Silco, Mexico is a place few people have ever heard of. Perhaps the only thing that keeps it on the map is a cement factory that had transplanted there back in the 70’s and was never able to escape. Settled on one of the foothills of Orizaba, Silco’s natural beauty stands in contrast to the grime and grunge of the poor alleyways and makeshift shacks that huddle around the factory. The poverty was a true shock for Fr. Michael Parker who arrived about a week ago with a group of missionaries from Maryland. However, much like the locals, he grew accustomed to the lack of comforts and commodities and found that such poverty helped form the simplicity of these people’s faith.
Though every building in the town was in need of repair and a deep cleaning, the Church stood out for its white stucco walls and ornately painted columns. Statues stood in every niche and the sanctuary was decorated with fresh flowers that were prepared delicately by some pious woman. Roses, lilies, and irises became a kaleidoscope of color beneath the altar and communion rail.
Yet, what mostly impressed Fr. Michael about the church were not the flowers or the paintings, but the amount of people who would come in to spend time praying with their Lord. It was without a doubt the busiest edifice in town. Father watched them come and go, young and old, while he administered the sacrament of confession in the back of the church. Most of his day he spent sitting in that antique wooden confessional distributing God’s mercy to the constant flow of faithful who were withheld from this sacrament for so long due to a lack of priests.
One day a woman entered the confessional and said, “Father I am not here to confess my sins.” “Well then how can I help you?” Fr. Michael responded in a soft welcoming voice. “I am here to ask you a favor. There is a woman that I have known for a while who lives higher up in the mountains and I am afraid she is dying; would you be able to visit her?” “Of course I would” he said through the iron grill. “I can go tomorrow morning if you like.” The woman nodded and agreed to meet him in front of the Church the following morning at 6:00am. With that she left the confessional, just as swiftly as she had entered.
At 5:55 Fr. Michael stood alone against the snow white façade of the Church. He peered into the distance to see the night melt away as dawn crept over the rooftops. Sunrise always brought with it the magic of uniting him to God, for only He could create something so awe-inspiring. So wrapped in thought he did not notice the woman traversing the square until she came to the center and greeted him with a smile. “Thank you for doing this, Father.” She said “Do you have everything you need?” “I believe so.” He responded as he patted his pockets to make sure he had brought his holy water, oils and the Holy Eucharist.
“Perfect! To get to her house you will have to take the trail that leaves Benito Street about half a mile up that way. The path is well marked but it can get dangerous as you ascend. Follow the path until you find a large rock that is painted red. At that point you need to turn right and go up for another few yards until you reach my friends house. Her name is Gloria and I am sure she will be happy to see you.” Fr. Michael made sure he had the directions straight and then thought out loud, “How am I going to get a truck up there?” “Truck? No father, you’ll have to take my horse.”
Fr. Parker began his climb twenty minutes later. Behind him the sun rose as if accompanying his ascent. He had everything he needed, and even placed the pyx that contained the Holy Eucharist on a chain which he had hanging from his neck in order to better steer the horse. In the silent march up the dirt path, Father felt more united to Christ who remained against his heart. The horse strode on with little trouble, carrying him up as if he knew the exact destination of their venture. Fr. Michael took advantage of the few breaks in the trees that gave him a bird’s eye view of the town with its steaming factory and white Church. He also contemplated the dense forest that was freckled with coffee bushes and shaded by large banana leaves which covered the trail like a canopy. Flowers he had never seen before hung from odd branches and shot out from the rich earth.
Being so overwhelmed by all the beauty that surrounded him he was surprised to see the red painted rock approaching in front of him. “Not too much longer” he thought as he veered to the right and continued to climb. The sun was now above him nagging him along as a small child who runs ahead and turns back to wait for the other. The horse continued on unaware of any of this. He monotonously climbed, avoiding rocks and brush that got in the way. Only fifteen minutes after leaving the red rock, there began to appear a small shack behind the drooping palms.
Getting down from the horse he couldn’t help but notice the dire situation of the poor little house. It seemed as if a gust of wind would be enough to bring the walls down, if you could call them walls. The place looked abandoned except for a few chickens that ran franticly within their coop that was attached to the side of the shack. “Hello!” Father said thinking that no one would answer. Sure enough, an answer never came. He paced around the side of the house towards the doorway that stood wide open. “Hello!” he tried again and this time heard a reply.
It was a faint weak voice than answered and it belonged to an elderly woman lying on a dirty mattress in the corner of the room. Fr. Michael ducked past the doorway and came closer to her. She appeared to be in her late 80’s and Father could tell that she was suffering. The wrinkles on her face changed their form as she released a smile for her new guest. “Good morning, Gloria!” Father began, “My name is Fr. Michael Parker and someone told me that you might like me to visit you.” She waved a hand inviting him to come closer to the bed. He pulled a chair up and began to chat about her health and how long she had lived here in Silco. After a few minutes of small talk there was a moment of silence in the conversation and Fr. Michael realized that this was his opportunity. “Gloria, this might seem awkward, but would you like me to give to you the anointing of the sick?” She appeared perplexed by the question and asked what anointing of the sick was. “Well, it is one of the seven sacraments of the Church, just like baptism, confession and confirmation.” Father said, trying to help her understand. “But, I’m not baptized,” was her reply.
There in the small shack up in the forsaken jungle of Silco Fr. Michael Parker administered the sacraments of baptism, confession, Holy Communion, confirmation, and anointing of the sick to the elderly woman. As he descended the trail that led back to town he could not stop thinking about Gloria’s words after everything that had happened. She thanked him for coming and then said, “Father, you are the first priest I have ever seen in my life.” Father stopped in the middle of the trail to gaze at the evening sky now painted red, purple and orange. In that natural cathedral he addressed God in prayers saying, “If you made me a priest, only so that Gloria could go to heaven, it would have totally been worth it.” With that Fr. Michael returned to the town of Silco with his heart full of love.
Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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