As the days grow shorter, the air a bit chillier, and the clocks turn back, my mind tends to revisit the missions in my mind. I recall traveling to places where I've seen the effects of all our Mission Societies coming together to build God's Kingdom.
Return with me to the Amazon region of Ecuador where Padre Patricio stands on a hillside in Canelos, looking out over a complex of parish and school buildings, farmlands, and vocational centers. There, he shepherds San Jose parish. Padre serves his own Quechua people, native to this southeastern Amazon region.
It was only seven years since Padre Patricio was ordained with scholarship help from our Society of St. Peter Apostle. Six months later, he returned to Canelos, as pastor of the rural parish erected years before by missionaries with support from The Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
While some of the original buildings were crumbling, the aging church itself was usable. Padre's newer rectory and office, built with help from The Propagation of the Faith, sits next door on the hill. There is a large center square for local festivals that attract multiple generations to the churchyard. Faith formation and Mass attendance rose steadily with the arrival of the engaging, faith-filled priest.
Padre Patricio serves his flock not only as parish priest, but also as headmaster to an elementary day school and a secondary boarding school, both built with help from our Missionary Childhood Association. Since many students do not continue to higher education, vocational training is a must. Girls are taught to sew, making all the school uniforms. Boys are taught agricultural skills -- their families will one day depend on them to grow much of their food.
Padre Patricio is very proud of his Quechua heritage but prouder still of his Catholic faith. To him, it is the most valuable gift he can pass on to the hundreds of children entrusted to his daily care.
As he surveys the valley below him, Padre Patricio is sure of one thing: in the missions, there is always more work to be done, enough to last many years! He also knows that, with help from our Mission Societies, he'll have the tools he needs to continue to build this piece of the Kingdom of God.
Canelos is one of the many places where I have witnessed what can be accomplished when we all stop, think of others, and give to the missions -- no matter the time of year. Please go to www.propfaithboston.org to learn more about how to play your part.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.