Taiwan Granny

Vesu (left) with MaHong and Columban Fr Larry Barnett (right), celebrating the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick, Taiwan. Photo: Fr Larry Barnett SSC

Vesu (left) with MaHong and Columban Fr Larry Barnett (right), celebrating the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick, Taiwan. Photo: Fr Larry Barnett SSC

Granny MaHong is the aunt of Vesu, the parish catechist here in the mountains of central Taiwan where I work among the indigenous Tayal people. MaHong is the wife of Vesu’s father’s older brother. When I came to the parish almost 15 years ago, she still lived in her husband’s house next door to Vesu, his wife Vinai, who is the parish secretary and social worker, and their daughter Zoe. 

After Mass on Saturday evenings, the three ladies would sit together while the younger women prepared a meal. I would chat with them while we all drank a small glass of brandy. I called them “the prettiest girls of the parish” which always got a smile. They knew how to enjoy themselves but were also serious about their faith and never missed an event, whether helping to tidy the grounds, celebrate the major feasts, join the weekend Mass or arrange weekly house-prayers in the village. 

Some years ago, MaHong, whose husband had died before I arrived in the village, was diagnosed with cancer. After treatment in a city hospital, she returned to the village and announced that she was moving to her farm shed on her orchard and vegetable garden on the mountain above the village. She wanted to spend time with God and nature. 

Six months later, she returned to her house on the southwestern edge of the village, refreshed in body and spirit. 

Whenever I went to see her, she always greeted me with a big smile, taking my hand and asking whether she was still one of the prettiest girls in the parish. Last year, MaHong’s daughter convinced her to move to the neighboring parish, about one hour away by car. She would have family to better care for her and be closer to doctors and medical help. 

Recently myself, Vesu, the catechist, and several other members of the village were in that neighboring parish for an event and we went to visit MaHong. She now has difficulty walking, does not speak, and rarely leaves her bedroom. When I went into the room, her eyes lit up and she reached out to grasp my hand, not letting it go the entire time I was there. 

We celebrated the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and I gave her Holy Communion. As is the custom in our place, during the anointing we gathered around MaHong and, linked together, laid hands on her in silence as Vesu prayed for her in their tribal language. It is always a powerful moment and MaHong’s faith in Jesus was powerfully present and shone out of her. Such a clear witness to the Gospel and God’s Kingdom has its deepest influence on the people around, and Vesu, her nephew, was visibly moved. 

In every place around the world where Columban Missionaries live and work, they know people like Granny MaHong. They are shining witnesses to the Gospel and inspire us to continue in mission, every day to follow Jesus wherever life’s path leads us. 

Columban Fr Larry Barnett lives and works in Taiwan.

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