The biggest event since my last letter was on Saturday, July 26: a combination "thank you" for the medical mission team and a public "Thank you / good-bye" for me. It was outside, in front of the chapel San Antonio. Sisters Meir and Nuala, from the chapel in the barrio below, where I say Mass in English every Friday, also came. Things started at 7:15 PM with the children's choir singing songs and dancing. Then the folk dance group of Rocío Macancela, who used to be in charge of the library in the parish below - she was my first friend here - brought her adult folk dance group. Rocío has bolstered the continuation of love for traditional folk dances here more than anyone else. This helps the people be proud of their pre-Columbus roots, which is part of who they are. I always take part in the dancing after the official performance is over. Then, because they know I love this music, a group of Mariachi players came, danced, and sang. The leading singer had me put on a sombrero. Then came the folk group headed by Rosa Monteguano , the one in charge of the soup kitchen. They too danced, along with me, the younger members of the medical team, and others. It started to get cold. Padre Santiago m.c.'d the whole night, proclaiming my praises. The medical team had to leave by 10:00 PM to travel home, so they missed the "mad cow". This was a paper maché cow on wooden supports, with long thin metal tubes which sent out fiery sparklers all over the place. It was kind of dangerous to get close. The final dance group was made up of catechists, past and present, who invited all to participate. The people here seem to enjoy watching others dance more than dancing themselves. There was a video of me and my projects here, which fizzled out towards the end. They gave me a music CD of the video, but as of now my system doesn't play it. I'll work on this. During the night some individuals spoke and thanked me for my presence and for what I have done here. It was a great night, which ended about 10.30 PM. I thanked everybody and then I went to bed so tired that I fell asleep with my clothes on.
Some tidbits: My friends here talked me out of trying to climb Mt. Chimborazo. It's, they said, too long a climb for me at my age and it's too cold, and all my warm clothing was transported back to the states by the Medical Mission team.... I went with the Miguelito group including the kids to a zoo. I did see a condor, the largest of all birds - really it's a huge vulture - but only saw its head and neck. Later others saw him fly .... We have a fabulous new missionary, Alejandra, who accompanies us on our visits to the sick ... I have handwritten 50 thank / goodbye letters, almost all of which I have been able to deliver face-to-face, with a conversation ... Yesterday, during my farewell day, I got calls from former missionaries, postulants, and now young Sisters ... Two former missionaries of seven years ago, Marianella and Tatiana, came and visited the convent, then came to the 5:00 PM farewell Mass, where I introduced them. People remembered them after seven years! .... We all had a great get-together after Mass. We have a good community here. .. Cristina, my friend with lupus who left the novitiate five years ago, came Saturday on a three-hour bus trip, to say good-bye. ... Rosa Monteguano gave me the number of meals we have served in the soup kitchen since its opening: 130,686....Wow!
I come today on Thursday, August 14. For two weeks I will stay at St. Mary's in Downers Grove, where I was pastor for 12 years and where I recently gave a mission-retreat. In early September I will go back to Our Lady of Mercy in Aurora, where I usually stay. All this time I will have the same cell number as before.
Now I need to describe my more emotional day when I said good-bye at all the Masses. Padre Santiago had added a Mass, so at all three Masses down below at Santa Cruz - 7:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 7:00 PM - I said the below goodbye homily. I also had the Mass at 5:00 PM in the chapel Dolorosa in the Planada, where they sang my favorite song, "Eres Tu", but the "biggie" was here at San Antonio de Rancho Alto. The theme was "The Good Shepherd", with big letters on the wall. The Mass began late, as is usual in Ecuador, with a folk dance entrance by adults from the area, bringing symbolic gifts. Then, as a substitute for one of the readings, there was a 30-minute drama, with my friend Anita Salas dressed as a priest (me) visiting different homes: a home where the family had just lost a child, another where there was physical abuse, another where there was a sick and dying person, another was a visit with a drug addict, another with a family with an alcoholic father. This was to represent me as a Good Shepherd. I gave the homily, than others spoke after that: Vincente Sarango, president of the barrio Rancho Alto, a woman who read a farewell letter from the parish, and Padre Santiago, who gave me a plaque (my 8th) here. At the Offertory the Afro community brought up more symbolic gifts, dancing to African music. Then it was Mass as usual. Afterward people served sandwiches and a soft drink outside. I felt that I was and always had been really the pastor of San Antonio for ten years, and that the people recognized this. It was a great day, though a sad day.
