A Voice for the Voiceless
By: Fr. Melanio Viuya, Jr., CICM
Melanio Viuya was born in Tarlac, Tarlac. He joined the CICM’s and studied in Baguio and Quezon City. In this article he tells us about his mission work in Zaire as he prepares for his ordination. The strange thing is though Zaire is a fabulous wealthy country, Melanio has a different story to tell. The question is why so much poverty amidst so much wealth and what has the gospel has to say?
For one reason or the other, despite the fact that I have already been here for several weeks now, it’s my first time to participate in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration. I have been attending the daily mass at 5:30 in the morning. We start the mass amid the darkness with two flickering timid lights of candles and we end the daily celebration with the triumphant lights of the sun. Once I commented to the assistant parish priest: “People seem to be not enthusiastic in responding during the mass.” He agreed. People whisper their response as if ashamed to proclaim their faith. During these daily masses I have already noticed that people come in their soiled and old clothes. Some are even almost naked. One of the sacristans serves barefooted.
Today is Sunday, I told myself, it will be different! It’s the day of the Lord! Well, I spoke too soon. Why should Sunday be different to any other day? I should have expected that! Gone were the days when people went to mass in their best clothes. I was even told that many people went to mass no longer go to mass for lack of any clothes to wear. Then, I should have been more appreciative of these people who summon all their courage to be at the mass despite their old clothes.
A Requiem Mass
Today is Sunday. It’s the day of the Risen Lord. Early this morning I was singing the Halleluiah. I always get a kick out of that. However, when I was already in the Church, with the mass proceeding so slowly, I wondered if I was right to start the day with the great Halleluiah. I wondered if it was not more fitting to sing “Were you there when they Crucified My Lord” or “Stabat Mater” or “Into Thy Hands I Commend My Spirit”? Yes, this mass appears to me as a requiem mass. It’s as if we are lamenting the sorry state of the country; the great unbelievable impoverishment of the people. The singing of the choir did not improve things. It even added to the sorrowful and almost spiritless atmosphere of the celebration. Sorry for the expression but the way the choir sang was as if they skipped several meals. And maybe they did!
Today is Sunday. And it is on this day of the Risen Lord that I was made more aware of the pitiful plight of these people in this lost corner of the world. This is the parish of Yakamba which belongs to the diocese of Badjala in the north-west of Zaire, to the west is the French Congo while to the north is the Central republic of Africa. People feed themselves with the products of their fields; cassava, corn, banana and other green leafy vegetables and with fish from the rivers; wild animals and caterpillars of the forest. Given that, food seems not to be a problem. However, it is! For one thing, salt hardly reaches this place. That explains the astronomical rise of goiter patients. Yet more acute is the problem of clothes, medicines, school supplies and other processed products. There are two schools here, one for the boys and the other for the girls. Both are dilapidated and are in the process of decay unless they are repaired.
In this very fertile forest, are spread several plantations of coffee and cassava. In other places, I was informed people used to cultivate cotton. All these are abandoned now, left unattended. The sharp fall of prices is one reason, the main reason is the problem of transporting these products to the capital. Aside from the lack of transportation, the roads are in a state of progressive deterioration. Nothing is being done at this level. If this continues, I’m afraid even the neighboring villages will be isolated not only from the capital but also from one another. A beast of burden is non-existent here. If there are no vehicles the only other option is to do it on foot.
No More Hope
My older confreres note that people are tired physically and psychologically because of the failure of the government in all aspects of life. They are in total confusion! There seems to be no hope.
However, today is Sunday. It’s the day of the Lord. And today I saw a ray of hope while attending to what seems to me a requiem Mass. During the offertory, very few people line up around. Inspite of their poverty (should I say misery?) people at least some of them, are still able to offer something. Some mothers offered squash, corn, rice, vegetables. If ever there are those who gave cash, they are really very few and the amount very small. I was told that all these offering will be distributed to the poorest families in the parish. Now surely that is enough reason to sing Handle’s Alleluiah? Truly, I said, the Good Friday always leads to the Easter Sunday.
Voice of the Voiceless
As I was writing this, a boy of twelve shyly approach my window. I recognize him, he’s the boy who “greeted“ me first when I arrived here in Yakamba. He’s a deaf and mute. For me it’s significant, almost symbolic, that he’s the first person to “greet” me upon my arrival here. Now, he is here in front of me trying to say something. He is opening his mouth and producing sounds unknown to human language. Aware that I cannot understand what he was saying he accompanies his talks with gesture. Unfortunately, I still cannot understand what he was trying to say. He suddenly appeared to me as a symbol of his people suffering in silence, wanting so much to share their truth with me, in the world. Is this God’s way of asking me to be the voice of the voiceless? This sends a shiver down my spine. Like the disciple after the crucifixion, I am afraid. I’m as confused as the people.
Yet, today is Sunday. The day of the Risen Lord. It’s the fact that the Good Friday leads to the Easter Sunday and Easter Sunday is the beginning. Pentecost will surely follow.