In the spring of 2005, in a parish in southern Pakistan, the catechist and I were visiting villages of landless peasants, people who live in mud and timber houses and work on the estates of their landlords. They are bonded labourers, living in a state of debt to the landlord.
We visited one village of seven families every month or so. However, on this visit we found the village empty – no people, the houses knocked down, all belongings gone, no sign of life.
The families had moved to the estate of another landlord who had paid off their debt, which meant that they were now bonded to him. We found these families as dusk was falling. They had set up camp in a field of their new landlord. That field would eventually become a village. Their few possessions, such as beds and beddings, were scattered; a few goats and hens quietly explored their new surroundings.
The women had made mud stoves on the ground and were cooking the evening meal. As the darkness gathered, the flames from their fires seemed to become even more radiant – their only source of light.
One woman, squatting on the ground, caught my attention. She was making chapati, a flat, thin bread on a flat pan. First, she broke the firewood, lit the stove and kindled it. Next, she kneaded the dough, broke it into pieces, then flattened it with the palms of her hands - all while keeping an eye on her infant child.
While the catechist and I contemplated this scene, he said to me: “It’ll be difficult to celebrate Mass here.” Logistically he was right, but my instinctive response was, “If we can’t celebrate Eucharist here, we can’t celebrate it anywhere.”
In fact, the Eucharist was being celebrated before our eyes - as the woman baked the bread and shared it with her family, the catechist and me. I had no doubt about the Real Presence in the making and breaking of bread by that young woman. Making and breaking bread in such a context was an act of resilience, an act of resistance against the injustice and oppression she endured daily. By her actions, you could almost imagine her saying to the world; “no matter what you throw at me nothing will stop me from baking and breaking bread. I will go on nurturing life.” She lived out the invitation that Jesus gave at the Last Supper when he said: “Do this in memory of me.”
Columban Fr Tomás King has been a missionary in Pakistan since 1992.
Homily on the occasion of the Jubilarian Mass, Dalgan Park, Ireland
August 15, 2017 (Abridged with permission Ed.)
LISTEN TO: Reflection - Do this in memory of me
(Duration: 3:24mins, MP3: 1.55MB)
- Read more from The Far East - October 2017