Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Farewell to Hector, A Grand "Astronomer"

These past few weeks have been among the busiest times I’ve had here in the mountains. I have been on the road all over the mountains, trying to help different families in different villages make arrangements for their children to continue their studies in different educational institutions. Our efforts didn’t always work out, but there have been more success stories than failures, and the people are super-appreciative of any “helping hand” they receive in trying to assure a more dignified life for their children.
In July, Carlos graduated from the Champagnat High School in Potoichan. Mission Mexico
helped him to get into a university to study "Sustainable Development."
But today was a sad day for the mountains. At noon today Father Hector Miranda, Missionary of the Holy Spirit, boarded a bus that would eventually deliver him to a new parish in the State of Tabasco. Hector has been my friend for many years, and readers of past blogs know that going to visit him and Father Juan Molina in the isolated, impoverished, indigenous, mountainous parish of San Marcos Xochitepec has always been one of my favorite experiences here in the mountains.
Fathers Juan Molina and Hector Mirando, two incredible human beings
But now Hector’s journey will take him to new places of service—and I will be one of many who will miss him terribly. As I was trying to think of the kind of special person that Hector is, a recent quote from Pope Francis crossed my mind.
Hector saying farewell to Eleuteria, one of many children whose life will never be
the same just for the simple fact of knowing Hector
In his encyclical letter Laudato Si’ On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis describes Saint Francis of Assisi. But the words he uses for Francis (in article 10) are an excellent description of Hector. Pope Francis writes:

“He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
Hector "quemando vela" (burning a candle) during his last prayer service in the
small chapel used in Xochitepec by the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit
On Sunday, the farewell celebration for Hector in Xochitepec lasted for hours, because every single person in the village shared a few words with Hector before giving him his or her blessing. Hector is an avid reader, and he and I have conversed on occasion about many books and authors. It was easy to imagine that as the indigenous people were blessing Hector, he was thinking of some words penned by Kahlil Gibran in his book The Prophet:  “You have given me deeper thirsting after life. Surely there is no greater gift to a man than that which turns all his aims into parching lips and all life into a fountain.”
Hector blessing and being blessed
And I chose the title of this blog from another story penned by Kahlil Gibran, this time from a section in a book called The Madman—I know that it’s a book that Hector has reflected on much. One part of The Madman reads:
      In the shadow of the temple my friend and I saw a blind man sitting alone. And my friend said, "Behold the wisest man of our land."
      Then I left my friend and approached the blind man and greeted him. And we conversed.
      After a while I said, "Forgive my question, but since when hast thou been blind?"
      "From my birth," he answered.
      Said I, "And what path of wisdom followest thou?"
      Said he, "I am an astronomer."
      Then he placed his hand upon his breast, saying, "I watch all these suns and moons and stars."
I know that Hector will always "watch all these suns and moons and stars"
that are present in himself —and I hope that he can experience the same once again in Xochitepec
Hector, thank you for sharing your love and your wisdom with me and with the people in these mountains. To end, I just want to mention one more story—this one taken from a book that Hector encouraged me to read: Mirrors, by Eduardo Galeano. Galeano writes in that book:

The best paintings by Ferrer Bassa, the Giotto of Catalunia, are on the walls of the convent of Pedralbes, place of bleached stones, in the heights of Barcelona. There, detached from the world, lived the cloistered nuns. It was a one-way street: the gate closed behind them and it closed for good. Their families paid large dowries so they would merit the glory of being forever married to Christ. Within the convent, at the foot of one of the Ferrer Bassa frescoes in the chapel of Saint Michael, there are words that have survived, as if in hiding, the passing of the centuries. No one knows who wrote them. But we do know when. There is a date in Roman numerals, 1426. The words are barely decipherable. In gothic letters, in Catalan, they pled and plead still:

Tell Juan
not to forget me.
Hector and Juan—what a team! And what a blessing to be their friend!
Hector, I can promise you: Juan will not forget you. Nor will I. Nor will the thousands of people whose lives have been enriched by the blessing of knowing you. Thank you for so much. Our gratitude and our love and our support will accompany you. Farewell, my grand astronomer. 

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