty little Hispanic girl, possibly 7 or 8 years old, wearing a purple gingham dress, with a beaming smile in both photographs. Around the coffin were flower arrangements — lilies — in pastel shades.
In the few minutes preceding mass, the girl’s family sat in the first row, and two Hispanic men of my approximate age stood at the head of her coffin. One of the men, who I gathered was the girl’s father, opened the lid of the casket, as though seeing her again would bring her back, or at least imprint her likeness upon his memory, very little comfort for a bereaved parent.
I felt like an intruder upon a most private moment; a father looking upon his little girl, whose white veil is all that could be seen from my place a few rows back. Anticipating the start of mass, the other man — perhaps her uncle — convinced the father to close the coffin and coaxed him away and back to his pew.
I later learned that this was a migrant family who before this terrible tragedy were traveling north to work in a harvest when they were struck by a accident involving an exploded propane tank in the back of their vehicle, which seriously burned and ultimately killed their little girl. I also learned that the family had no means to pay for a funeral, and although they were not parishioners because they were only passing through, Fr. A presided at the funeral Mass and graveside burial. Through its donations, the parish raised nearly $3,000 to help pay for the family’s expenses.
This was a family of exceedingly limited means, who, in addition to mourning the loss of their child, were faced with the expense of a funeral, AND the loss of employment up north.
Today we traveled a bumpy, curvy road further up the hillside jungle, so that Fr. A could say mass in a tiny church in a place called La Naranja.
Local women, clad in traditional Mayan garb, carried the processional cross, and Father delivered a fine homily in Spanish reflecting upon the gospel reading in which Jesus is asked by the people of the Gadarenes to leave after casting out the demoniacs.
At the conclusion of Mass, Father did a most suprising thing: he thanked the villagers for their welcome, and then he told them about this little girl dying and asked them to pray for her and her family.
The message to be drawn from this is that the Church is One Body. Perhaps some of us are financially privileged and may do a thing like go on a mission, but no price can be placed on the intercessory prayers of the Christian family brought closer together by the Living God. There is no doubt the people here know faith. Their prayers are infinitely valuable.
Six thousand feet above sea level in a tiny village of the Guatemalan jungle, the locals pray tonight for a little girl who tragically died in Northern California, all because a priest said yes to the Holy Spirit, and then responded by asking his brothers and sisters in Christ to join him.
God bless you tonight and always, and perhaps you too will join in prayer for the precious soul of a little girl and her grieving family.