I think it was on a Monday when I drove out of the parish in Durán, Ecuador past an open field, large and unused in any way. The next morning, as I came around the corner in my truck, I could barely believe it: there were hundreds of caña shacks with tin roofs dotting the large field. An “invasion” had happened; poor people occupying unused open space and by the mere occupancy, claiming it as a place to build a home and live. This has happened all over Latin America. It has been the way cities that once had populations of 50,000 now have sprawled into cities of millions of people. It is very messy, sometimes violent and a hard way to find a place to live. It is also a scene that is ripe for extortion and dishonesty.
Internal migration of the poor from the rural to the urban areas is happening all over the southern hemisphere. The motivation is social and economic: people are seeking a better life with opportunities for education, health care and jobs for themselves and especially for their children. Life in these new areas is harsh and survival only happens as people come together. Often a saying like: “Nuestra fuerza es nuestra unidad” (Our strength is our Unity) is a common expression of the truth of their reality. Primitive as this reality is, it also exposes some of the best of our human nature.
Little by little this new invasion worked its way into becoming a neighborhood and a community. Organization of all forms was needed: streets were laid out, systems of protection established; bus routes near the main streets around the area were established. Small business, like stores that sold basics were opened and other necessities of several thousand people living in one neighborhood came to life. From the community, more and more families came to the local parish church and I came to know them and the stories of the villages from which they had come. Soon enough, the people were organized sufficiently to ask me if they could have a chapel of their own.
I was amazed at the fervor and commitment the people expressed for having a chapel they could call their own. Slowly, I came to realize this wonderful hard working Catholic people would not feel as if they really had “arrived until they had a church in the middle of their community. They had already carved out space for the church and had come together to organize a way to build it. All of this and more they carefully laid out to me at a meeting late one Saturday afternoon. I agreed and promised to work with them to make it a reality.
Traveling by 4 WD vehicle in these parts always requires one to carry rope and other emergency supplies. I walked over to the truck and pulled out a large coil of rope, unrolled it and began to pass it out to everyone gathered for the meeting. At least 25 people, not counting children, grabbed a piece of the rope and we formed a big square in the image of a church building! Slowly we moved around in different directions trying to figure out the best size and location for the dreamed-of chapel. It was an amazing moment: I was watching the church, the people of God, joyously moving to the left and right in what appeared to be a fun game, envisioning a building for their church.
For generations our Church has taught us that the Baptized faithful are the “people of God”, the “Body of Christ”. Not only is a church building not truly THE CHURCH but no single one of us is THE CHURCH. We are only THE CHURCH when we stand together in Christ. We did build a lovely caña chapel in that amazing place, laid out exactly as all the people agreed it ought to be. And that day what I learned from those beautiful folks was an ever deeper appreciation of our true Church. We are ONE in Christ and, Our Strength is our Unity.
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 16/17, 2021
Christian stewardship begins with the call to discipleship and in today’s Gospel we discover those first individuals who sought out Jesus and wanted to listen to him, learn from him and stay with him.
Today, Christian stewards search out the hidden presence of Jesus in their own lives every day. They know Christ is the “Messiah” who will one day bring about a perfect restoration to a troubled world.
They further understand that they are sacraments of his hidden presence in the world. Their task is to make that reality known through their own words and actions. What is one thing we can do to be better stewards of Christ’s life in us