South of the Border
An Unusual Problem
I pride myself on having good foresight, so I was really annoyed when Salvador, 9 years old, tugged at my alb during the Our Father, and told me we had a problem. I was celebrating the Monday 5.30 p.m. Mass in Corpus Christi parish, in Anapra, Mexico, and Salvador’s problem was that we would have no consecrated hosts for the Communion of the Mass.
The usual procedure at Mass was that during the singing of the Lamb of God, Rita (the sacristan) or Estela (the Coordinator) would go to the sagrario (tabernacle) in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, and bring one of the containers of consecrated hosts to the main altar for the people’s Communion. What I had failed to notice was that neither Estela nor Rita had turned up for this Mass, something that had never happened before. The fact that we had the key to the tabernacle door did not save us, because after opening the outer door of the tabernacle you were faced with an inner door which could only be opened by someone who knew the combination of the lock. Only Estela or Rita knew the combination.
Salvador to the Rescue
But Salvador not only anticipated the problem, he also suggested the solution by offering to bring some small hosts from the storage box in the sacristy. As he brought a golden cupful of unconsecrated hosts to the altar, I found myself doing something I had never done in my 59 years of priesthood, namely celebrating a Mass within a Mass. As the people sang the Lamb of God, I made a silent offering of the unconsecrated hosts, said the blessing and quietly pronounced the words of consecration. The Communion of the Mass proceeded as usual, with only Salvador and me knowing about the crisis and how it had been overcome.
Temporary Pastor in Anapra
At the time I was on loan to the parish of Corpus Christi, which was in the care of the Columban Fathers. The párroco, or pastor, Father Kevin Mullins, was on home leave in Australia, and I was taking his place until his return. I had spent time previously with Father Kevin in the parish, and my abiding memory of Anapra is of sand; sand on the ground, sand in the air, sand in my eyes. Only a few streets were paved, and even these had sidewalks of moving sand, sand which seemed to have the special capacity to capture and hold the fierce glare and burning heat of the summer sun.
Introducing Salvador and Edali
When I arrived at the church for the 5.30 Mass each afternoon, Salvador was always there before me, preparing the altar and the sanctuary for Mass. He was always assisted by Edalí, also nine years of age, who is his aunt, though one week younger than he. Salvador is the monaguillo (altar boy), and Edalí is the portera (doorkeeper), as she carried the keys to the outer doors and the sacristy. The outer doors were held open by a heavy rock on each side, and I have seen Edalí patiently move them with her little bare feet, when I would hesitate to tackle them with my strong shoes. The two children are typical of the people of the parish, cheerful, dedicated, faithful, and absolutely loyal to their priest.
During my two month stay in the parish I got to know many of them, and I treasure their friendship. I celebrated my final Mass with them on the last Sunday of July.
Typical Sunday Mass
Sunday Mass was always an uplifting experience. There was a full congregation of about five hundred people led by their own musicians and choir, including a deafening battery of drums. At the singing of the Holy, Holy, Holy, I was surprised to see a man bring a trestle up the center aisle, and leave it just in front of the altar. He was followed by another man who placed a tiny white casket on the trestle.
My mind went back to June 29th when I was called to the Hospital de la Familia to baptise a baby boy who was born prematurely. I baptized him Eduardo, at the request of his father who accompanied me. I had hopes that he would survive, though he weighed just over three pounds at the time. As the tiny casket was placed on the trestle in front of me, someone left a holy card beside me on the altar. It bore the sad news that the casket contained the tiny body of baby Eduardo. The Mass ended with the final commendation of baby Eduardo to his Heavenly Father, and a prayer for the consolation of his young and grieving parents.
Won’t You Come Back?
After Mass I was surrounded by well-wishers thanking me for my two-month presence with them, and asking for a promise to return soon again. They even suggested that next time I came they would glue the soles of my shoes to the ground, so that I would not be able to leave them again.
That was a boost to my morale, and it made me reflect that any ageing missionary, thinking he had outlived his usefulness, could find a new sense of purpose by offering his priestly services to some faith community like the good people of Corpus Christi parish, just South of the Border, in Anapra, Mexico.
Fr John Marley was ordained in 1950. He served in the Philippines, the USA, in Ireland, and in Chile, in pastoral work, teaching and administration. He lives in semi-retirement in Bristol, Rhode Island.