I served at the Jesuit parish for Mayans in southern Belize. While there, I traveled to rural villages and celebrated Mass in chapels the size of a two-car garage. The chapels were often brightly painted and decorated with religious images and artwork. Sometimes the roof was made of palm branches, and sometimes of corrugated metal [which makes a terrific sound when it rains!]. In some villages, I celebrated Mass in English. Sometimes in Spanish. And sometimes I said the ‘priestly prayers’ in English, and the people sang the responses in Mayan.
I did not know what they were singing. And yet, I did know. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!” They did not understand what I was saying, and yet they did: “Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.” I was welcomed by the villages as a visiting priest, and I did my best to welcome them.
Pope Francis says, “To hold a ‘synod’ means to walk together. I think this is truly the most wonderful experience we can have: to belong to a people walking, journeying through history together with their Lord who walks among us! We are not alone; we do not walk alone. We are part of the one flock of Christ that walks together.” (Pope Francis, Francis of Assisi, 4 October 2013).
After Sunday morning Mass, several people would walk with me to the next village where I would celebrate another Mass. They wanted me to get there safely [and not get lost!]. They wanted to accompany me, to have a few minutes in friendly conversation. I could speak a few words of Spanish, and they often spoke a bit of English. It was a chance to get to know each other, to say thank you, to smile, and to share ourselves.
This is our Catholic faith. We are many nations, many languages, many cultures, and yet one Body of Christ, journeying to the Father. Perhaps you’ve visited beautiful churches in Rome or Montreal. Maybe you did not understand every word at Mass, and yet you understood because the form of the Mass is the same in any language. “Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” We see this among the followers of Jesus in the Gospels. Some are Greeks and some are Jews, women and men, rich and poor, from many cultures and backgrounds.
And, let us admit that sometimes this is hard! We have a wealth of cultures and experiences in the Church. We must listen to receive these gifts, to get to know one another. We must “walk together” with those who are different in the Church– and they must walk with me, too! And know that we walk with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who calls us to Himself.
Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ
Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ, is national director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) and the author of Abide in the Heart of Christ and Love Him Ever More. He previously served as a campus minister at St. Louis University, where he earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in communications. He studied at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary prior to joining the Jesuit novitiate. Laramie earned master of divinity and licentiate degrees at Boston College. He was ordained a priest in 2011.