Letters from the Jungle – An Update from Fr. Hartley

For those of you who attended the 2019 Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference, it was hard not to be touched by Fr. Christopher Hartley’s story. (See video below, if you missed it.) He has contacted us again with an update of things that have been happening within his ministry. We thought you all might be interested too…we’ve posted it below the video. 

 

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Letter from the Jungle (03)
“To the love that leads you never ask, where to …?”
February 3, 2020


Dear friends of the mission.

More than twenty years ago, when I began my life as a missionary in the Dominican
Republic, I wrote a letter with this same title. How little did I know, how could I have
imagined all that was to happen to me… where Love would bring me, where love would lead
me?!

As I look back, with serenity and gratitude at all that has come my way, everything I have
lived – for all of us, for you and for me – what a good question this one is, to see ourselves, to
ask ourselves how are we walking along the journey of life as Christians!

After all these years… where did love lead us…? Where did we come from, where have we
gone to? How beautifully put in the words of Saint John of the Cross:

“for the gaze of God is love … when evening of life comes, we will be examined on love”
Only there where love has led us, and whatever we did for love alone, will we say: it was
worth it … worthy for eternal life. The rest will have been wasted, worth anything.
Christian life consists in “being found, in letting oneself be found by Love”. Love comes to
each one, as in the Gospels, in different places; when you least expect it; when perhaps you
were not even looking for it: next to a well, on the shore of a lake, on the road to Damascus,
at the table of a wealthy tax collector …

Love comes to our encounter every day, in the harsh monotony of daily life, in the weary
noise of the asphalt of the city or in the mud of a tropical jungle. It doesn’t really matter, it’s
always the same Love.

Years have passed, and I see – amazed, perplexed and overwhelmed – how Love continues to
meet me, continues to come to my encounter!
I know that not long ago I wrote to you about the adventures and happenings of this mission
in South Sudan; However, so much has happened that it is important to share some updates.

Schools everywhere

As you well know, the parish of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Naandi, where I reside, has an
elementary school, with eight grades for a total of 730 students, called Saint Teresa. It also
has a secondary school with four grades and only a handful of students, due to the terrible
state of the building and lack of teachers.
Thanks to the aid we are receiving, and despite not having all the resources available, we
have launched ourselves in faith into the renovation of both buildings. At the end of the letter,
I will attach some photos.


It seems to me that both buildings are going to be beautiful. At the end of this month, classes
will resume, we will have to do it under the trees because we are not going to be finished on
time – assuming that construction work does not stop due to lack of resources.
As you know, I am also pastor of the Parish of Most Holy Trinity. Both have several rural
schools (as if where I live in the jungle was not rural enough!); They usually have an average
of 300 students per school under the trees. The students, many of whom come walking from
far distances on jungle trails, sit on logs and many of them do not even have a humble
blackboard to nail to a tree- trunk.

Renovation of secondery school

Those rural communities completely lost in the jungle, with their bare hands, have built their
chapels – logs, branches, grass, mud … And yet these communities are determined to have
their own chapels, their brick-schools. The rural schools are five, the chapels are twenty.
I beg you, for the love of God, to help us as much as you can, so that the children can sit at a
proper desk, so that the people of God can worship the Good Lord in a beautiful little church.
Renovation of our primary school “Saint Teresa” Thanks to your help

With the help of a good engineer friend of mine, we have come up with an approximate
budget, which will always be adapted to the specific needs of each community, according to
the number of students, parishioners, conditions of the terrain, distance to which you have to
transport workers and construction materials, etc… We estimate that a church can be built for
around 30,000 EUROS and an elementary school for approximately 75,000 EUROS.

To all the villages that want their church I have made the same promise. If people are ready
to make the bricks free of charge, I promise to put up the buildings for them. There are
already communities that have manufactured more than 40,000 bricks!
A good example is the Baragu community. I think the photos say it much better than my words.

A whole town making bricks for their church!

Teachers

There are many things that cannot be bought with money, thank God! And they are almost
always the most important. One of the most pressing needs is the lack of qualified Catholic
teachers. If someone feels called to give a year of his life, to teach in our schools, you would
be very welcome. You don’t need important degrees; you do, however, need a certain level of
English.

If you know of someone who is a practicing Catholic, who is in good health and wants to
spend time here, with the specific mission of being a teacher, please do not hesitate to contact
me.

The most beautiful part of the mission

Without doubt, the most beautiful part of the mission is to share the Catholic faith with these
very poor and wonderful people. Holy Mass celebrations, whether in the dilapidated parish
church, in humble huts or under trees.
The Good Lord, his infinite love, his overflowing mercy, lives, nestles in the hearts of these
people. And I live in amazement, truly I am daily amazed, by the sparks of eternity that
continually jump out onto the path of my missionary journey.

At the centre of the life of the mission is Holy Mass! Masses here are absolutely beautiful
and with all possible solemnity, to overflowing capacity with people who come from the four
corners of the jungle, their joy, their faith and their celebrations without the constraints of a
clock, their awareness of being in the presence of the loving majesty of God …

If one had a more contemplative gaze than mine, one would see Jesus walking through the
twists and turns of these paths in that jungle that interweave their lives, their rickety huts, of
so many forgotten people, whose names are only registered in the heart of God …

I remember with particular emotion, just a few weeks ago, when the sun was setting and
turning into darkness, at the moment when the altar boy put the humeral veil on my
shoulders to give the blessing, and raised the monstrance with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist to
bless the people, as every evening; I saw through the open front door at the back of the
church, a woman climbing the slope that leads to the church, with a plastic container full of
twenty litres of water on her head, with two children walking, one on each side …

While I was holding the monstrance high above me to bless, I saw the woman realized what
was happening inside the church, she stopped, and knelt on the sharp stones and ordered the
children to do the same.

