By Father Fred Ruse (pictured) from the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana
Fr. Hilario is in his final days with us in the mission. Technically he is “on vacation”, which is a “fallacy” in the life of a priest in a situation like ours here. He wanted his vacation time to be the time for his final days serving in the Mission. We went together to all the Masses in our communities this weekend – he preached and presided at these “last Masses”. He pledged me to a kind of “obedience” to not make anything of this weekend, that is, his last Masses among us. So, I was obedient.
His selflessness in these days, when officially he could be back in Florida relaxing and taking in the rays “with pay”, are testimony to what has been his way of life with me for two years.
He and I are doing some review of his two years and some of the projects for which he has been responsible. When we first sat down to begin that exercise I told him that the first thing I wanted to say is this: his time with me has been “golden”.
We both laughed as I suggested that our working together had every reason to fall apart a long time ago:
He is extroverted; I am introverted; he is dis-organized; I am organized. He does everything at the last minute; I plan way ahead. But, it worked. More than “worked”, the time and ministry together was a witness of the church, of the Gospel to all, more so than any words we might ever speak or lessons we might teach. I am convinced that it worked because what we are about is the “real church” that which was the reality of the early church of which we hear proclaimed in the Acts, in the letters of St. Paul, St. Timothy, St. Peter. We have lived with the people, close to them and everything else paled in the face of their reality…our differences as persons, our idiosyncrasies, etc…all of that paled and what defined us was a love for the people and their love for us. (The lesson: the Church, to be faithful to being the Church, must live “inserted”, “immersed” and “incarnated” in the life of those not so “fortunate” in this world.)
I told Fr. Hilario that what most captivated me in him was his love for the people and his unselfish dedication to them, especially to those most in need. I have enjoyed him immensely and treasured every day. I have grown for it. And, well, isn’t that what we really read in the Gospel: all is grace. How amazing when we really experience it!
And, when it is the “real church” that is being lived, well, there is love and love covers a multitude of sins as we have heard.
Last night, after the Mass here in La Cucarita, the Cursillistas wanted to plan a supper with us so to celebrate a “farewell” to Fr. Hilario. It was a very telling moment of what has happened through his ministry, his presence here. Initiating the Cursillo movement here in our mountains was one of the tasks Fr. Hilario had toward forming leaders in our communities.
I have sat in a lot of “farewell” celebrations for priests. But, this one with these men and women was substantively different. These men and women spoke of “being born” thanks to the experience of Cursillo and Fr. Hilario’s ministry among them. That is, in fact, the path of our presence here in these mountains: proposing a “wake-up” call to the people. These people have changed.
May the church always be “home” to the many great loves that fill the hungry with joy and hope. Fr. Hilario has filled many hungry souls here with much joy, with much reason to live. He has given solid witness to and reason for knowing the One who satisfies all hungers. He has been a good priest to our people here; he has been a good priest and friend to me.