By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Wednesday/December 12, 2018 /Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize
On December 2nd it became official. I am the Pastor of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Punta Gorda—–Wooooooo—–Hooooooooo. About 800 people crammed into and around the Church. Prayers and songs were offered in English, Spanish, Qeqchi, Mopan, Garifuna. And I understood every word………of English. When it was done everybody moved over to the parish hall for tamales and sandwiches.
The very first thing on my agenda is to push Mass attendance. I plan on doing this by boosting the many committees that went moribund in the last few years: Lay Ministers, Youth Group, Liturgy Committee. These things sound boring and inconsequential, but I assure you when these committees are vibrant they make ALL the difference on Sunday morning.
Of course our grounds need work, a lot of work. But here is the problem and it is a really big problem. Before we can repair our grounds, we need a fence in order to maintain our repairs. From the moment I arrived people were saying to me, “We need a fence. We need a fence.” After three months of being here, I see why so many teachers, parents, and parishioners want a fence. This Sunday past a local election was held. Our school is a polling station. The crowds trashed our grounds. Urinating in the yard, drinking their rum in the church garden and school verandah, mountains of trash discarded which the local canine crew spread across the grounds. Even without an election, vandals break into classrooms. People cut through the grounds on foot, on bikes, in cars, and on motorcycles. Folks have no problem stealing the few flowers we do manage to grow. Revelers and lovers will settle on our verandah at night with their weed and alcohol and radios. During the week anybody can just walk into any classroom they want to pester a teacher or a child. On the weekends our campus is literally treated as a public park. There once was an attempt at fencing one side of the school grounds, but money fell short and the fence is filled with gaps where there were supposed to be gates. I will begin the process of looking into fencing our 20 or so acres. This will be terribly adventurous as fencing is hardly a sexy sell and our Sunday collection averages about $700 per Sunday, or $350 US. And a fence is only the first stage in what needs to be a great overhaul of the grounds. I think I’ll be here a long time.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Patroness of the Americas is honored here with a candlelight procession around the neighborhood followed by Mass. She is important to us for many reasons, not least of which is her protection of us from hurricanes and devastating storms. As the Hurricane Season has concluded without a destructive storm, we give thanks.