June 2, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Observing some of Father Pancho’s work in Guatemala

John F. FinkLast week, I wrote about a visit I made to Guatemala in 1993 and introduced you to a priest everyone called Father Pancho. He served 50,000 parishioners plus

Catholics in 82 villages in the hills where there were 22 chapels.

One of the villages we visited consisted of 10 families who had organized in 1986 and bought 78 acres of good land. To do so, they got a loan from an institute backed by USAID at

12 percent interest. The institute dictated what the families were to plant—cash crops for export to the United States. When the villagers couldn’t pay back the loan, the interest rate was increased to

23 percent.

Then Father Pancho got involved. He negotiated forgiveness of the interest. He then got them started planting fruit trees, corn and trees for firewood. They built more stable homes and even installed electricity from a company Father Pancho helped create.

When we were there, the village didn’t have a well yet, but the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (now called Unbound) sent a

well-digging rig. Father Pancho drove to the border with Mexico to meet those who were bringing the rig to ensure that they wouldn’t have to pay bribes to get it into Guatemala. The rig, and Father Pancho, arrived while we were there.

Father Pancho told us that we would be picked up by a bus to take us to San Andres Church for 6 a.m. Mass on Sunday. When 6 o’clock came and went, some of us decided to walk the mile to the church. The bus came while we were walking and picked us up. There was, however, no fear that we would be late for Mass. Father Pancho was the bus driver. Mass started at 6:17 a.m.

The church was absolutely packed. We estimated that there were at least 2,000 people, most of whom had walked many miles from the mountains to get to the church. They were very devout, listening intently to Father Pancho’s 20-minute homily.

At the end of Mass, Father Pancho told the congregation that our group was there, and urged families to invite us into their homes for breakfast. Felipe and Juana, Mayan Indians, invited me to their home. They spoke absolutely no English, so I really had to give my limited Spanish a workout. They had six children, three boys and three girls, ranging in age from 15 to 2. Felipe’s mother and father, Juan and Francisca, also lived with them.

Their cement-block home with a corrugated steel roof had three bedrooms and a large concrete slab that served as a living room. Two chairs, a bench and a cupboard comprised their only furniture. I learned that Felipe worked as a mason in Guatemala City, traveling there by bus six days a week. He left at 4 a.m. and got home at 9 p.m.

Breakfast was a mixture of some kind that I couldn’t identify. There was a hot drink, but it didn’t taste like coffee.

Before I left, Juana put some artificial flowers in a clay vase and gave it to me.

(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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