As I have discussed many times, my dream is that those projects underway in Quito - the soup kitchen, the clinic, the daycare center Miguelito, the adult center, and the water purifiers for the upper barrio Mirador, will continue after my time here. Usually when a foreign missionary comes and starts things, then leaves, and a native priest takes over, the projects seem to disappear fairly quickly because of lack of organized backing. It has been my dream that, with your help, these projects will continue. That was the main purpose of the event on Feb. 16, which was a fantastic success.
I really want to thank all those who worked so hard to make the event on Feb. 16 the outstanding success that it was. Many people gave countless hours to planning and doing so many things, far more than I could ever enumerate. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And thanks also to those who came, including Bishop Imesch, who has always given me so much support. I understand too these people hope to make it an annual event, which will ensure that the projects will continue. Wow! What a gift!
Before I get into more personal stuff, I want to give you news about the Quito airport. Up until now the city has used an airport only about 20 or 25 minutes from my house. But my flight back here on Feb. 18 was just about the last flight to land there. The next day the city started to use a larger airport which is much further south. A bus or car ride could take up to 90 minutes each way. The cab fare would be $30. This will affect the arrivals and departures of all future missions here, and my own comings and goings. We will be able to handle it, but things will be a little more different.
Now for more personal stuff. I have lived in the house in Santo Cruz for ten years and two months. I have been unofficially pastor of San Antonio de Rancho Alto for almost ten years. As some of you know, for two years and eight months I have been saying to myself: "It's time for me to go." In a way, I've "done my thing" here. I have established things like the 8:00 AM Sunday Mass in Rancho Alto, the education center with its programs, and so on - things I have already mentioned.
In what I have done, there is an aspect of internal timing. I have laid a foundation, but now I think it's time for a younger, Ecuadorian priest, one who knows the language and the people better, to take over and to build on what I've started. For me, it's not as exciting anymore. It is not as much fun as it used to be. It has become routine, almost. Some things like the music at Mass seem to be declining. I feel the need for new challenges, a new set of circumstances where I can help people, maybe in different ways. I feel it's a call to move on. I have interior peace about this decision. It is a choice of life, of growth, of living more fully. To grow is to change. I come from an exceptionally long-lived family. I could easily have ten more years on mission.
There is also the aspect of external timing. In November of 2011 Fr. Paddy and I talked about now being the time for both of us to move on and give the parish to one or two Ecuadorian priests. Fr. Paddy is technically no longer a member of the St. James Society, being overage at 76. He wants to hang on till September when the parish of Santa Cruz, which he founded, will celebrate its 25th anniversary, The St. James Society itself is no longer what it was when I came eleven years ago , when it had almost 40 priests, In fact, at one time 25 years ago, it numbered 118 priests. Now they are down to about 14, with only five in Ecuador. The St James meetings are not as helpful as they used to be. No one drops by anymore. Some of their priests are planning to retire.
Over the past year I have checked out many places: (1) The Spanish-speaking parishes in the Rockford Diocese which is part of Aurora, (2) the Southwest, (3) the Carmelite mission in Lima, Peru, (4) the Spanish-speaking group in the parish where I stay when I'm home, Our Lady of Mercy. (5) I have flown to Guayaquil and talked to Fr. Colin MacInness, head of the St. James priests in Ecuador. (6) I have talked things over with my very good friend, Sister Rosa Velasco, with whom I have worked with for ten years. What seem to "click" so far with who I am right now, to be "the right hand glove on the right hand", seems to be the spot where I am now temporarily, writing this letter.
The general area where I am presently at has four names: (1) the Orient, which doesn't mean China or Japan, but the eastern part of Ecuador, with tributaries forming the Amazon River, (2) the Rain Forest, which is what it is, (3) Sucumbios, the official government and Church name for the part of this area bordering on Columbia, and (4) Lago Agrio, a small city-town cut out of the forest, with a small airport.
It would take too long now to describe this place and this option, I'll write about it in detail in my next general letter. But I want to share this information now: Lago Agrio is 7 or 8 hours by bus or car from the house in Quito....but it is only 35 minutes by plane from Quito....so I will be able to easily host any Quito-oriented missions from Illinois (of which there are 2 planned.) Last week I went back to Quito for Holy Week. Now I will come back to Lago Agrio to "test it out" more.
I have to go back to the States once every four months for my eye doctor, and other doctors, to check up on my glaucoma and other conditions.... I have an appointment on June 26....Paddy will make his final appeals in the Boston area in July, so I will arrange my time hosting missions in Quito this summer with his schedule.
To be clear, I have made no permanent decision, no commitment. I will continue to "test it out." Some difficulties for me in Lago Agrio will be. (1) For the first time, I will be living with people, none of whom speak English. (2) My Spanish isn't really that good, especially my listening skills. (3) Can my body handle the heat?
All this time what weighs on my mind is that I will have to say good-bye to the people I have pastored for ten years. I have never loved anybody as much as I have loved the people of San Antonio de Rancho Alto.
Thank you for your constant love and interest. I'll keep you posted.
Love, Fr. Don