We were invited to a private Mass tonight, praying for the recently deceased souls of several
Sisters from the congregation of the Sisters next door. No, it wasn't Sr. Mercy or Hilda who died, but two of their sisters in other countries, and one of Sr. Hilda's cousins. One of the themes that kept coming up in the prayer intentions was community.
We have been blessed with many strong communities, not least of which have been the families in which we were raised. I think about our Catholic Campus Ministry in college, Mar-Lu-Ridge summer camp, Holy Spirit parish and All Saints parish in Virginia, and our very dear Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Los Alamos. Recently we have become a part of the Lay Mission-Helpers/Mission Doctor Association community, and we were briefly engaged in the life of two parishes in Los Angeles during our training. Now here we are in Cameroon, in Nso', near Junction, at Saint Augustine College, and community is all around us.
We have slowly been incorporating into the local community (communities?) here. There is the staff community, the Catholic community, the neighborhood community, the expat community. We are meeting people and getting to know them, growing ever so slightly closer with time. We are learning the languages. We are starting to have opinions about current events and situations at work and in our neighborhood, whereas at first everything was so new and different we just accepted things at face value. We look to our neighbors for help, and offer it when it is needed. We would love to be more involved in the local parish, but that has proven difficult. We are regulars in our neighborhood, such that the children we pass don't yell "kimbang! white man!" so much as they greet us: "Father of James! Mother of Helena!" We see people around town that we know. All these things are some of the superficial ways we are included in the community.
Still, community is deeper than being recognized by the people you buy from each week or sit next to in church. We are so blessed to have a very supportive community in our parish in New Mexico, IHM. Sometimes we feel homesick, though we are glad to be away from the cold right now! We think and pray for everyone there often, and we know they pray for us often. I love to remember specific people and families in my thoughts and prayers. Sometimes my train of thought brings me to think about certain people, like the guy riding the motorcycle wearing the Red Sox hat makes me think of a certain Deacon and his family. Or the piano printed fabric in the market makes me think of a certain friend and youth ministry volunteer. In a very real way, we have become even more close to our IHM community in our absence, and it has happened through prayer.
One of the aspects of community here is best shown by a short story. One Sunday night I walked to Junction to broadcast my weekly radio show. This is one of the few times I venture out after dark, and certainly the only time I walk. It's not that it is really dangerous, it is just that I don't want to take any chances. On my way to the station, I noticed that another expat was spending time relaxing at a local bar. Thirty minutes later, after the show was over, I went back to that bar to see if she wanted or needed someone to walk her home.
She had just left, but one of the patrons stepped outside to look with me and see the direction she had gone. I thanked him and walked away, and he responded with, "we are together." I thought about that all the way home.
"We are together." This is a common phrase here, and this time I heard it and started to understand its meaning. We are together, we are a community, and one affects the whole. Therefore, we help who we can when we can. Gifts get shared or passed on. Concern is expressed for others' safety while they travel. In some ways, you get the feeling that people in your community truly care for your well-being, despite what feuds or disagreements you might be having. We are together.
And to our family and friends in the states, through prayer and through Sacraments and through charity and through Christ's body, the Church: we are together.