Labourers for the harvest
EACH YEAR DURING HOLY WEEK, A GROUP OF DOMINICAN LAY PEOPLE GO OUT TO FORGOTTEN REGIONS OF THE COUNTRY PROVIDING HEALTH CARE AND CELEBRATING FAITH.
By Shawn Daley
Since I was a little boy I have loved Holy Week, especially Holy Thursday with all the candles lit for adoration. Jesus' words to Peter have always haunted me: "Can you not at least pass one hour with me?"'(Matthew 26:40). Throughout my life I have been blessed to participate in the week commemorating Jesus’ passion... his love.
As a missioner to the Dominican Republic, another passage began to haunt me: "The harvest is great but the labourers are few" (Matthew 9:37). In the parish of Matanzas, Bani, Scarboro missioner Fr. Joe McGuckin is the only priest for nine villages and each village has one or more chapels. I wondered, how could he be present in all these places for all the different Holy Week celebrations? I began to think about the other half of Jesus' words: "...ask therefore the Lord of the harvest to send labourers for the harvest." And that is just what happened.
We asked and God sent us participants from a Jesuit-run lay mission program in the Dominican Republic. They are a group of doctors, lawyers, dentists, and other lay professionals, accompanied by a Jesuit priest, who go to more forgotten regions of the Dominican Republic during Holy Week each year. At a time when thousands of Dominicans head to the beaches, this group of dedicated people give up their holidays to go and serve. Last year they came to our village of Arroyo Hondo and "pitched their tent amongst us" (John 1:14). They slept on the floor, ate whatever was given them, and cut back on their accustomed water use because the village gets just two hours of running water a week.
During the day members of this group of missioners held a health clinic and a dental clinic; others went door to door asking if anyone was ill or needed to talk.
All the people they helped during the day were invited each evening to the chapel. Holy Week became something for both body and soul; it became a time of healing and renewal. There were beautiful celebrations— we held a Seder meal and we did the washing of the feet, which was especially meaningful here where many people go barefoot or wear sandals. You will often see someone washing another person's feet in a backyard under the shade of a tree. On Good Friday evening, we walked through the village with torches and a huge cross. People took turns carrying the cross and came out of their houses to touch it and to pray with sincere rev\erence.
“All the people they helped during the day were invited each evening to the chapel. Holy Week became something for both body and soul.”
The missioners even acted out the Resurrection in a play Sunday morning for those who still had the courage after the night vigil. People were becoming so used to something new happening in the church that they wanted to keep coming back.
As a result of the group's visit, the villagers now had wonderful, dynamic ideas of how to celebrate Holy Week liturgically and vibrantly. They were not ideas from a foreign mission but ideas brought by a group of Dominicans going out to share the Good News with other Dominicans. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7).