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BREAD FROM HEAVEN AND THE COMMUNITY HORSE

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This long article wants to be a humble tribute to the many animators of small communities who threw themselves heart and soul into building a church with a human face and a gospel flavour, but whose valiant efforts were very often wiped out because of the lack of courage of some of their pastors.


Caballo comunitario 3a


The small farmers of La Landa have been dreaming for a long time of forming a real christian community, that would be the good Lord's pride. Modesto and his wife Nilda are the soul of that dream.

Today, Sunday, they are gathered in the chapel to share the Word while having a bite to eat around a table on which each family has deposited one home-made bread, empanadas, humitas, handfuls of coca leaves, Toro wine and soft drinks. Between two songs, Modesto comments on a passage of the gospel where Jesus in person appears as « the living bread coming from heaven. » (John 6: 51-60).

« This is not complicated » says Modesto. He explains to them that Jesus was so popular that people left everything to go and listen to him. They never got tired of doing so. His word filled up their hearts, to the extent that they forgot to eat. They would say that for them Jesus and his word were really « bread from heaven. »

Modesto recalls that the first Christian communities began to merge immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus and that the sign that distinguished them was not the cross but a fraternal table with a lot bread for all those who joined them. Those first Christians prayed and worked together and shared everything among their selves and took care of one another. And among them there were no rich individuals neither poor ones; no one suffered from hunger. Anyway, that is what is related in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (2:42-45; 4:32-35).

Among the poorest, the men are still plowing their fields with a wooden plow being drawn by...a woman! At times, the men die or go elsewhere, leaving behind the wife and the children as destitute. In La Landa, a dozen or so families are experiencing that kind of dramatic life.

That day, in the chapel, Modesto's intervention about the bread of life gives food for thought. The community cannot but think about those families that have no men for plowing the fields. How can such misery be relieved? Everyone gives his own opinion. Some even have tears in their eyes.

« I have an idea! » suddenly shouts one of them. « Every Sunday, we will deposit a few pesos in a special box. When we have gathered enough money, we will purchase a horse. That will be the horse of the community. We will keep it in the shed near the chapel. By turn, each family will take care of feeding it. At plowing season, we will make the horse available to the families who need it. »

The proposition is spontaneously welcomed as an inspiration coming from the Holy Spirit. The unanimous agreement is expressed with thunderous applause and everybody leaves singing Alleluia.

Days and weeks go by, and the box remains empty. The people are being coaxed, put their help off until later, make up tons of excuses so as not to contribute.

Modesto goes back onto the offensive: « That idea about the horse, it comes from the good Lord. Time is short. We have to fill up that box as soon as possible. As you all well know, I myself have no money, but when we will have our community horse, I commit myself to take care of the plowing for free for the poorest families. Because, when you think about it, it would not be a very Christian thing to let the women manage by themselves. And so, that will be my contribution. »

Everyone embraces Modesto with emotion and goes back home. But, in the box still, not a single dime.

Modesto has only nine children. He is a farmer and because of his resourcefulness, ha has learned masonry. Nilda, his wife, takes care of a small flock of goats and of a vegetable plot among the stones. It is him, Modesto, who built the chapel of the community without much help to tell the truth.

Today, looking at the still empty box, Modesto feels once again that he will have to make the first move. With a heavy heart, he goes to visit an old uncle living in another village to borrow money. And then, he buys the horse, feeds it and plows as promised. No one in the community gives a cent, nor offers some hay neither gives even a hand.

After two years with that situation, Modesto and Nilda cannot take it anymore. With many regrets, they decide to put an end to the operation. The horse that has gotten very thin is sold back at a loss. The generous uncle who advanced the money is reimbursed for only half the amount.

But there is a rumor that with the sale of the horse Modesto would have greased his palm. The community frowns and hearts cloud over. Even if Modesto shows in no time at all the absurdity of that rumor, not all are convinced. Three or four individuals leave the place before the end of the meeting. The halo of Modesto is not what it was.

At the same time, a crisis breaks out at the head of that parish to which belongs La Landa. The bishop has just dismissed its parish priest (a certain Jeremiah whom we know already) and his team.

At the beginning, the bishop had blessed that project of small communities around the Word of God. He agreed also that lay animators like Modesto and Nilda receive formation for that reason. But at this time, he is caught with a full miter.

According to that bishop, those small communities have gone too far. Their option for the poor and their social commitment are raising eyebrows in some sectors of the church and of society, and this is causing more and more worries to the pastor of the diocese.

