Traveling to donor sites around the world has given me the opportunity to meet incredible people and experience more than I ever thought I could. As a girl at St. Michael School in Hudson, Massachusetts, I studied the building of the Panama Canal. It never occurred to me that I would one day see it. We took field trips to see wild animals at the Franklin Park Zoo; not once did I think that I would watch the sunset over a river full of hippopotamuses in Zambia.
Mission has made me expect the unexpected!
I've driven across swollen rivers where there should have been bridges, ridden motorbikes to rural mission outposts, and shared a truck with live chickens.
I was reminded of one of my favorite modes of mission transportation recently as I read an article from Fides, the news site of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome. Bishop Jozef Roszynski, SVD, a Divine Word missionary and bishop of the Diocese of Wewak, Papua New Guinea (PNG) wrote to our international office to thank donors for their contributions to The Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Because of their generosity, he was able to purchase boats and engines for canoes. It seems that in his diocese, the Word of God travels mainly on the water. Whether on the local river or the open sea, catechists, priests, sisters -- missionaries, all -- need a boat of some kind to reach the mostly poor and very dispersed population of the diocese.
In this area, the river is the road. "The joy of these faithful to frequently receive the Eucharist, or to celebrate the Marian procession on the river, is priceless," the bishop told Fides.
Years ago, I found myself in a similar situation in the mission territory of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, which at the time was led by Bishop Eugenio Fernandez, MCCI, a Comboni missionary. The bishop took us to visit his inner-city schools, parishes, and gang prevention programs. When he led us to the river, announcing we would take a ride in his boat, I didn't know what to expect, but it certainly wasn't the wooden, dug-out canoe with a motor on the back that stood at dockside! Our seats were plastic lawn chairs with the legs cut off.
We proceeded to ride for almost five hours upriver to villages unreachable any other way. People ran to the riverside, waving at the bishop, a familiar site in his white shirt and baseball cap.
The lesson for this girl from Hudson? Never underestimate the will of God for your life. And never doubt the determination of a missionary in need of an unexpected means of transportation.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.