Stories of Joy - No. 11 - Two Canadian priests involved in helping an extremely poor family

In Latin America - Canada

Two Canadian priests, pastors of neigbouring parishes, had just finished their Latin American mini-tour and would now spend several days on their own visiting a priest friend with whom they had earlier studied in Rome. He was a member of a missionary Order of priests who had actually been here for nearly half a century toiling in the Lord’s vineyard far and wide in this big city. There were several well-established and prosperous parishes, and a greater number of missions, as was the custom to call the smaller parishes or those just beginning. Earlier signs of the first immigration were beginning to disappear as the population worked hard to ensure better times for their children, and on. Many of the first settlers who had begun in the countryside surrounding the city and, with great sacrifice and hard work, survived the poverty, were now just as energetically settling into the city, which was promising so much. Their host was a son of these circumstances, which helped to make him aware of the “haves and the have-nots’ to which the church was equally committed. Yes, the peripheries of the city had many, many poor families.

The small group of Sisters, who had also come from Europe for mission, had founded several schools and a medical clinic in city center, and had over the years heard stories of the unfortunate plight of some of their compatriots here. They were very anxious to do more. Moving out more and more into the peripheries, they were struck with pain and compassion when they came face to face with the real poor and needy. They taught the children and youth, they sought out the sick, comforted many struggling families, witnessing to all the love and compassion of Jesus and the tenderness of Mary, his Mother and theirs. As the saying went, the city had sprawled into the countryside, and now they found themselves once again “in new beginnings.” They had prayed for guidance and they were trusting God’s providence.

At this point in the narrative, the Canadian priests found an easy opening to what they had wanted to say, all through the conversation, as to why they really stayed back for this visit. Their parishes had made them promise they would find for them some very poor families they could help and support from Canada. “Would it be possible to visit a very poor family?” they asked. The pastor had hardly time to answer, when the Sister Superior, anxious not to lose an opportunity, turned to him: “Father, we came back here to greet our visitors and are quickly returning to a big mission. You will believe us, that our Sisters have seen many very poor and extremely needy families, but none of us have seen one like the one we met three days ago; they literally have nothing. Could our guests meet this one?’

Early next morning she drove the three men to the edge of the city, where they could see the long abandoned factories, a former meat packing plant, and a line of mostly half-overturned tiny dwellings, a thin line of smoke coming out of several. There were only paths leading to these remnants of better times, and as they left their car a distance away, they picked up the food which the Sisters had prepared the night before. The two guest priests told us, later, they were so overcome with emotion their feet wobbled and their arms felt weak.

The Sister pushed the door open and greeted the three occupants — Glory to Jesus Christ! They all three gave a sign of recognition to the Sister, and stared at the others. The mother was seated on a short plank on a wooden crate, her two young daughters were seated on a well-used blanket on the hard packed clay floor. At a glance they also saw a very tiny stove with a tea pot on it, two more overturned crates for a table on which were three cups, three spoons, and a large soup dish. Also on it was a fresh loaf of bread, they learned later brought by a neighbour, probably herself a notch or two up from a similar poverty. This kind lady often brought them food, and some they had in their own garden patch. On two long shelves on one wall were several pots, a black iron frying pan, and a few supplies in plastic bags. A cloth curtain reached across half of the shelves. On the floor were several more blankets. The apparel of the mother and daughters matched the surroundings. As they stood up, the Sister hugged them and smiled and told them she loved them, and they were special, and she will help them, etc. They knew who priests were, but none had come around for some time now. Well, they came today, and they joined in the hugging, and also told them they loved them, and would help the Sisters help them.

The Sister opened up her two baskets and placed a bottle of milk and sandwiches and cookies on the table, and apples and more wrapped cookies into the soup bowl. The lady showed her the box of tea. The pastor blessed the food, all made the Sign of the Cross, and soon all hands were holding goodies and enjoying the fellowship. It was hard to ask too many questions, but the Sisters would tell them more later. Yes, they heard that many good people in Canada and America help the poorer people in different countries; how did it happen that the Sisters came to them just a few days before you kind priests came to visit us? They would know many things from the Sisters, and learn much about Jesus in heaven who sees the whole world, and sends His messengers of love to the poor and the hungry. His Mother helps him.

The two Canadian priests returned to their parishes and told their parishioners what treasures would be theirs for the promptings they had given them before they departed on their tour. In fact, the Sisters were soon able to invite the poor family to come and live with them, and they cared for them in all ways. They will never forget the scene when on their first night with them, they walked into the girls’ bedroom and found the two sitting up in the large bed they were sharing, content and patting and stroking the soft and light quilt which would in a few minutes cover their past difficult life with the comfort of God’s peace and love and human kindness.

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