Mystics of the mountain
Julio and Maria live and walk every day aware of the constant presence of a loving God
By Fr. Charlie Gervais, S.F.M.
"Why did God create me?" This was one of the first questions in the old "Butler's Catechism". And the answer was, "To know, love and serve God here on earth and to be happy with God forever in heaven."
I am presently ministering to the people in a large parish in the northern part of the city of Riobamba, Ecuador. This region is home to the breathtaking Chimborazo mountains, part of the Andean chain, reaching to altitudes of 20,561 feet above sea level. Many of the Indigenous peoples of the area live in isolated communities situated along the mountain slopes of Chimborazo.
Every Friday I visit the sick and the elderly in the city. I make contact with them through the members of the local Legion of Mary. One Friday we visited this elderly couple, Julio Quebedo, 96 years old, and his wife Maria Pastora Ocana, 99 years old. Relatives had brought them down from their home on the mountain for a visit to the city.
After we prayed together and I gave them Holy Communion, the couple asked me if I would take them back to their house to get a few things. They had been offered a room in the home of these relatives so that they could stay in the city. I drove them in our pick-up truck to their home about 45 minutes up the mountainside.
They lived in a one-room shack that had a wooden bed with a thin mat on it, no mattress. There were two small wooden benches and a little wooden table along the wall used as an altar with the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hanging above it. Candles and prayer books were on the little altar.
Julio and Maria were still cooking for themselves on an open fire in a lean-to at the back of the house. They had about an acre of land. Other people would sow and harvest this land and in exchange would give the couple part of the harvest for their food.
The majestic Mount Chimborazo, Riobamba, Ecuador.
We loaded up a few items of clothes, the little table and the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and drove back to the city.
Another Friday about five weeks later, during my round of visits, the couple said to me, "Padre, we want to go back home. We do not like the noise of the city, the cement streets. We want to see, feel and smell the earth again."
So I brought them back with their few little possessions and helped them settle into their mountain home again.
Sitting with them outside their simple dwelling, we talked about their desire to stay in the mountains. They said, "When we open the door in the morning, we see this beautiful snow-capped mountain of Chimborazo that God has given us. The earth teaches us. God feeds us through this fertile earth. We can see God's goodness in the fruit trees and other plants. Here on the mountain we can feel the presence of God in the beauty and the quiet." Julio and Maria Pastora live and walk every day aware of the constant and intimate presence of a Loving God.
They feel no fear of living alone in such isolated surroundings. "We pray every day in front of the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," they said. "He helps and protects us."
"WHEN WE OPEN THE DOOR IN THE MORNING, WE SEE THIS BEAUTIFUL SNOW-CAPPED OUNTAIN OF CHIMBORAZO THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US... HERE ON THE MOUNTAIN, WE CAN FEEL THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN THE BEAUTY AND THE QUIET."
The words of the New Testament came alive for me as we talked. "At that time Jesus said, 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and you have revealed them to infants: yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.'" (Matthew 11:25-27)
In our North American society, many people fail to capture the essence of what life is all about.
As I drove home that day, I thought to myself, Julio and Maria Pastora truly understand the meaning of life. They know, love and serve God here on earth and are ready to be happy with God forever in heaven.
During this time when there are so many unjust wars and so many vicious terrorist counterattacks by people who do not know the true meaning of life, it is nice to know that there are still many mystics of the mountain.