Life is so much simpler then we allow it to be. A problem that makes us grumble is our internet taking longer then 4 seconds to load a page, or opening the fridge and not having a ready made snack available to grab.
We can know these aren’t real problems, and we can try to understand other people’s ways of life. But it isn’t until you experience it first hand that the reality of life sets in and you really do understand the unimportance of our so called “problems”. I just arrived home from mission work in South America, and to be quite honest, my initial reaction when I got off the plane was “what did I get myself into?” It was just like in the movies… shacks for houses, garbage everywhere, dusty dusty dirt everywhere. Of course we are told there are places in the world like this, we see pictures, we see movies, we speak to people who have been. But not until you see it for yourself does everything suddenly become real. Real people live in real shack houses, living on rice and beans, barefoot little children following you through their village.
Where I was, $300 American dollars is what it costs to build a home for a family. The best way I’ve found to describe the homes is a “Gilligan’s Island” house. The floors are dirt, the walls are weaved, and secured to the bamboo posts with wire. I can’t imagine living in those conditions. Yet they seem happier then the majority of North Americans who “have it all”. They have so little, yet are so grateful for the little they have. We laboured and sweat, and were able to build a house in a day. The husband and wife were so thankful to us, and the kids always hung about, looking for anyway they could assist. I had one little boy pass me nails so he felt useful, and we had fun teaching each other words in our own languages. When all is said and done, the happiness of the family and the love they show towards us is, in itself, worth the hard work and long hours to get there.
We delivered food packages to families as well. $25 American dollars feeds a family for a whole month. The food packages included a bag of rice, a bag of beans, cans of milk, pasta noodles, and cooking oils. The mothers warmly welcomed us into their homes, happily giving us tours of their humble lodgings while the children hovered around the food with smiles on their faces. It fires up the resolve never to waste or complain about food again, let me tell you. Here we open up the fridge or pantry, stocked with food, and complain that there is nothing to eat. Down there, they don’t even have cupboards to be bare. One young mother proudly showed us her home. For a shack with dirt floors, you could see she took great pride and care in her home. She had their meager toys hung on the walls, old stuffed animals hung from the ceiling, with calendars and whatever else she managed to find and save put up as decoration. You could see she put great effort into making her home comfortable and clean. With tears in her eyes, she told us how proud she was to meet us and have us in her home. If I spoke Spanish, I would have told her I was the proud one – to meet such a mother of the most humble means, it was inspiring to witness what she could do with it.
I think our whole group who went down would agree that the most inspiring thing about the people and their way of life was the love they have to give. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with kisses and smiles. Children grabbed your hands, played with your hair, reached up to be held. Mothers happily handed their babies to us and smiled as we cooed at them, showing them off to the rest of our group.
What I noticed is this: Mothers in trad circles often cocoon their infants from their parish members, hovering over you or timing you if you dare ask to hold their baby. Sometimes we don’t even know what a baby looks like until months after they are born. Not only is this just annoying, but I don’t actually think it is a virtue to be embodied. (But more on sheltering in some other post, another time). Mothers in these villages were more then happy to hand their baby to us, smiling with pride as we sighed and fondled over them. We could walk across the room to show the other girls, and the mothers easily sat back, smiling and telling us things in Spanish that we didn’t understand. Instead of being terrified of the world, of protecting their baby from people and friends they know, these women had a trust, a pride, a desire to spread the beauty and love of a baby, that (in my opinion) many trad moms could learn from.
There were four priests on our trip, and every one of them said mass in different villages everyday. Most of the villages have mass very seldom. One village chapel hadn’t had mass said in it for over a year. The people waited in anticipation as we pulled up in the van for mass. It was a joy to be part of sharing the Latin mass with them. Communion calls were made to the elderly and the sick, blessings and Extreme Unction were given at hospitals, confession line ups were long. The reality of the lack of sacraments in their lives struck me most when an elderly man shed tears of happiness and gratitude upon receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist. Who knows when he last received the grace of Our Lord, body, blood, soul and divinity? And here I take weekly Sunday mass, a request for confession via text, and perpetual adoration three minutes from my house so for granted.
I could go on and on about this trip. There were so many little details and events to completely change your outlook on life. If you want to know more, or are interested in going on this trip, just send me an email and I’ll happily give you more info! Plus, it’s FSSP – doesn’t get much better, right?!
(The children and the priests interacting was one of the cutest aspects of the trip!)