By Deacon Patrick Moran, Contributing writer
More than 25 years ago, while serving as both rector of Notre Dame Seminary and the director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, then-Father Gregory Aymond founded two programs in partnership with the Diocese of Granada, Nicaragua: Acompaño and Christ the Healer.
Acompaño, which in Spanish means to accompany or walk with, was chosen as the name for the partnership between the Notre Dame seminarians and the poor of Granada, Nicaragua.
The vision was always to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, not simply to do something for them, but to create a sacred space where the seminarians could build relationships based on mutual respect and exchange.
The second program, Christ the Healer, had a vision to bring Christ’s healing power through medicine. This name also conveys a sense of partnership and journey with the poor, realizing that it is Christ who ultimately heals both our physical and spiritual wounds. Those blessed with medical skills have the gift to enter into communion with the poor as two-way conduits of God’s love and mercy.
The fundamental philosophy of both Christ the Healer and Acompaño is based on the model of ministry Jesus used himself, sharing the good news of the kingdom of God while at the same time offering assistance within the context of interpersonal relationships.
In 2016, my family and I were invited to serve in the Diocese of Granada with the goal of expanding this same vision of partnership and communion between the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Granada. As I reflect on our first year in mission, I am continually drawn back to the Gospel story of the Transfiguration, where Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus up Mount Tabor.
On that mountain, the three men saw Jesus as never before. Through grace, they had the opportunity, in the midst of their earthly lives, to experience a glimpse of the splendor and glory of the face of God.
On Sundays, my wife Katy and I, along with our three children – Benjamin, Rachel and Rebecca – also go up a high mountain. Well, it is actually a volcano named Mombacho. We drive up a long, rocky path, winding through the forest and banana trees, past the occasional toucan and iguana, to a little community called St. Rita.
The ride itself is always an adventure, best taken on an empty bladder, and unfortunately it sometimes ends with at least one passenger getting car sick. We buy gallon Ziplocs in bulk!
When we arrive at St. Rita’s chapel, our friend Marina, a short, little lady in her 80s, is usually cleaning the chapel. She gives us all hugs and then gets right back to work. It is a simple A-frame structure with a palm branch roof that often blows off in the wind.
Humble worship space
There are no walls, no tabernacle, no altar. We borrow an old table from the next-door neighbor. Her great granddaughter carries a few plastic chairs down from their house on the hill. When the rains bring swarms of bugs that we call “flying chiggers,” Marina appears with large smoldering logs from her cooking fire at home, placing them on the dirt in the center of the chapel so that the smoke drives away the biting intruders.
My kids sit together on a large rock and lead the music for Mass, singing and playing their plastic recorders. The rock doubles as a confessional before Mass; it was there that Rebecca first received the sacrament of reconciliation in Spanish.
Yet even though it is very basic, Marina takes great pride in sweeping the dirt floors and picking out the weeds so that the community can celebrate Mass with honor.
Slowly, the people of St. Rita wander in from the countryside. Many of them live without electricity or running water. Many of the children don’t complete school, which is over an hour’s walk away.
In many communities like St. Rita, women suffer from chronic neck pain from walking great distances with 10 gallons – 84 pounds – of water on their heads. At times, the level of human suffering is heartbreaking and depressing.
Yet, at St. Rita and other communities, the people have accepted us and generously share what they have with us – often large quantities of plantains and bananas!
Just like the disciples went up the mountain with Jesus and experienced the glory of God, my family encounters Christ in a radical way each Sunday as the bread and the wine are transfigured before us into the body and blood of Jesus in a makeshift chapel on the side of a volcano. His presence is overwhelming in the Mass and in the faces of the poor.
Serving as missionaries is challenging. We often struggle, but we are blessed with moments of intense grace, and on Sundays we, too, echo the words of St. Peter: “Lord, it is good that we are here.”
And as we see Jesus, we also hear the voice of God the Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Pope Francis has said that in the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain we learn directly from the Father the first duty of a Christian, which is “to listen to the Word of God, to listen to Jesus, because he speaks to us and he saves us by his word.”
And when God speaks to us, he always expects a response with action. The disciples wanted to make tents and stay put; they wanted to relax and bask in the glory, but Jesus compels them to mission, when he says, “Rise and do not be afraid!”
The church exists – we all exist – to go out. When we listen to Jesus, when we rise up and live out his word through the actions of our lives, our lives are enriched, and we, too, are given glimpses of his glory, just like those three beloved disciples.
We are proud to serve within the Diocese of Granada and do our small part in expanding Archbishop Aymond’s vision of mission that began with Acompaño and Christ the Healer, walking alongside in communion with our brothers and sisters here in Nicaragua.
While all of us may not be called to foreign mission, we are all called to be missionaries wherever we are. May we all, like Peter, James and John, respond to that call to “listen to him” and be blessed with glimpses of his glory, preparing ourselves for the full vision of the glory of God, the Mass without end, which is the common destiny we all share with our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
Deacon Patrick Moran is a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Austin, Texas.
HOW THE PROGRAM BEGAN; MISSIONERS NEEDED
- The seed money to support the missioner program in Nicaragua, run by the archdiocesan Propagation of the Faith Office, came from the Lockett family of New Orleans, who had two sons, James and Ben. Father James Lockett was a missionary priest who served his priesthood in Mexico, said Father Jimmy Jeanfreau, director of the Propagation of the Faith.
Father Lockett was ordained in 1961 at the Notre Dame Seminary chapel for the Diocese of Chiapas, Mexico. In a 1966 Clarion Herald article, Father Lockett said he learned to speak in the Indian dialect Tzotzil to serve his parishioners. He changed his name after ordination to Padre Diego Andres and served in the parish of San Andres, on the Mexican border with Guatemala.
- Upon the deaths of Father Lockett and his brother Ben, the brothers left an endowment to the Propagation of the Faith in New Orleans to support its mission work. Father Jeanfreau said those funds, invested by The Catholic Foundation, have helped defray the cost of sending the family of Deacon Patrick Moran and his wife Katy, a medical doctor, and their three children to Nicaragua.
Deacon Moran is a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Austin Texas, where he first met then-Austin Bishop Gregory Aymond. Deacon Moran accompanied his wife, an internal medicine specialist, on a Christ the Healer medical missionary trip in 2015. When the Morans found out the mission office was trying to place missionaries in Granada year-round to strengthen relationships with Bishop Jorge Solórzano Pérez of Granada, they jumped at the chance to sign up for a two-year commitment, which ends in August 2018.
The Morans have three children – Benjamin, 11; Rachel, 10; and Rebecca, 8.
- “The children have made a big impact as missionaries,” Deacon Moran said. “They naturally play with the local children, making friends and allowing folks to be more comfortable around us. They have made friends with children who are very economically disadvantaged and, in the process, have developed what I call ‘eyes like Jesus,’ eyes that look into the heart and do not make judgments based on wealth, status or appearance. They have also cultivated a deeper level of thankfulness for the blessings they have.”
“This is, in a sense, a dream come true,” Father Jeanfreau said of the Morans. “Part of mission is developing relationships. It’s not the arrogant thinking that ‘I’m going to take care of somebody else’s needs.’”
Deacon Moran works with Caritas in the Diocese of Granada – the equivalent of Catholic Charities – and Father Jeanfreau would love for the Christ the Healer program to become a part of Caritas.
- In January, Father Jeanfreau will travel to Granada on a Christ the Healer trip. He is looking for lay missionaries to assume the torch from the Morans, whose commitment is to stay through August 2018.
Anyone interested in becoming a missionary can call Father Jeanfreau at 527-5771.