May 26, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Meeting some impressive people in Guatemala in 1993

John F. FinkIn October of 1993, I went to Guatemala with the organization Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA). Founded by Bob Hentzen, it provides an example of how one dedicated person can make a difference in the world. He died in 2013 at age 77.

It still exists today, but now it’s called Unbound. Then as now, it supports missionaries working with the poor and needy in developing countries. It has programs in 20 countries, 15 in this hemisphere and five in Asia and Africa.

We lived among the Mayan Indians at San Andres Itzapa. We stayed at a Carmelite sisters’ convent, with eight of us sleeping in one room on steel frame beds without springs. A tiny bathroom had a toilet and a cold water facet. We got buckets of water from the “pila” (a supply of water for washing laundry) with which to flush the toilet. So we had pretty primitive conditions.

Outside our convent compound, Mayan workers walked to work in the fields, hoes on shoulders, machetes hanging from their belts. Many were on horses or leading cows or goats. They were all friendly, wishing us “buenos dias” (good day) as they passed the convent.

We learned a lot about the indigenous people of Guatemala during our week with them. Seventy-two percent had no running water, 82 percent no electricity and 90 percent no plumbing.

One of the things Unbound does is to get sponsors for families. In 1993, there were 7,000 sponsored children in Guatemala, 27,000 worldwide. Today there are more than 300,000 sponsored children and aging persons.

I spent time translating letters the children were sending to their foster parents. The children who had foster parents had to write letters to them twice a year, plus thank-you notes for any gifts they received. Of course, the volunteers also have to translate letters that come from the foster parents.

I met an impressive priest called Father Pancho. His full name was Father Adan Francisco Garcia Calderon. A short, round man, he was pastor of San Andres Parish in Itzapa and Holy Innocents Parish in Parramos. He had 50,000 parishioners! He also served 82 small villages in the mountains for which there were 22 chapels.

On Sundays, he celebrated the 6 and 8 a.m. Masses at San Andres and a 10 o’clock Mass at Holy Innocents. He tried to have confessions between Masses. During the week, he said three Masses every day in some of the 22 chapels.

He had 173 people on his staff—not counting volunteers. He had 62 teachers in his school, and there were 205 catechists. (Since this totals more than 173, obviously some of the catechists were volunteers.) The catechists taught religion, but also conducted religious services in the chapels when Father Pancho wasn’t there.

There were other people on Father Pancho’s staff who gave a good indication of the things that he did besides caring for the spiritual health of his parishioners. There were two doctors, a dentist, two pharmacists, an ambulance driver and masons. And the Carmelite Sisters were also part of the staff.

More about Father Pancho next week.

(John Fink’s recent series of columns on Church history is now available in book form from Amazon. It is titled How Could This Church Survive? with the subtitle, It must be more than a human institution.)

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