|Fr. Cris Salar, SVD-Parish Priest of Uatulari|
When I set foot on the famous district of Viqueque particularly the subdistrict of Uatolari as a new parish priest, I noticed immediately the massive interest of the public to compare every new parish priest to the previous ones. This made me a little bit conscious on how I am going to present myself in this new environment. I felt a pang in my heart whenever this comparison takes part in the people’s conversation. As a result, I found myself struggling with so many “hows”: how to present myself, how to deal my parishioners very well and all those selfish stuffs. Then I became unnatural. Unfortunately, soliciting ideas from the parishioners did not give much help as I realized they wanted me to be a person according to their line of thinking. Some said, I should be like the deceased Fr. Yosef Tani, SVD whose love to the people is indeed exemplary. Others murmured that I must follow the footsteps of Fr. Ferdinand Resuena, SVD who was a crowd-drawer. Some also suggested to look back into the time of Fr. Andre Hane’s robustness; planting fear to people as if a classical way of doing mission. While I am trying to fit myself in to the system, all these contribute to my so- called unnatural behavior: Anger. I began to shout at people. Then I tried to justify my action by romanticizing that perhaps I am just having a mid-life crisis or maybe the situation calls for it because I live in a culture where people are too persuasive and aggressive or maybe I am just operating on my biases.
As I am trying to dig deeper, it points me to this direction that to understand my parishioners I should walk through into their skin’s. Decades of wars and violence had put these people into a box. People would always talk about people in “Loro-sae” particularly this belief that if Loro-sae people would calm down the entire nation is at peace. The radicalism of these people brought Timor Leste to independence. They believe in that. I have seen how they revere “saudozos” the martyrs of wars, whose ruins are put together in a special Ossuary as a gesture of respect and admiration. These were brave people who fought for independence, soldiers who did not succumb easily to the colonizers. And so the tradition continues that for Uatolari people there is no room for defeat and weakling only tough and hardheaded people.
Now, here comes my dilemma: how to introduce the loving God in their lives considering the all-horrible experiences of violence and traumas these little souls had experienced. Pope Francis’s announcement is timely. He declared that the coming year 2016 will be the Year of Mercy for all of us. This is indeed fitting and proper to a community of faithful that experienced rift in the past. In line with this, the Easter message that I inculcated to the people’s hearts during the commemoration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ is that God is not just showing mercy to sinners but He himself is mercy. He died on the cross not as a sign of defeat but victory through His mercy and love.
And so for us believers there is no room for tough and stony hearts only humility and love, in this we win. This is the message of the cross. Pope Francis fortifies this when he said on his twitter account, “the Cross of Christ is not a defeat; the Cross of Christ is love and mercy”.
For my people in this parish, God’s mercy is like the one whom spiritual writer Henri Nouwen described in his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son” while contemplating Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” depicts a father who embraces his comeback son with a gripping hand on one hand and a loosing hand on the other. The gripping hand represents a strong Father and the loosing hand signifies a loving Mother on the other. This I believe is exactly the fashion a missionary should have in a culture where people are wounded by the harsh realities of war, ethnic rivalry and political discord.
Perhaps, I cannot directly engrave the loving and merciful God in their hearts but I can introduce to them a strong loving God the way Henri Nouwen portrayed God in Rembrandt’s painting: a Father who is strong but with a heart of a caring and loving mother. I think this would fit the people that look up to God as a loving Father but manifests himself in a strong ma
nner, or we may put it this way a God who punishes but the One that does it because of love.
Timor Leste as a new nation still needs of primary evangelization. I opted to celebrate Holy Week in the old church which is now one of the chapel stations of the parish because I heard some of the faithful there became inactive and I wanted to rescue these parishioners who are gradually moving away from the Church. One reason is sin. They feel that they do not deserve the Church because of their sins and so they would not attend Mass and if they do attend the Mass they would never receive communion. As a consequence, they become “submarine Catholics”. A submarine resurfaces on the water every six months and so Catholics who appear only in the Church twice a year, and that is during Christmas and Easter.
|Fr. Fransis, Fr. Cris, Fr. Gabriel|
With a gripping hand on one hand, I boldly reminded them of their responsibility as Christians to make tough decisions to improve their spiritual life, and a loosing hand on the other by telling that God’s mercy is bigger than our sins (Pope Francis). But the wrath of God is also imminent to those who do not heed Him. As one anonymous writer says, “God’s patience is lasting but not everlasting”. But above all, mercy reigns because His mercy endures forever (Psalm 118:4). St Paul stresses in his letter to Titus that, it is only through the mercy of God that we can be saved (Titus 3:5). Indeed it is.
A lesson that is worth noticing here when talking about comparisons between me and the previous missionaries who worked in Uatolari. The love of the deceased Fr. Yosef won the hearts of many people. The strictness of Fr. Andre’s that made the faithful’s active participation in the Church. This is truly a crowd-getter, a character of a merciful Father who loves and disciplines his children in order to get saved.
In this season of Easter I only hope and pray that the mercy of the Risen Christ will radiate to all of us so that we may become figures of mercy and compassion to one another.