Saint Joseph Parish in the Diocese of Galle, Sri Lanka serves the workers of a local tea plantation. Some of the population cannot travel to weekly worship due to distance. Instead, they worship at outstation chapels that are visited infrequently by a priest.
During my 2016 visit to the diocese, I attended Mass at Saint Joseph's. After touring the facilities supported by the Propagation of the Faith, we set off into the mountainous tea estate to a tiny village.
Our van stopped in an open field near a farmhouse. Father Bede, the pastor, assured me it was just a short walk to our destination. I've learned on these trips that 'short' is a relative term! After climbing down a steep, rocky path, we arrived at a clearing to find a one room school building where families had gathered. Father had sent word with the catechist that surprise visitors were coming!
Children presented me with floral garlands and performed a traditional dance. They proudly showed off their classroom built with support from Missionary Childhood. In return, I gave each of them a World Mission Rosary and explained that when I prayed on the yellow beads for Asia, we think of them. I asked them to remember us on the red beads, for the Americas.
As the visit was ending, I was asked if I would like to visit their homes. I was honored. After being warned to watch for leeches on my feet, we walked past two open wells that served as the community's water source and climbed the other side of the hill.
There stood a low slung, concrete building split into five two-room dwellings. Multiple generations of a family, who have made their living picking tea in the mountains, lived in each section with no electricity or indoor water. Chickens ran about the dirt yard; laundry was strung in the trees.
Each family was happy to receive me. We posed for multiple pictures at their doorsteps as they answered my questions about their families and their lives. The answer to one question gave me pause: 'Do you like living here?'
A woman smiled warmly and said, "I can walk out my door and get fresh coconuts, mangoes, lemons, and eggs. I'm surrounded by my family. It's so beautiful here. What's not to love?"
NB: Next month, the faithful of the Light of Christ Collaborative in Abington and Whitman will have a chance to prayerfully support the work of the Diocese of Galle, Sri, Lanka.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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