Also, many thanks to Dr Colin Sumida who led our medical mission which as a great success. They served over 500 patients - an all-time record. Mother Provincial and her staff came to observe. This should end any thought of closing the clinic.
This may be my last general letter / update, although I may write "musings" on my experience here. Some people here want me to write a general letter in Spanish and send back to Quito every so often.
Thanks for your support over these 12 great years.
My last homily in Quito:
In my first assignment after ordination I "gave it all I got". I lived my whole life for that parish, which means for the wonderful people of that parish. It was a thrilling time of change in the Church, right after Vatican II. The Mass in English, guitar music for Masses with young people, the ecumenical movement, sharing the Bible with adult groups, parish councils and school boards, the civil rights movement, coffee houses, home Masses, a real sense of community in the parish. In doing this I "fraternized" with the laity, and formed lasting friendships.
After four years, according to the diocesan custom, I was charged in June to serve another parish, in a more affluent area, where I didn't feel needed as much. I missed the activities and the people of the previous parish. I felt uprooted.
At that time in the Church, the priests on retreat had switched from the custom of a preached retreat to a shared retreat. In this kind of retreat, for four or five days, after we had received input from a speaker, we broke up unto small groups and shared our insights and problems. In October on this kind of retreat, on the last day, I shared my pain and bewilderment, my sense of being lost and alone in the new place.
The priests supported me. They told me that it was natural to feel this way after the first change of parishes. After all, seminary was like a prison, and one's first parish was like breaking out of a prison. We give our all then. But after that first change, later changes become routine, and we can handle change from one place to another more easily. That was the advice of these experienced priests, all except one. But I still felt dissatisfied. Their advice did not "fit."
That unforgettable night I heard a knock on my door. A priest from the group, Ray Carey, was there. He thanked me for the way I had led our group discussions. Then he said, "Don, the advice they gave you today was wrong. It shouldn't get easier for us to change. As we grow as priests, we are called to grow as loving, caring persons. We must love and care for those in our next parish more than we loved and cared for those in our previous parish. So it should hurt more, not less, to leave a parish as we grow as loving, caring persons. Right now I'm leaving my third parish. It's killing me. It hurts, but that's our call. It's what our life is all about." He shook my hand and left. I've never seen him since. I have tried to apply his wisdom in parish after parish since that night.
Thirty-two years later as I was preparing to leave the States and come to South America as a missionary, I tracked him down. He was working at Lutheran General Hospital. Over the phone I thanked him for the life-changing advice-wisdom he had shared with me 32 years before.
When I came here, I made three resolutions: (1) I would accept as a blessing any cross the Lord would send me while in Quito, (2) I would forgive everybody here for anything, no matter what happened, (3) I would love all you people more than I had loved anyone else before. (No. 2 was the hard one, but resolution No. 3 is different from the others). It has been too easy. You people are so lovable. You are lovable for two reasons, (1) poor people - those who don't have so much - are always more lovable than the rich or very rich who have very much, and (2) in general, Ecuadorians are simply more lovable than North Americans. You smile more. So, because resolution No. 3 has been so easy, I changed it to this resolution: I would try to love you people more than any priest / pastor has ever loved his people. I haven't been able to do that, but I have loved you more than I have ever loved anyone else. I have been able to do this not because I am good, but because you are so good and lovable. So all I can say, after 12 years, is thanks, thanks, thanks. I will never forget you.