I have had a few experiences in my first week that I thought I would share with you. I arrived late Friday and found out about 3 deaths that took place while away. Yes, one was another murder in Nassau. A school teacher who is related to the owner of the local grocery store was shot and killed while away. Our parishioner was clearly upset and called from Nassau to tell me she wouldn't be in church Sunday since she was going to be dealing with this. While we live in an 'island paradise', crime and violence in Nassau is out of control.
One of the local addicts is someone that frequently visits the Church looking for a sandwich or a soda. We have some history with this man, not all of it good. He has a history of committing robberies in town and most people have shunned him. On occasion he has taken advantage of our generosity and I've had to cut ties with him more than once. It has not been a good relationship, but eventually we reconcile (until the next time). There is clearly a pattern.
Anyway - his mother is one of the 3 deaths I mentioned earlier. She died in the hospital in Nassau and, since the family doesn't have the money to ship the body back to Andros for a funeral, the funeral and burial were in Nassau - which meant our friend had to go to Nassau. Coincidentally, the church where they held the funeral was the Cathedral - a rather impressive venue to say the least.
So, this morning I am praying my Morning Prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament and from behind me I hear "Deacon, can I come into the Church?" Well I wasn't expecting that in the midst of the dead silence of my Morning Prayer so I jumped about 3 feet, but then told him that, certainly he could come in. (You must realize that in the 2 years we have been here he has come to our front door to ask for food almost daily - but he has never set foot inside the church).
So he comes into Church and sits in the back and I continue Morning Prayer and I hear the pages of a missalette being turned. It struck me that here we are, together in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Me, the Deacon, with my prejudices about this man, and he, the addict, having just lost his mother, sits in silence just a few pews behind me. Ahh, the unifying presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
After about 5 minutes I hear the phone ring in my office and, since I was actually expecting a call, I went out and left him alone in Church while I took the call. When I came back he stood up and we talked a little. His experience in the Cathedral was moving and he knows he does bad things, but asked if I thought it was OK for him to come back to church. He knows some of the members might give him a hard time, but he wants to try. He also asked if I thought it would be OK for him to go to confession the next time we have a priest. Well, this was like a wave crashing down upon me. I am thrilled he has had the experience he has had and I really do hope he shows up on Sunday. I do know that some of the local folks will ask me if I know what I am doing since 'clearly he is only here to case the joint' (I've heard that before). But if there is a glimmer of hope that he is serious, it is worth the risk.
After we talked, he asked if he might have a sandwich and, since all I had was peanut butter and jelly - he took it gladly and was on his way. Keep Herbie in your prayers.
Now then, let me tell you about that phone call. Arnie had called a few days earlier asking me if I could find the baptismal records of his father. He thought his Dad was born in the early 1920's in Small Hope, which would take some researching on my part so I took his number and promised to call him back. Well his number was a cell phone and calling cell phones on Andros can be an adventure. In the Bahamas you buy your cell phone and then buy phone cards. You enter the phone card number into your phone and you have that much credit for your phone. So you can get a $20 phone card and use $20 worth of phone calls - when you have used all your minutes your phone is busy if anyone calls. So, you guessed it, after I find Arnie's Dad I call his number and I get that rapid busy that says to me that he has no minutes and all I can do is hope he calls back - which he did when I was praying Morning Prayer with Herbie in the back row.
So I take the call and explain what I had found and he was thrilled and asked if he could come get a Baptismal Certificate of his father's baptism and I said "Sure, why don't you come over around 10AM" Fine, all set - I figure Small Hope is the next town he shouldn't have any problem getting here by 10. Well 10 comes and goes, 10:30, 11, around 11:30 there's a knock on the door and its him. We talk a bit, I give him the Certificate, and he explains that he is trying to prove his Bahamian Citizenship. There is no record of his birth (the keeping of Birth Certificates is better now, but 40 years ago if an island midwife didn't bother to send a notice to Nassau, the birth may or may not ever get on the books and, in his case it didn't). So he was able to get a legal Affadavit that he was the son of Alton and, if he could prove Alton was a Bahamian, then he could prove he was a Bahamian - except, there is no Birth Certificate for Alton either! The fact that the Church maintains Baptismal Certificates however, would prove to be his salvation. With Alton's Baptismal Cert he could show Alton was born in the Bahamas and, with his Affadavit he could prove he was Alton's son and he would be home free. Of course if Alton had ever bothered to get Arnie baptized it would have been much easier, but that's another story.
What impressed me about Arnie however, was not this story. It was what he went through to get to me and pick up the Certificate. It turns out that while his Dad was born in Small Hope, the next town to Fresh Creek. The reason it took him so long to get to me was that Arnie lives in Lowe Sound - at the very northern end of the island and has no car. Arnie hitch-hiked for 60 miles to see me and when he left he was going to do it all over again to get home. What an amazing testimony to his perserverance to straighten all this out and prove he is a legal Bahamian.
And finally, there is Jane. Jane is 89, blind in one eye, and since her recent stroke she is homebound. In her house there are 4 daughters, all with several children, all unmarried and the fathers of these children are nowhere to be seen. Anyway, we know this family pretty well and I have been bringing her communion for several months on Sunday afternoon. For the past two weeks one of the boys in the house, about 10 years old, has been coming to church on Sunday, all by himself. This week when I brought her communion she started by asking 'Did you see my boy in Church today?' I said I did and she said, that's my grandson and I want him to be Catholic just like me. She has been evangelizing her grandchildren! The daughters consider themselves Catholic, although they don't come to church and none of their children are baptized. I have spoken to them about it but hadn't gotten anywhere - but Jane has!
When she told me she wanted this boy baptized I said, "Well that is nice Jane, but we need his mother to give permission for that to happen". At which point Jane turns to the door and yells, "Theresa, come in here, Deac wants to talk to you!" In comes Theresa and in a few short minutes she agreed to have her son baptized - and his little brother! I explained she needed to find God-parents that were Catholic and we planned to do a Baptism Prep session, then schedule the Baptism. THEN, she tells me to come in the next room to meet her cousin who just had a baby and wanted to have her baptized as well! So off I go and there's a young mom with a 2 month old sweetie in her arms, and the Daddy - so I give them the same little talk about God-parents and planning a Baptism Prep session and it feels like we are on our way to 3 new members of our Church - all because Jane was doing her job, without pressure, without guilt, just simply witnessing to the importance of being a Christian and, in God's time, people heard her.
So, as you can see it has been quite a week. Ginni is still in the US so I am flying solo with CCD and RCIA and the choir misses her terribly (actually everyone misses her terribly). So please keep me in your prayers.
Till next time