There is a special place in Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers for the saints, Peter and Paul. The Maryknoll Society was founded on their feast day. Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers celebrate this special day each year no matter where we are in the world.
Peter and Paul were great missionaries to the people of their time. They were always on the move, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and Salvation. Two thousand years later, we the baptized – all of us – are called to the same mission.
After ordination to the priesthood in 1964, I was assigned by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers to mission work in the South American country of Chile. My work was to build up parishes in different parts of the country, and then, hand leadership of them to local Clergy. I witnessed many lay people organizing small communities. They were great builders of the Faith.
One event still stands out for me after 37 years of mission in Chile. In the early 1980’s, three of us Maryknoll missioners were assigned to work in Antofagasta, a city of about 200,000 people on the Pacific coast but in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world.
We took charge of two parishes next door to each other which had no daily priestly presence. Our mission was to build up the local Church, especially with the support and participation of the laity to one day turn it all over to the local Church.
It was a new experience for the three of us. We were all coming from the southern part of Chile where we learned to speak Spanish a little differently. Life in northern Chile and in the desert was really different. But the Spirit was with all of us and growing slowly.
Saints Peter and Paul were with us.
Here is the event:
One morning I was chatting happily with some parishioners on a street corner in front of one of our parishes. But then I noticed something (It must have been the Spirit.) I said to those nearest to me, “Look!”
They turned to follow my gaze and saw a group of evangelical Christians knocking on the doors of houses near the church. At the same time, we could see on a little side street Jehovah Witnesses visiting homes and talking to passersby. And finally, we could see in another direction, a pair of Mormon missionaries visiting homes.
“Do you see what is going on?” I asked.
“No, not really,” they answered. “This happens all the time.”
“Where are Catholics visiting homes and inviting people to come to Mass and other liturgies?” I asked them. “Why are Catholics not living as missionaries?”
We were all quiet for a moment, but we never know when the Spirit will pull on us. Something did click.
That small group of parishioners sparked the interest of the base communities of two parishes to get out of their small worlds and be missionaries and evangelizers in the world they live in.
Saints Peter and Paul, I am sure , were happy to see the joy of Jesus Christ being spread in that part of the world.
We are always on a journey and really don’t know what God will ask of us. But God is with us always.
Photo: Rare rainfall causes the flowers to bloom in the Atacama Desert, by Javier Rubilar/Flickr.