Fr. Jason Weber offers an account of his first two weeks in Bánica with a beautiful reflection on the “homeless” nature of mission work. Read to the end to pray for the newly baptized and to see a video of a poem by G.K. Chesterton!
I was very blessed to arrive in Bánica along with a lovely group from St. John the Beloved in McLean. They were coming in order to construct cement flooring in some of the homes of folks that are part of the parish of Bánica but live outside of the town center. Why cement floors you might ask? As an improvement over dirt floors these have three distinct advantages: 1) they are a lot easier to clean and keep sanitary. I’m not quite sure what its like to sweep a dirt floor, but I would imagine that no matter how much effort you put into it, it would still be covered with dirt when you finish. Sanitation and cleanliness are important, especially for the children who play on the floors and whose hands are no strangers to where feet usually pass. 2) Cement floors make the home considerably cooler. This is also a significant advantage as the sun beats down rather mercilessly during the heat of the day. 3) It gives folks a sense of pride and makes it a house that they can be proud of, lending dignity to the family who lives there. The group also befriended many of the children in the neighborhood including kids named Bienvenido, Bien, and Dichoso. Bienvenido (Welcome) and Bien (Well) are, as you’ve probably guessed, twins. Dichoso (blessed, or Lucky) was just a really cute kid, as cute as France (Francia)- that is, not the country but the little girl who also lives there.
Not only were they wonderful workers, but keen soccer players. We were told that we would play a team in Hato Viejo that had previously played and defeated four American groups. The field was more or less a diamond with walls that were in-bounds. When I say “walls” I don’t mean even, flat indoor walls. Rather, they were irregular, “cactus” walls, and when I use quotes for “cactus” I actually mean that there were many cacti lined up very closely together so as to make a really secure wall that few would dare to scale- yet, we played soccer err. . . with them. Well, these were the walls, and they were in bounds- apparently they occasionally have problems with the balls going flat. Go figure! Anyway, St. John the Beloved brought their soccer coach with them, Fr. Pollard, who is also pastor of the same, and he had us well organized with a tough defense. Hato Viejo scored the first goal but we tied it up before half-time. They struck first in the second half but with a few minutes left Jimmy was able to sneak the ball into the back of the net to bring us even at 2-2. In overtime, we finished in a dramatic manner. Fr. Pollard sent an absolute rocket from a goal kick (the field was probably ¼ of a pro field) that found its way into the net. So, the Americans won 3-2 and gave out lollipops to the kids after the game.
A few days ago, I also went on my first rounds to visit the sick of the parish in Bánica. It was delightful to see them. The elderly ladies all try to adopt young priests as though they were their own children. In one picture, I am with a lady named Cuca (sp?) who turned 100 this past year. She’s still pretty strong and apparently cooks and cleans, although walking to Mass is now apparently too great a difficulty as she is unsteady on her feet. In the second picture I am visiting Puchula. After the communion service with her, I was speaking with the family a little and when I introduced myself they said, “We already know you!”
“How do you know me?” I asked. “Did we meet when I visited in January?”
They pulled out a picture of me and my friend Samantha who had been a missionary in Bánica for more than a year. She and I were in college together and she had left some pictures with the family with whom she stayed and there I was. Apparently she had told them a good deal about me! They told me, a friend of Samantha is a friend of ours, at which time they fed me lunch too!
Commentary and Reflection
I am very glad to begin my new life in Bánica at the parish of St. Francis of Assisi. The previous few weeks prior to my coming were spent in retreat and travel in order to see friends and family prior to leaving for the mission. Those weeks in between were a unique and strange time in my priesthood. I was truly a man without a country, more so because I was without a parish to serve than because of the particular geographical obstacles of my situation. It is with this idea that I would like to begin my reflections. A man without a country is a man without a place to rest his head and lacking a place to call home. It is in this way that Our Lord Himself lived, with no place to rest His head as He poured Himself out establishing the Kingdom of God in this world. The few weeks in between my assignments I felt truly like a man without a country, lacking a parish to serve and the direction that would define my activity and work as I waited beginning in my new parish in Bánica. I suppose in a certain sense it is this feeling, the need for rest that is not the absence of activity, but to find a place called home which inspires a desire for something more and greater only to be satisfied in the kingdom of heaven when the battle is won and every obstacle overcome. I could ask myself, “Why have I come?” and the answer comes back clearly, “For the glory of God and that I may become holy.” I suppose that very sentiment could be formed in this way: that I may have a place in our heavenly home in God’s glory and that even in this world I may find the rest and peace that may only be found when we abide in Christ, which is holiness. We are Christians, and as Christians we have no home on this earth, which is precisely why we can be at home anywhere so long as we are hidden in Christ. We are on a journey to a glorious destination, and yet have already received the foretaste of our true home in the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. This being the case, you are invited to join me through prayer and through this letter in the proclamation of the Gospel in a remote town nestled in the high country of the Dominican Republic.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a Christmas poem that takes up the theme of our homelessness that is only found in Christ. It is a lovely poem worth reading called: The House of Christmas.
Please pray for the children that I was able to baptize in the poor campo of Pilon: Yajaira Valdez, Blarin Florentino, Julia Montero, Linda Valdez, Chichimel Florentino, and Wanderlin Ramirez. Also, please pray for my transition here- there is a lot to learn and many adjustments. I rejoice to be here and hope to serve the people well, proclaiming the full glory of the Gospel.