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Becoming more Human Every Day
All the passages below are taken from Victor Margot’s book “Children of the Morning Star,” published in 2001 by Casa Generalizia, CICM. It was translated from Dutch to English by Jacques Parre, CICM in 2004
The Bible Message
We are used to say that there are four Gospels, but in fact there is but one Gospel, entitled: The Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did not write it himself. The only words he ever wrote were written in the sand along the road and the wind erased them. But his message remained. It is written in the hearts of men. It says that, in spite of every appearance, love is stronger than death and that the Spirit of love is still blowing wherever it wants, thus renewing the face of the earth.
Four men wrote this message. And, even if it is quite probable that this message was written by four Christian communities, it doesn’t matter. Each one wrote according to his own disposition and living conditions. Luke wrote a gospel in the style of a travel report. Paul and other authors wrote the same things in letter form.
Catherine De Hueck Doherty, who used to be called Katia, tells that a holy hermit lived in her neighborhood when she was still residing in Russia. He was very poor. In his hermitage he had but one room with a table and two chairs. On the wall there was an icon of the Blessed Virgin and a crucifix without Christ, because he used to say: “I must be crucified.” He slept on the floor. An old Bible, richly illustrated, was his only valuable possession. Little Katia enjoyed browsing through its pages and she admired the beautiful illustrations. One day, during one of her visits, she noticed that the Bible had disappeared.
“Grandpa, what happened to the Bible?” she asked.
“I gave it away. I had the visit of a poor desperate man. He could not pay his debts and his wife and his children were sick and dying of hunger. Since I had nothing to give, I gave him the Bible. He could sell it and use the money to support his family for quite some time.”
“But grandpa, you should not have done this. You are now bereaved of your Bible,” Katia said. And the old man replied: “If I had not given this Bible, it would have become worthless for me because I do not practice what it teaches. Now, I no longer need it, since I have become a Bible.”
A Brazilian farmer explained it in his own way:
“Do you know the difference between a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible? The smell! A Catholic Bible is on a bookshelf and smells mold. A Protestant walks the whole day with a Bible under his arm; hence, it smells perspiration.”
In fact, every baptized person should be a living gospel. “The Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, Mary, Jandira, Bianca or José,” our life’s work, not necessarily written on paper but in the book of our heart and in the heart of those we meet on our way. At times, it is written with blood and tears. But, above all, it is mainly written with joy, so that it helps us to lead a happy life, for we are children, children of God, no matter what may happen. How could we possibly proclaim the Good news with a sad face? No, we should not preach the gospel. We must sing it like a nightingale that sings wholeheartedly on a branch at sunset. It does not understand its song because it is so much greater than its heart.
It is getting dark, but the Morning Star shines already in the growing darkness to announce a new dawn.
We lost many beautiful things. We, ageing people, have been witnesses of the decline of the Western triumphant Church of our youth. But did Christ really intend his Church to be for the masses? He rather described his Church as the yeast that makes the dough rise. And whoever has ever baked bread knows what happens when he uses too much yeast. The bread rises too much, but then, it falls to become totally indigestible.
Today, the Church is again like Peter’s small boat in the storm. The Lord sleeps and we shout: “Save us, for we perish!” But He will wake up and say reproachfully: “People of little faith, why did you doubt?” (6-8)
The road was a very bad, cart-track full of holes and big stones. The earth was red. We drove in a thick red-colored c1oud of dust. The landscape was not very attractive, because we drove almost all the time through coffee plantations.
It was my first mission in Brazil.
After a stay of more than twenty years in Japan, I arrived in this country as a Japan missionary to be at the service of the Japanese migrants and their offspring. But the bishop asked me to take over the parish of Amoreira until he would have found a priest. It was supposed to be a temporary job. The parish priest, the Japanese Father Onuma had worked his fingers to the bone for twenty years. He is now paralyzed and stays in the hospital.
“The parish counts also several Japanese, and Assai, a Japanese town, is not far away. It will be for a short time, until I find a priest.” Who could have thought that it would last twenty-five years?
