It was Good Friday 1998. I had concluded that a missionary’s life (even for a Jesuit novice) was miserably difficult. Homesick and exhausted from endless walking, sunburn, lack of food and complete powerlessness, I desperately sought a break from my work as a teacher in the ghettoes of Kingston, Jamaica, so I could simply enjoy Holy Week and evaluate my time in the missions. The day before, I had stood within gunshot range of the politically motivated murderer of a young man. I wanted to go home.
I had been invited to spend my time in a poor, rural village on the north coast of the island for Good Friday—just what I needed. Feeling somewhat despondent, I joined Martin Royackers (a Canadian Jesuit priest who would be martyred in June 2001) and people from his five parishes on a grueling uphill Stations of the Cross procession en route to an unexpected, but solemn, three-hour service. My spirits were not revived by the liturgy. From my tiny room in a wooden shack, I fought off menacing mosquitoes while staring into the gloomy gray waters of the Caribbean Sea. Home seemed far. The darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday penetrated deeply into my consciousness.
But Easter Sunday would be blessed in ways I could not anticipate. I was accompanying Father Jim Webb, another Canadian-born Jesuit, on a routine errand, when our truck pulled into the driveway of a simple house, where Father Martin and some young neighbors soon joined us. Still unaware of the full dimensions of our task, I was surprised when our entourage encircled an enormous pig from the farm, threw a rope around this beast’s neck and wrangled him into the back of our truck. Excitedly, we sped down the road, when we heard a crash. The pig thrashed about, breaking the cab and his nose, all the while noisily protesting his captivity en route to our destination at a neighboring farm.
Our restless pig became much more animated to the point where it was dangerous to contain him any longer. He bounded into a nearby pen where a handsome sow was nervously waiting. Embarrassed, I finally realized what was planned and I impulsively withdrew myself from the area to avoid the earsplitting shrieks, grunts and groans. The sow’s cry ripped through my consciousness. I wanted to rescue that sow, as she did not seem ready. Her squeals seemed to speak for the whole land and its people, who were crying out, and I was powerless to do anything but listen.
But the young men were delighted and insisted that I join them in viewing this happy moment of life. They beat down my resistance, and I reluctantly joined in viewing this spectacle. I felt happy because two families would share in the prosperity to come from future offspring. I saw people who were learning how to work together, and I became involved in their lives in a gritty, humble and earthy way. The livelihood of a people was being sustained, Christian values were being preached in actions, and we were involved in authentic work that directly affected the lives of the poor. It was life that I was seeing. Staggered, I just listened, finally hearing the cries of the land and letting my heart respond.
Later that day, I climbed a mountain with Father Jim to visit an aging man who was perilously close to unjustly losing his home to the government. Jim’s compassionate concern for the lives and welfare of the families were striking. He did not merely love his people; he and Father Martin lived among them and with them. Their love for the poor was integrated into their own lives and work. They wanted their people to live freely and their actions proclaimed Christ’s message of salvation.
In my small, dark cabin that evening, I lay down on my bed to ponder the day’s events. A tiny beam of light shining through a crack in the window caused my heart to jump with gratitude, happiness and understanding.
I had fallen in love with the missions, and it happened through the squeal of a pig.