"A Day in the Life of a Guatemalan Priest"
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GUATEMALAN PRIEST
Father John Chakos
What’s it like to be an itinerant priest in Guatemalan, visiting your many parishes on a bi-monthly basis? With so much to do and so little time for hearing confessions, performing weddings and baptisms and celebrating the Divine Liturgy, there is both a sense of “great joy and great sorrow,” to quote that great apostle of the poor- St. Kosmas Aitolos. The joy, he explains, comes from seeing the “good disposition and good repentance” of the faithful. This is certainly the case in Guatemala, as we are often received with songs of joy, confetti, fireworks, flower petals and lots of friendly hugs, followed by the rush for confession. The sorrow, he further states, comes from “thinking of my own unworthiness because I don’t have time to hear all of your confessions one by one…” As I journeyed with Father Evangelos Pata on one of his recent parish visitations, I shared in his frustration upon seeing the great spiritual need of his people. In one day, for example, we were obliged to hear many confessions, celebrate the Divine Liturgy, baptize 26 people and conduct 3 marriages. Because such visits are somewhat infrequent, especially in the smaller communities, inevitably there will be one or more troubled individuals that need more face time with the priest. As if this were not enough, preceding the day’s labor intensive pastoral load is the precipitous climb up the narrow, serpentine dirt paths that hug the steep mountainside. Of course, the priest has the stress of having to drive himself, since few are they that can be trusted to drive. One mistake would certainly lead to a tragic free fall of at least 1000 feet or more. Our many hairpin turns eventually bring us to an exhilarating climax atop a lush taborian plateau. Here on this ethereal and breathtaking eyrie, the Orthodox faithful of La Democracia have constructed their own spiritual nest. Like the stunning view from the monasteries of Meteora, Greece, we have the sense of being suspended in mid-air, somewhere between heaven and earth. But the hard truth does not change; the plentiful harvest that is found in the rural areas and mountainsides of Guatemala has only a few laborers. As priests we depend upon the local community, especially the catechists, to lay the groundwork for these intense, but rewarding pastoral visits. Why, some might ask, are there not more priests recruited for this mission? Guatemala as a mission field has its own set of unique challenges. The tradition of married clergy, for one, is relatively unknown. Most married men have large families to care for and as farmers must work their own fields. Poverty is another deterrent as the Guatemalan priests have no reliable income or benefits. The money that is collected from parish visitations is usually enough to cover the cost of gas. Lack of education or even illiteracy is another drawback. The Orthodox priest requires not only a basic knowledge of the faith, but the ability to communicate it to others. At our humble San Andres seminary, we have a promising group of young men who are being prepared to take on this responsibility for the future of the church. However, more time is needed before they can be sent out into the field. Until then, we keep praying to “the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38).