The village looked quite attractive. In some ways it looked like a Far-Western landscape. Obviously, it must have known better times. There was a great church in the middle of the village square. It had been built by Father Onuma during a more flourishing period. The building needed to be painted. The walls inside were moldy, the floor was damaged, the ceiling was rotten.
The rectory, the casa paroquial ,was across the square. It was a big dark house with dark red bricks. It looked rather like one of these haunted houses we can see in English horror films. The rear of the building was in ruin. Six collapsing concrete columns tried to keep it standing.
Everything was equally dark inside. There was hardly any light. The walls were dark brown. The kitchen walls were blackened because of the smoke. The windows were broken. Switches had been stolen and to turn the lights on we had to connect the two ends of the wire. There were but few furniture. A large self-made bookshelf in the office had fallen over and everything was lying in a jumble up to the knees on the floor: books, baptism and marriage registers. Everything was sticking together because of the rain and half eaten up by rats and cockroaches. An unstable staircase with a cracking banister led to the second floor. There were seven rooms. The thick layer of dust, that the wind and the rain had blown through the broken windows, had been scraped from the floor with a shovel. Walls had been whitewashed, but they were full of big holes.
Not one single window could be closed and the back door was gone. There was a laundry room, but it was the dirtiest place of the house. In fact, it did not really matter since there was no water. Indeed, I was literally in a fix.
Ademilton, a ten-year old boy, stayed with me to keep me company, and Maria, a fifteen-year old girl, cared for the housekeeping and the cooking.
What a difference with my previous rectory in the center of Tokyo.
Rats, fleas and cockroaches kept me company day and night. But I thought: “Vic, my boy, you should not complain. That is what you wanted” and while I was unpacking I sang:
Mid pleasures and palaces though I may roam be it ever so humble, there is no place like home.
And that evening I thanked the Lord who was born in a stable for our salvation. (12-14)
And the Word was made Flesh
First, there was the frost. All the coffee trees in Parana were frozen overnight. As far as we could see, everything had withered and looked black and brown. It was a deathly landscape. Then came the drought. Here and there heath fires started spontaneously in the burning heat and could hardly be stopped. In some places, the road passed through two high walls of flames. The air was full of thick black ashes. Snakes, chased away from their dens, entered the houses.
Then came the rain, pouring down day and night. The whole village was soon flooded and had changed into a sea of mud. Roads became inaccessible even to pedestrians. We were cut off from the rest of the world.
Finally, we had famine, disease and death. The children were the first victims. Every day I had to bury at least one child. In a small wooden box covered with pink or blue paper depending on the sex. The family stood there, sorrowful, barefoot, with shabby clothes, without tears, fatalistic: “Such is life.”
One day the children came running to me and aghast they said: “Quick Father, dogs are going to eat the child.” The parents had come from very far to ask a death certificate, but the office was closed. The employee was having lunch. They decided to do the same and left the small coffin on the church’s door step. The dogs had already opened the little coffin and were about to take the corpse.
A few days before Christmas I was in my room preparing a catechism lesson that I had to give at the school of a fazenda. My command of the language was not yet perfect and I really needed time to prepare my lessons. Maria came in and said: “Somebody wants to talk to you.” I answered: “Tell her that I am busy. She should come back later.” But the woman continued to insist. When I finally came down for lunch she was still there. While I was taking lunch with the four children who stayed with me she continued to look around. Suddenly she said: “What a big house. Indeed too large for one single person.” I was offended, and I asked her if she had come to admire my house. “Oh no,” she said, “I would like to stay here with my children.” This was more than I could take and I answered rather harshly: “It is not a hotel here.” “Look,” she said, “Anyway, you must pass by my house when you go to the fazenda. Come and have a look, that’s enough.” I promised to do so.
This catechism lesson at the school of this fazenda was certainly the shortest I ever gave. I told the children that Mary and Joseph were very poor and that there was nowhere place for them. That is why the child Jesus was born in a stable. And I added: “Even today there are many Mary’s and Joseph’s roaming around and looking for a shelter, but there is no place for them. And so many children do not even have a stable to be born.” These were my very own words. And, all of a sudden, I got frightened by my own comments and I thought: “Hypocrite! Did you not do exactly the same awhile ago? Your house is poor and lacks everything, but it is big and there is still place.”
