Wow! I just looked it up, and found out that my last general letter to everybody was way back in January when I was sick and was moving from one place to another. So now let's catch up. After a passport difficulty and a procedure on my upper and lower eyelids I flew back to Quito onMarch 7th. Victor, his wife Rosa, Sister Adriana, Sister Lourdes from the hospital, and another hospital worker were at the airport to meet me. The airport is now an hour and a half more distant than before. When I got to my cabin Sister Rosa had prepared a welcome meal, with Padre Santiago, Sister Luzmilla, and two young women missionaries.
I may have come back a day or two early, because I didn't feel on top of things right away. And also, for Quito, the weather was bad, with too much rain every day. But now I have settled down to a routine. I eat three meals a day with the Sisters and missionaries, who treat me like a king. Sometimes I drive down to my soup kitchen for lunch. With my satellite TV I can get CNN in English, BBC International in English, plus sometimes Charlie Rose and, at 1:00 PM, the NBC Today show -six hours late. I go to a plaza in Quito once a week to get my mail. I picked up a flock of Christmas cards, and then a flock of birthday cards. About once a month I go for an overnight to the Windsor Hotel in Quito. At both these places I pick up the Miami Herald in English. I miss watching these evening news programs with Paddy. Padre Santiago doesn't watch TV. I'd like to be able to talk about things like Crimea and the Ukraine with somebody. I say daily Mass in four different convents on weekdays: here on MondayAM, in the postulants' convent Tuesday at 6:00 PM, at the Mill Hill Sisters convent in the parish below - this Mass is in English - and in the neighboring barrio San Judas Tadeo on Saturday mornings. Wednesdays and Thursdays Padre Santiago and I alternate evening Masses between Santa Cruz below, and the chapels Dolorosa and San Antonio up here.
The clinic had a special "welcome back" dinner for me, and then four groups each had a birthday party for me: the Sisters and missionaries, the Miguelito, the adult education team, and the "Donald Kenny Foundation", which parallels the Quito Barrio Outreach foundation in the States. The Sisters and missionaries took me out to McDonalds because I told them they have hamburgers from heaven.
Two huge things happened as soon as I got back. Padre Santiago and Sister Adriana gave a great all-day retreat to the parents of kids in our religious education program. Then the foundation put on an enormous bingo night to support the Miguelito. They put in a great amount of time preparing for it, but it rained in torrents all day. I felt sorry for them. But then the rain stopped, and an enormous number of people came. It went on until2:00 AM. It was a great event, even though I don't play bingo.
One new thing I have been concentrating on has been visiting the sick. Last summer I read, for the third time, Cardinal Bernardine's "The Gift of Peace" where he describes how visiting other cancer patients at Loyola Hospital had given him a renewed understanding of his priesthood. As Archbishop of Chicago and the elected head of the U.S. Catholic bishops, he was always meeting and communicating with well known people: presidents, governors, mayors, other bishops, the pope, and the Vatican. These bedside visits gave him the opportunity to meet very ordinary people. It was almost a rediscovery of his priesthood. I started organized weekly visits last summer before I got sick. When I was home I re-read Elizabeth Kubler Ross' "On Death and Dying". Jan Olah at St. Thomas gave me the archdiocesan handbook on the formation of ministers of care, which I read. An experienced hospital chaplain gave me pages of notes, which I read as well. I also met with Father Bill Moriarity, a classmate from the seminary, who has been for years working at Northwestern Hospital. Since coming back to Quito I've begun weekly visits to those in the barrio, and now am working with two Sisters in two other barrios to plan frequent visits. This is a fairly new thing for me, because I have always concentrated on teaching. In these barrios the poor people can't put their sick relatives in a hospital or residence. People die at home. I have been deeply moved by how loving these families are to their sick members. In fact, I've been inspired, stunned.
On Palm Sunday I experienced what I relish most about the Latin American Church: Holy Week. We started our usual procession with a man representing Jesus on a donkey in the barrio José Peralta, much higher than we usually do, and we had a different route, with more dusty, unpaved roads than usual, with everybody singing and waving palm branches. By the time we got to the chapel it was jam-packed. We had different readers take the different parts in the long gospel. Everybody wants to have themselves, their palms, and their statues sprinkled with holy water. At noon a young missionary and I went up to the higher barrio Mirador and had a similar Mass, though this year it was without a burro. I am looking forward to the rest of Holy Week, especially the long outdoor Stations of the Cross, beginning at the foot of the mountain and ending much higher even than Rancho Alto. Also this year, for the first time since I've been here, I will have an adult to baptize during the Easter vigil. Fantastic!
Now some tidbits: Last fall someone broke into my car during the night and stole plenty. We put in an alarm, which scared away a group during the night last week. But we have decided not to keep my car next to my cabin, but in a garage down the street. This arrangement is working out.... The government has sent a new "coordinator", to the daycare center Miguelito. This shows they are interested in keeping it going... I have two Young Christian Student groups in the nearby public schools, studying the drug situation...more to come on this.
Finally, I had a reminder that I'm in the Third World. I recently saw an oculist who had worked on my eyelids, which had fallen and turned inside out. After the procedure I saw an eye doctor, because my eyes were bothering me, and he told me the sutures were the problem. I had another appointment for 4:00 PM last Friday. Carlos, Sister Adriana and I went to the city for this appointment. They said: "Oh, he's not here now. He's in Guayaquil." When we asked why they had not called to let us know, we just got blank faces.