I am writing this from Sucumbios (the rain forest), but first I want to describe my recent time in Quito.
I went back to Quito for Holy Week, and loved it, especially our two great events which are particularly Latin American: First, on Palm Sunday we have an outdoor procession, both in Rancho Alto and in Mirador, in imitation of Our Lord entering Jerusalem. A man wearing an alb and a red stole mounts a donkey (burro) some distance above the chapel, and the people follow them down to the chapel, singing and waving palm branches. When we get to the chapel it is already packed. The Mass in Mirador was in open air. Second, on Good Friday there is our great outdoor two- and- a -half hour Stations of the Cross, beginning at the foot of our mountain Casitagua, and ending above the chapel in Rancho Alto. Well over 500 participated. We act out about 20 stations. This year they were particularly moving. Both of these outdoor ceremonies are powerful, are well planned, and they well express the faith of the people.
On Holy Saturday I expected, for the first time here, to baptize an adult during the Easter Vigil. This is what the liturgy calls for. We prepared well for everything - fire, candle, singing the Exultet, renewal Baptismal vows, - but the young man to be baptized got mixed up and went down to the lower chapel Santa Cruz, where Father Paddy baptized him. Anyway, the ceremony was great with some infant Baptisms. After the ceremony the young people in the choir gave me cake for my 80th birthday.
Another recent happening concerns the woman I wrote about years ago in a note entitled "I found God in Ecuador." You may remember Olga, a mother, whose son had been killed, She did not seek revenge and was able to forgive. This is what I described a few years ago. Now she has received another blow. Her husband, working on a family-owned farm in the southern region, suddenly just keeled over and died. A lot of people know the family. Here in Ecuador they emphasize the "month's mind" mass and ceremony more than the funeral shortly after death. So this "month's mind" Mass was jam-packed. The chief celebrant was the nephew of the deceased, Padre Fernando Diaz, for whom I had been "padrino" during his seminary years and for ordination. I co-celebrated. I was glad to be part of the ceremony, and was proud of my people for showing their support for Olga and her family.
There is some not-so-good news which will interest those who have come on mission to Rancho Alto. For all my time here Carmen Tapia has been the heart, soul, and actual head of the daycare center, Miguelto. But the government has been making more and more rules about daycare centers. They have sent in a person with a more advanced degree to be the head of Miguelito. They have also made regulations about the different classes of workers in care centers, and give a different type of support - the equivalent of Social Security - to those in need according to these classes. To this end, Carmen has developed a problem in her left arm. She cannot close her fist and is always in pain down the whole arm. To get government help for this, she would have to be in a different class of workers. This is how I understand it. So she has had to stop working for the Miguelito. It will be impossible to replace her with someone with the ability warmth, caring, and way she has with both parents and children. The daycare center will not be the same without her. I will find it impossible to think of the center without her.
In a way, she has been the center Now about Sucumbios: there could be a problem about the heat affecting my health, let me explain:
(1) Two or three days after one of my stays in Sucumbois and while in Quito, all of a sudden at night I felt an awful pain in my right knee. It was hot. I couldn't sleep. In the morning I called Paddy, and when he saw my knee was swollen and red, swollen to twice or three times the normal size, he said: "an insect bite." Sure enough, I found two tiny holes on the side of my knee, but I'm not sure when or where I got them. Dr. Franklin came over from our clinic and prescribed medicine, but I was laid up for three days. Eventually I had to go to our hospital - San José Obrero - to have a doctor puncture the swelling and draw out excessive liquid. But one insect bite shouldn't change one's life plans.
(2) On another stay in Sucumbios, my skin was red over much of my body and very itchy. I was scratching and scratching, going nuts, finding it impossible to sleep. Padre Raul called in a doctor friend, and when I suggested that it was because of diabetes, he said it wasn't diabetes, it was because of the heat. He then added: "Maybe your body (skin) isn't made to tolerate the heat of the rainforest." But all my life I've had very dry skin, many nurses and others have told me this. This was nothing new. I have bought many different creams, and have followed the advice of many people to keep putting the cream on. My arms and body look fine now, and I think the problem is solved.
(3) When I came back to Rancho Alto for Holy Week, and during the procession with a man on a burro dressed as Jesus, with people waving palms and singing, I realized I couldn't make it all the way down to the chapel. I left the procession, but too late to control my body. I did make it down to the Mass, but Sister Adriana had to give the homily and distribute Communion. People noticed that I didn't look too well. Sister Rosa called Sister Lourdes, head of our hospital, and they made my go there and stay for a few hours, pumping antibiotics into my body. Later both Sister Lourdes and Dr. Franklin advised me against Sucumbios, although there was no definite connection. But really, as Sister Rosa said, it might have been altitude sickness, which visitors to Rancho Alto sometimes get (remember, the altitude in Sucumbios is sea level and in Quito about 10,000 feet.)
(4) Last Saturday morning I felt great. I was going to a small rain forest community near the border, more than a hour's drive away, which rarely has Mass or any priest presence. On Saturday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night I was scheduled to say Mass in other different outlying communities. This is what I have wanted, and I was looking forward to it. The community for Saturday morning was too small to be on a map, and it took about 80 minutes to get there. I was happy, though we started the Mass a little late. But during the homily I said to myself: "Hay! Something is wrong! I don't feel good!" The next thing I remember I was flat on my back, with people hovering over me to see what was wrong. With my Mass vestments on, they carried me to my car, and then took me for the hour's drive to the clinic Gonzalez, the largest clinic in Lago Agrio. I stayed overnight, again being pumped full of antibiotics. By Sunday I was ready to say Mass, but they had gotten someone else.
What had happened? Partly because of the language difficulty I'm not sure. A cardiologist had been on call. First I was told that he said that my blood circulation to the brain had not gotten there. Then I was told that he'd said that this had happened because in heavy heat the body has to breathe differently than usual. During Sunday morning I had plenty of visitors, and they all talked about the heat of Sucumbios. They said the cardiologist had talked about this to, and that he'd said that I should not continue in Sucumbios. But when I was leaving, I talked to the cardiologist myself. He said the cause was not the heat of Sucumbios. True, momentarily my circulation had not reached the brain, but this was not because of the heat. He said it could have happened anywhere: in Europe, Quito, or anywhere. He said it had just happened, and could happen to anybody, and may not happen again. My age, 80, could be a factor. He suggested that Quito would be better than Sucumbios because it has more medical facilities. It all seems very unclear.
How has this affected my plans? I had planned to stay here till May 30, then return to Quito for Confirmation and the First Communions in Rancho Alto and Mirador, then come home to the US for two weeks, then come back to Quito to host the medical and youth missions in Quito in July, while Paddy makes appeals in Boston. I then planned to move permanently to Sucumbios in late July. I still will do all of those things, except that, instead of staying here till May 30 I'm going back to Illinois tomorrow (Friday April 25.) and will be staying at Our Lady of Mercy in Aurora, IL. There I plan to rest, to sort things out, and to consult doctors whom I know and in whom I have confidence. So I may see you soon.
Don't worry about me. I feel OK. I am taking care of myself.
Love, Fr. Don