It’s Tuesday — my attempted day off. I’m using the time to try and put some order to the chaos of my room, which is also my office.
I’m preparing to celebrate the monthly Mass tonight in Punto Mero. This is our last pueblo and church to the south of us on the coast, 40 minutes away.
Punto Mero achieved brief international fame while “Willie the Whale” washed ashore there a few years ago; also when Bishop (David B.) Thompson took part in a catechetical meeting there.
Last month we celebrated the monthly Mass on a Wednesday, the day 17 visitors arrived from Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston. They hardly had time to unpack before taking off in four vehicles for the Punto Mero Mass.
It was a moving experience. Punto Mero has no electricity so we celebrated the Eucharist with two rechargeable lamps and candles. Mass started late as we took advantage of Father Frank Hanley’s Spanish to offer the sacrament of reconciliation before Mass.
Our visitors were squeezed into a corner near the front. We were all like sardines. Even the four vehicles couldn’t carry all the people in one trip.
The participation was tremendous. One visiting teen-ager said it was the most impressive Mass she’d ever taken part in. Another visitor, a doctor, asked, “Is it like this every month?” I answered, “Yes, it is now.” But it wasn’t always like this.
I recall seven years ago we had a luncheon meeting of the St. James priests working in the north. The priest with me said he’d just celebrated Mass in Punto Mero and the total collection was one coin of 10 centavos — worth about three pennies.
We were in an inexpensive restaurant, but the priests told him he’d have to celebrate Mass there every month for more than 20 years to pay for our meal. I’m going to see what the collection is tonight.
Seven years ago the church at Punto Mero was the smallest of some 35 churches in the parish, but too big for our needs. The monthly Mass had two or three men, a handful of women and a few children.
After the rains of El Nino, the mayor doubled the size of the church. He also recently built three other churches without consulting with me — or even telling me — which is fine. They’ve never heard here of separation of church and state.
Last week the president of Punto Mero’s parish council came to see me, asking me if it would be presumptuous to ask the mayor to enlarge the church again.
It’s satisfying to see people discover the transformational power of the Gospel. It’s beautiful to see a community come to life and grow.
That’s one reason I like parish ministry. Though as Mother Teresa said the important thing is not to be successful but to be faithful.
The human instrument in this successful ministry is the marvelous work of the Bodas de Cana retreat movement. Several dozen married couples moved into about 14 small coastal villages giving six-day missions and following up with weekly evangelization. And the people are responding. The prayers of so many people are watering the seed of God’s word that is being planted.
People wait on the highway each month for parish vehicles to carry them to the eucharistic Lord to celebrate Mass.
At last month’s Mass, two of our teen visitors were among our 20 altar servers. After Mass they all helped give bread and bananas to the people as they continued singing and celebrating.
We now frequently buy 1,000 rolls and 1,000 bananas a day. Missionaries to China were once accused of creating ‘rice-Christians.’ I hope we’re not creating ‘banana-Christians.’
I’m aware of the danger but know the people are hungry, and the ocean at present is not giving up its riches. I watch mothers tuck away some rolls and bananas that will be tomorrow’s breakfast, or perhaps food for the day.
I hope and believe that for most of the people it’s Christ, the Bread of Life, that is the driving force in this renewal.
It’s now 11:30 on Tuesday night, and I’m finally in my room after returning from Punto Mero with an army of servers and musicians.
What a beautiful celebration! What a privilege to serve such faith-filled people! What a privilege to be able to serve the poorest of God’s poor! I ask myself why there aren’t dozens of priests clamoring to work here with the St. James Society.
Doing appeal work for St. James, I’ve had the opportunity to celebrate Mass in many parts of the States. Fortunately I’ve never encountered a sloppy liturgy, but rather every Mass showed a lot of work and planning. But I’ve never seen anything like what we had tonight. I’d have to agree with the teen-ager: most impressive.
Years ago I used to hear you can’t evangelize and preach the Gospel to someone with an empty stomach. I used to think that wasn’t true; now I know it’s not true.
Perhaps it would be truer to say you can’t preach the Gospel to someone with a full stomach. Maybe that’s why, beginning with Jesus, fasting has been such a major part of our 2,000 year Catholic tradition.
Hunger for physical food seems to create a hunger for the Bread of Life — the only food that can truly satisfy us.
By the way I just counted the collection (first time ever), and it is nine solis and 30 centavos. (There are 100 centavos in a sol and three and a half solis to the dollar.) The total isn’t much, but for many of these people it was a real sacrifice.
I spoke tonight with young people who are missing classes because they don’t have the 50 centavos car fare. We bought two used tires and a new battery for the town council bus to provide school transport for these children. It’s failing to do so. Another job to be done.
Please pray for these good people and for us. In our Masses we pray constantly for our benefactors who support us by prayer and/or offerings.
On the next first Tuesday of the month, please remember in prayer the little church in Punto Mero filled with worshiping Christians.
Msgr. Donald Gorski is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston serving in Zorritos, Peru.