“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…”
The first week of March, I led a group of 3 FOCUS missionaries, 10 college students and 1 Franciscan Friar of the Renewal to Guyana for the first popular mission in Parafaite-Harmony. It was my fourth trip to Guyana, and I was beginning to feel like I knew the Guyanese culture and customs pretty well. During their Orientation, I spoke to the students about Guyanese culture and what to expect during a typical house visit. I recalled the two virtues I have often admired in the Guyanese people – their hospitality and simplicity of faith. Parafaite-Harmony is in a part of Guyana that is new to our Religious Family. The sisters and many of our priests live in Charity, a village which is remote from the capital city of Georgetown. The typical household in Charity lives very simply, often lacking many modern conveniences that we often take for granted, such as indoor plumbing, air conditioning, washing machines, etc.
Parafaite-Harmony, being closer to Georgetown, does not suffer from such material poverty. The village is surprisingly composed of mostly middle-class families that work in the city. It began a little over 10 years ago and grew rapidly. Now over 20,000 people live in this little village, and more are moving in every day. While individual families seem to have everything they need, the village lacks other necessities, such as a hospital, a secondary school, a primary school that is large enough to accommodate all the children, a police station, as well as a Catholic Church.
In Guyana, when you visit houses, you do not actually knock on the door; instead, you stand outside of the house and say in a loud voice, “Inside?” If someone is home, the person will look out the window or come out on the porch to greet you. Despite this unique form of “knocking”, I thought of this particular verse frequently during the popular mission: “Behold, I stand at your door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him…” (Revelation 3:20). Very often we stood outside a large iron-concrete gate shouting, “Inside?” and were met with silence… or worse with the roar of a T.V. so loud that the person inside could not hear our voices. Many of those who did respond were visibly reluctant to speak with us. It was a stark contrast to previous missions I had done in Guyana where nearly everyone invited us into their homes, often offering refreshments and listening attentively as we spoke to them about the Church and the sacraments.
I realized that I was in a new territory – one which had become numb and maybe even a little jaded by the luxuries surrounding them. In fact the first couple days of the mission were almost desolate. Jesus promised, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). Where were the poor? Or at least those who were poor in spirit…those who were open to hearing the Truth of Christ and His Church? In the midst of desolation, I knew that the only thing to do is surrender and trust entirely in Christ. We were merely planting the seeds; He would see to the fruits.
In Parafaite-Harmony, the work of the Catholic Church is only beginning. The parish of Our Lady of Confidence was established five years ago. It will take time for this little mustard seed to grow. The parishioners do not even have a church building. Since 2013 they have been meeting for Mass every Sunday in the upper room of a parishioner’s house. A priest from Georgetown (or sometimes, one of our priests from Charity) comes to celebrate the Mass for them.
Recently they purchased the land on which the church will be built. The opening Mass of the popular mission was the first Mass said on this piece of land, which sits right between a Hindu Temple and an Islamic Mosque. His Excellency Bishop Francis Alleyne celebrated both the opening and closing Masses of the mission, showing his support for this young Catholic parish, and encouraging them in the work that lies ahead. The work of establishing a new parish is daunting, but the spirit and confidence of many of the parishioners was encouraging.
Moreover, we – the missionaries and students – all experienced the centrality of the Eucharist in the building up of this new parish. We participated in the first Holy Mass on the land where the church will be built. We walked and prayed in the first Eucharistic Procession ever held in Parafaite-Harmony. The students painted the sign that marked that land as property of Our Lady of Confidence Catholic Church. We processed through the streets praying the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary. The students helped the parishioners to make and plant the first mission cross. All of this work came to its culmination when, at the end of the mission, one of the students said to me, “Sister, this mission made me realize that God is calling me to serve Him in a more radical way. I think He is calling me to be a foreign missionary.”
On the last day of the mission, we stopped at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Georgetown. In the cathedral, behind the main altar, there is a small chapel to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. As I knelt down to pray, I recalled that the last time I had been in this chapel, I myself was a lay missionary just realizing my vocation to religious life. I prayed in thanksgiving for the role that the mission in Guyana played in my discernment, and I prayed for more Guyanese vocations – both the Guyanese themselves and those who go to Guyana as missionaries.
I beg for your prayers for this sprouting parish of Our Lady of Confidence in Parafaite- Harmony and for more holy vocations from this beautiful little country. May Our Lady always guide the work of our sisters and priests who are daily bringing Christ to the homes of so many Guyanese families.
In Christ and Mary,
Sr. Maria Thalassa