I was amazed, with a lump in my throat, as I stood there frozen, by the simple but strong faith
of a poor woman, whose life, surely was a litany of miseries from the day she was born, who
was able to kneel with twenty litres of water on her head (what balance!) and adore Jesus,
prostrate herself before the Lord of her life in the middle of the dirt-road and teach her
children to do the same.

It was probably pride that made me hold back a tear rolling down my face…
I could not refrain from remembering the words of Jesus: “woman, how great is your faith!”
(Mt 15:28)

We continue to celebrate a multitude of baptisms; the lines of confession are endless. It is the
first thing I do when I get to any of the chapels, and of course in the parish church. Two
ramshackle chairs and any shade near the church is good enough to bring about the daily
miracle of reconciliation. Men, women, children, the elderly, each with their story, their
drama, their life … poured out at the feet of the Heart of Christ.

A big part of my day, in this regard, is spent preaching many homilies, with a strong
catechetical component, and the visit to schools, class by class …

Particular importance is given to the visit of the sick in their huts scattered throughout the
jungle. Holy Anointing, a precious sacrament that in reality almost always involves three
sacraments. In addition to the Anointing, the Holy Eucharist in the form of viaticum and
Confession. How grateful are the elderly and the sick, to be visited and brought this spiritual
comfort!

The Stalls and Table top Sales

There are many of you who are helping us with your enormous financial generosity to
respond to so many projects and challenges; we will never be able to thank you enough.
Many in their personal capacity, others on behalf of different institutions. We present you to
the Lord daily on behalf of these people and for all of you, we give thanks.

I would like to give particular thanks to all of you who have participated in the stalls and
parish tabletop sales at the doors of parishes. We are truly amazed with all the effort you have
put in, the generosity you have shown by offering your time and work. You collect from each
house what people have donated, put it all in order and classify it in your homes, transport it
to the parishes, call the priests who you would like to give permission to put the stalls at the
entrance of their parishes, carry everything to the place, organise the tables, and spend whole
mornings shivering with cold attending the tables … I am aware of your enormous sacrifice.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Seminaries

As you well know, in our diocese, we have a problem that many bishops would already like
to have. We have nowhere to put all the candidates for the seminary!
To this end I travelled with the bishop to Spain in December and we knocked on all the doors
we could. Many of you came to our aid, thank you!

I attach the letter that the bishop has written (in English) explaining the situation.
It is about:
A) – Building a pavilion or warehouse to put more beds so that in the existing facilities we
can immediately accommodate the candidates who are waiting to enrol. If anyone wishes to
help, you can donate to the Misericordia Mission Foundation (bank details at the end of the
letter) and I will hand deliver it to the Bishop.
B) – The construction of a new seminary that responds to the needs of seminarians in today’s
world (what we have today is a deposit for boys rather than a true house of formation).

Worship Jesus

All this flurry of activity would be impossible to bear, without a strong life of contemplation
every morning and every afternoon. Both in our mission chapel before dawn and late in the
afternoon in the church, adoration of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is the source of life and the
reason for the mission.

He, only He, is the centre of the mission, to Him only all the honour and all the glory, for
ever and ever.

This is the original monstrance brought by the Italian Comboni missionaries,
I found it in a storage room; I took it to Spain and with the help of some of you, we were able to restore it.
On the border with the Congo

Not long ago a catechist came to see me and told me that he had travelled an enormous
distance through the jungle from his village of Kuanyasi. He told me they had been without
Mass for almost seven years. The last one had been celebrated by Father Richard, a priest
who died and is buried in the cemetery of our parish. I was so shocked that I promised to go
visit them the following week.

He explained that it was impossible to go by vehicle, even a 4X4, due to the terrible
conditions on the road and because it would have to pass through territory in the hands of the
rebels. There was only one alternative and that was to look for some motorcycles and to
journey by the same path he had travelled. Over two hours of walking each way.

It is difficult for me to explain the excitement that I and the volunteer missionaries felt upon
arrival. The joy of the people, the warm reception. To think they had been without confession
or Holy Mass, Baptisms… for so many years.

Here are some photos from the trip and the celebration of Holy Mass.
Finally, Holy Mass! Seven years waiting for this day!

THANK YOU WITH ALL MY HEART TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE HELPED US
WITH YOUR DONATIONS, PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES.

We thank you all on behalf of so many poor people who cannot do it themselves. Because
they have no voice, just a shrill, muffled moan in their throats.
I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, Mother of missionaries and Mother of
the poor, to enfold us all in her mantle of motherly love.

Before the tabernacle of the mission we pray every day for all of you.

Father Christopher

PLEASE, PLEASE PASS THIS LETTER ON TO ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS, TO ALL
OF YOUR CONTACTS, TO ALL THOSE WHO YOU KNOW THAT HAVE HELPED
US, AND TO THOSE WHOM WE DO NOT HAVE A WAY TO CONTACT!
CONTINUE HELPING US, I PRAY IN THE NAME OF THE LORD AND THESE
POOR PEOPLE!!

To collaborate with the mission of Father Christopher Hartley in South Sudan, here is the
necessary information.
Account holder: Fundación Misión de la Misericordia
BANK: BANKINTER
Account Number: 0128-0014-73-0100029293
Iban: ES0801280014730100029293
SWIFT or BIC code: BKBKESMMXXX
Please visit our web page: http://www.missionmercy.org

 

Pictures from Father Hartley

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