When missionaries are hungry

Marianna Bartholomew

Fr. S. opens his packet of iddly.

A young pastor just collapsed at his Third-World mission altar. I heard the news from a dear friend of this priest’s, also a missionary and pastor of another mission on the Bay of Bengal. Not to embarrass anyone, we’ll keep names anonymous. But this story bears telling.

The ailing Fr. S. is in his mid-30’s and lacks a proper priest residence. At night, he opens a cot and sleeps in his church, near the tabernacle. That puts him in awesome company, but conditions can be either sweltering in summer, reaching beyond 115-degrees F., or cold and drafty during seasonal lows of 50-degrees F. Living a solitary life with no cook or assistant to help keep meals regular and mission grounds tidy, Fr. S. gets behind on some basics…like eating.

Imagine covering five scattered missions, responding to emergency calls from the sick and dying at any hour, in all weather. Fr. S. lacks transportation, so takes public buses or begs rides on the backs of others’ scooters. In monsoon season, that’s especially messy and inconvenient.

After a day of service and travel in extreme tropical conditions, Fr. S. often tumbles through his door half dead with fatigue.  He lacks a refrigerator, so can’t stow leftovers there when his people bring meals. So if he doesn’t have energy to cook rice and lentils from scratch, he goes without.

Yesterday, two of his dear priest friends (including my friend) left their missions and traveled by bus to bring pocket-sized packets of iddly to Fr. S., newly released from the hospital. They handed this newspaper-wrapped comfort food (a little savory cake of rice and lentil) to their undernourished friend. They found him painfully thin and needing loving care, so they stayed for hours, cleaning his compound, and uplifting him by their company.

But the two good Samaritans live hours away and needed to tend to their own missions. At the end of the day, they headed home, wracking their brains as to how to help their fellow-missionary heal.

Who would think the young pastor of a parish would be run so ragged as to collapse at the altar? But missed meals here and there mounted into a crisis. Now the missionary is on pills for high blood pressure. Let’s pray his faithful put aside their own struggles and busy-ness, adopt him as their own, and ensure he is fed.

You may actually belong to a mission church, either in the U.S. or abroad. But even in a more affluent parish, priests, religious, or lay missionaries need loving care. They are so focused on service, they sometimes struggle to meet their own needs. Many are far from home and any loved ones to coddle them.

I know of one missionary sister who developed skin cancer after working in a sunny desert mission, and another who became ill with a lung condition after moving into an abandoned residence infested by bats. At the very least, we can be humbled and inspired by the depth of love and the calling that propels our missionaries forth in spite of personal discomforts and dangers.

When missionaries visit our churches to tell their stories, let’s listen, learn, introduce ourselves to them personally, keep them in our daily prayers, and respond to financial needs generously. Let’s befriend our local pastors, associates, sisters, and lay workers. Many have a hidden burden or suffering we can help bear. We can adopt them into our families, invite them for dinner, and help keep them active and whole in leading us all to greater holiness.

Topics: Faith , Food , Generosity , Ministry

Marianna Bartholomew is winner of six national Catholic Press Association Journalism Awards and Chicago’s 1993 Cardinal’s Communications Award for Professional Excellence. Her articles have appeared in EXTENSION Magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic Digest and in Chicago’s Catholic New World and other diocesan newspapers across the nation. Former Managing Editor of Catholic home mission EXTENSION Magazine, Bartholomew has traveled to and reported on conditions in the poorest, most isolated pockets of our nation, from Louisiana’s Cajun communities and Appalachia’s hollows to Montana’s remote Indian missions. Blessed to be a wife and homeschooling mother of three, she now teaches in a homeschool cooperative, freelance writes from her Chicago area home, and is completing her first novel for young adults. She blogs at finerfields.blogspot.com.

View all articles by Marianna Bartholomew

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