Benedicamos Domino: A Farewell
I have had a fair number of farewells in my life, as have most of us. Particularly for priests and pastors, they are part of our ministry; each time we leave a church community we have to "do the goodbye thing"...a lovely thing, but not easy. The many kind words, embraces, beautifully drawn cards, and "one last meals together" are necessary, important for closure, essential for the good beginning of whoever follows, but always hard. It takes an emotional toll, all that farewelling well.
And here I am again, on my last night before leaving Cuenca, Ecuador. It has been a day of laundry, cleaning the house, packing up, lunch out with Padre Jorge and the church ladies, and repacking to make room for two more alpaca blankets I couldn't resist buying while in town. This was the easy part, really. Last Sunday was much more of a challenge. One last Sunday Mass in English...and one last homily, (it was about Thomas...listen to it here: 2nd Sunday of Easter), and before the final blessing, a few words of gratitude to everybody for the great welcome they have offered me these past five months. A few hours later, we gathered again for what originally was planned as an outdoor picnic in the nearby Parque del Paraiso, but the recent rains made that pretty impossible, so we gathered instead here at my little house on Calle de Las Retamas. As folks arrived, the dining room table filled with food of all kinds and from many corners of the world...but mostly North America: ribs and roast chicken and broccoli salad, and potato salad, and chocolate cake and wine and beer and even a bottle of local bubbly... Better even than the food, was the happiness in this house as everyone chatted and joked and, yes, said many touching and warm words about my time with them and what it has meant to them. What touched and warmed me most among those touching and warm words was the spirit of communion that has developed among these Catholic expats here in Cuenca. Communion meaning, of course, more than just friendliness or neighborliness or even fraternity...but a bond built on a shared faith and love in Jesus that makes us a communion of saints. That was what I felt as we gathered, ate, and drank together with the happy din of farewell chatter filling the place: "What we have here, folks, if you hadn't notice, is the communion of saints!"
In the coming weeks and months, these now-communioned saints will have some big challenges ahead of them; they have to keep this communion thing going without an English Mass, English bible-study or an English-speaking priest for back-up support; they do have their very caring local pastor, Padre Jorge, to help, but now they have to do the work themselves, they have to form a leadership team, choose a name for themselves, make decisions about how they are going to participate in the local liturgy and serve the local community. They have loads of talents and graces among them. They have a great desire to make it all happen, and they have the Holy Spirit to push them along. So they have what they need and, I expect, will indeed grow as a local church in a faraway land. I'm proud of them even as they get to gettin'.
Just as we were finishing off the German Chocolate Farewell Cake, I took a moment to recite this little verse from the French-British writer, Hilaire Belloc, to the group; it seemed to fit this farewell moment and the entire experience of living in Cuenca and Ecuador these past five months:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There is laughter an dancing and good red wine.
At least I've always found it so.
Farewell Cuenca, adios dear Cuencanos all, and God's richest blessings on you, our little Catholic Expat Church...