I told the children that something very urgent crossed my mind and that the lesson was over: they could go home. It was still raining and the weather was stormy. I did not find a house there, but a wooden shack of two square meters in which the rain was pouring. The floor was muddy. There was not even place for a chair. And this mother lived there with her four children. All their possessions were put together in one linen bag hanging on a nail.
I thought: “Dear Lord, you were born in a stable but this is worse than a pig house.” And I told the woman: “Come, let us go home.”
When they were home they took a shower and my children gave them some of their clothes. After supper I told the children to go upstairs with the four kids to show them where they could sleep. The mother had not yet said a single word but she did not stop looking at me. I felt embarrassed. And all of a sudden she said: “Well, you are becoming human.”
It gave me a shock. If I was not human, what was I then? A flea? A rat? I used to consider myself as being quite human. Was I not a model Christian? Did I not live poorly in a slum full of cockroaches and fleas? Had I not adopted four abandoned children with whom I shared my life? Was this not an example of evangelical life?
Then, I remembered the words in Saint John’s gospel that we read at Christmas: “And the Word was made flesh and lived among us. We saw his glory, full of grace and truth. This was the glory which He received as the Father’s only Son” (John 1:14).
Missionaries proclaim God’s Word. They preach and give religion classes, but apparently without much success. According to Saint John it has always been like this. The Word is the light of the world and it shines in the dark, but the darkness did not accept it. Moses spoke and they worshipped the golden calf. Elijah spoke but he had to flee. Jeremiah prophesied and he was imprisoned.
Parish priests and religious are experts of the Word. But today the world is flooded with an abundance of words. Words have become devalued, they have become worthless.
One day an American told me: “I adore turnips.” If this person uses the same word to express his relation with God, will God not become some kind of a super-turnip? When a young man says that he has a “friend,” he refers then to a homosexual relation. Where do we find true friendship then? Romano Guardini wrote: “Am Anfang war das Wort. Am Ende das Geschwatz” (In the beginning there was the Word, but in the end there is gossiping).
There is an urgent need for the Word to become flesh again, so that we can contemplate his glory, full of grace and truth.
Saint Paul says that we are the mystical body of Christ. We have to be reborn with him, “going about doing good” (Acts 10:38), suffer and die with him, “descend into hell” and rise. Hence, our first task is to become incarnate. To become more human every day, a human being with the other human beings, with our fellowmen.
I shall be eternally grateful to this woman who helped me to understand this truth during this difficult Christmas season. (14-17)
The story of a children’s village in Brazil
This story takes place in Amoreira, a small town in Brazil. Shortly after his arrival in 1974, Father Victor Margot opens his house to abandoned children, migrants and outcasts. He fights successfully against infant mortality. He builds houses for ageing people and starts a nursery that he entrusts to the care of Japanese sisters.
His dream comes true in 1988: with the help of several friends in Flemish-speaking Belgium, Holland and Japan he buys a plot on which he builds a village for children named Estrela da Manha , Morning Star: it counts six small houses for half a dozen children and a few adults, a main building and a farm with pigs, hens, a cow, an orchard and a kitchen garden.
Since there is no establishment in the whole region that can take care of street children, orphans or abandoned children, the magistrate of the juvenile court continuously requested the Children’s Village to take care of these children. To be sure, they bring their problems with them, but at least they find here a home and a family atmosphere.
We can accommodate some fifty children. Many of the three hundred children who stayed here keep in touch, especially when they are in trouble in a country where most citizens have no social security.
Father Vic returned to Japan in 1999. As a Brazilian missionary from Japan he started a new apostolate for Japanese-Brazilian migrant workers in Japan. He still keeps in touch with the Children’s Village in Amoreira that was taken over by the Brothers of Charity. They entrusted the village to Erik Verdegem, from East-Flanders, who is assisted by two Canadian confreres.
Jan Margot, editor - February 2001
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