As bishop, of course, he has nothing against the poor, but, according to him, the church has to take care also of the rich. He does not like that

«preferential» option for the poor that appears to him as being discriminatory. The rich also are God's children. In the Gospel, poverty is not first an evil that has to be fought against but a fundamental virtue so as to reach holiness. « Happy the poor in spirit! » Jesus proclaims.

Of course, points out the bishop, there is a poverty that is not virtue, and it has to be fought against. Yet, a fact remains: the rich also have their poverty; even though it may be different, it is at times more harmful and less bearable that that of the poor.

All the rich are not saints, he agrees, but all the poor are not either. Still, there are rich people who are very generous towards the Major Seminary and who contribute to many important organizations of the diocese.

Also there is the military. Its members are not all devils, as some twisted minds take pleasure in describing them. Who brought back religious education in the schools, if not the military?

By twisting the documents of Vatican II, regrets the bishop, some spirits came to the point of mixing up pastoral work and politics. Human Rights and social justice, points out the bishop, problems of the working class, the cause of the people who "disappeared" during the dictatorship, the claims of the native communities concerning the protection of their culture and the recovery of their ancestral lands, are questions that do not leave the Church indifferent, but they are not, in any case whatsoever, of the Church's responsibility. Those questions are all political matters for the State. « To Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what is God's! ».

Finally, in the mind of the good bishop and of his advisors, those small communities that mix religion with questions of justice and freedom and become a bit too light-heartedly keen on the pagan traditions of the natives, distort the message of the gospel; they play in the hands of the leftists, foment the class struggle and endanger social peace. Steps must be taken.

And steps are taken. Jeremiah is expelled from the parish and even from the diocese, and his team is sent into limbo. All these nice people are replaced by a few pious lay men and by an old priest known for being bad-tempered, but with safe doctrine. This latter, born a Teutonic, is known, among other things, for cramming his homilies with fantastic feats that he himself would have accomplished during his long career, among which that the less commonplace feat of having serve as an army officer in his country during the era of a certain Hitler.

The banishment of Jeremiah and of his team triggers an upheaval which spreads as far as the smallest communities. In La Landa, Modesto is immediately dismissed from his service as an animator. A good lady of canonical age with an immaculate religious sheet is appointed to assure the connection between the chapel and the parish priest.

Under a shower of flour and confetti and to the rhythm of the sikuris, the appointed one is established by the community in her new function. The former commission « pro temple », responsible for the keys, the benches, the bell, the celebrations and the money collection, sees its exile come to an end and is back in service like in the old times. The Teutonic parish priest, more a staunch believer in the catechism of old than in community horses, is in seventh heaven.

From now on, things in La Landa return to what they were before Jeremiah and Modesto. The people do not need any more to take part in whatever, except to make their parish priest happy. No more sharing of the home bread nor of the Toro wine neither of the lemonades nor the coca leaves, and the people do not go to any trouble to celebrate the Word in the absence of the priest. When the reverend parish priest is there, people attend mass and that's all.

At mass, the Word of God is boringly repeated by the people as they think about the flies. Nearly no more singing, especially the songs composed by Jeremiah, and nobody dreams about changing the world. But still money is being collected, not, however, to purchase horses, but to pay for masses, especially for the dead, of course, since the health of the dead in the hereafter is more important, for sure, than that of some women who have run after their misfortune by giving birth outside the sacred bonds of marriage. As a result, the alms box in the chapel is not lying idle.

As soon as the money increases, visits by the priest also and the masses for the dead are multiplied. Even some surplus is amassed and it is religiously used to repaint the chapel, and also the statue of the Virgin, and to cooperate with the collection for the vocations for the diocesan seminary. The old priest has only praises for his dearest little sheep of La Landa. The good old religion has finally come back home.

The people of La Landa are surely not bad persons, far from it! All of them love Jesus and blindly believe that the host consecrated by the priest is truly the Body of Christ. What is difficult for them is not the dogma of the transubstantiation about which they ignore the existence, but to act in such a way that the Word of Jesus be transformed in gestures of sharing, of participation and of solidarity so that no one around them will suffer of misery or hunger.

« That is really too difficult...» they think. And gradually those good people abandon the path of Jesus to turn themselves towards the religion of the old times in which temple and cult are more attractive than the poor and justice.

Happily, all do not think like that. In spite of the humiliations, Modesto and Nilda keep on serving in the shadows with the hope that one day the community will rise again.

« My flesh is real food»... Not everybody can understand that. That is why, in the world, the «community horses» do not abound and many people are starving.

 

Eloy Roy

Translated from the French by Jacques Bourdages

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