Today we buried Juan Ángel Pérez, a 31 year old campesino who lived in Debajiados, Copán.
He died of pneumonia - a disease that is curable.
He was a delegate who celebrated Sunday Celebrations of the Word in his aldea. He was one of those in the formation process to become Extraordinary Ministers of Communion in the parish.
The last two times I visited the aldea I went with him to bring Communion to his parents. The first time, on Good Friday, I went on horseback.
|Juan, his parents and some children on Good Friday|
The last time, the day after my ordination as deacon, we drove as far as we could and then we walked.
I arrived in Debajiados early with four folks from Plan Grande and El Zapote. We brought corn from the parish and beans from El Zapote for the widow and her four children, one only four months old.
Because I knew that people in really poor villages such as Debajiados have almost no photos of family members, I brought a framed copy of one I had taken in July to give to the widow and two copies of one I had taken with Juan and his parents on Good Friday.
As I entered the small, dirt-floored house where Juan Ángel and Juventina and their four children lived, I saw the casket – a simple pine box. I sought out the widow whom I hugged as she cried – even more so after I gave her the photo. Then some of Juan Ángel’s sisters came as well as a brother.
Today I hugged a lot of people as they cried. The grief was tangible. At times I had to try to stop the tears welling up within me.
Padre German arrived and I got my briefcase with my vestments out of the car and started to carry it over. I kid asked if he could carry it for me. My first reaction was “I can do it myself.” But then I realized that the kid was Ever, Juan Ángel’s oldest child. He carried it to and from the church.
Because there were so many people we had Mass just outside Juan Ángel’s house. I chose the readings – Wisdom 3: 1-9 and Matthew 11: 25-30.
Juan was one of the just who “will shine as sparks that spread like sparks in a field of sugar cane” (Wisdom 3:7).
But when I proclaimed the Gospel I almost had to stop as the tears welled up within me.
“I give you thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned
and revealed them to simple people” (Matthew 11: 25)
I feel as if I have learned much from Juan Ángel and people like him. He was, as people attested as they gathered around his coffin at the end of Mass, a simple man, dedicated to God. I remember his smile which was for me a sign of the spark of God within him. Later in the cemetery I spoke with his mother-in-law who saw him as a son, always willing to do something to help, when asked. His simplicity, his faith, his care for others, including his two parents who have been very ill recently, have revealed to me much of who God is.
After Mass I stayed around and planned to go to the cemetery. Padre German had to leave for a Mass in another village about an hour away.
They first took the coffin back inside. I entered and saw that some men were redressing him in a shirt and pants – over his shirt and jeans. They also but the Cord of St. Francis around him.
Then they nailed shut the coffin, the simple pine box.
I went ahead of the pick-up and went to the cemetery. We waited there about an hour as they went from Debajiados to the cemetery in Delicias. I spent the time talking to folks – being present.
When they arrived, put on my stole and went to the grave site – a hole about three meters deep. The ritual prayers at the gravesite are beautiful – recalling the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of resurrection. We prayed an Our Father and a Hail Mary and then I prayed the antiphon which I love – In Paradisum:
May the angels lead you into Paradise;
May the martyrs receive you as you enter
And lead you into the holy city Jerusalem.
May the choir of angels received you,
And, together with Lazarus, who was poor in this life,
May you have eternal rest.
Again, as I read the name of Lazarus, "who once was poor," tears welled up within me.
We were burying a poor man, a man of deep faith - but we have the hope of Lazarus, a hope that Juan Ángel revealed in his short life.
Juan leaves behind a widow and four children. Padre German spoke directly to her during his moving homily and embraced her and the four month old child she carried.
I spoke with a young man in the aldea who is the coordinator of Social Ministry. People have come together to help. I urged him to see that this continued you and gave him my telephone number if they had a special need.
In addition, Padre German has suggested to me and to Gloria, a communion minister and herself a widow, that we begin to do something for and with the widows who are in need. My hope is that we can get the extraordinary ministers of Communion to work with the Social Ministry coordinators in every village to identify the widows in need as well as those who are not, so that we can begin to find a way to serve them and to have them serve each other.
Pray for the repose of the soul of Juan Ángel and for his wife and family. Also, pray that God may guide us in finding ways to serve widows and orphans so that together we may experience the mercy of God.
|Juan Ángel, Phil Barutha, and Ever|