Parish Feast in Mankhaw: The Dignity of the Poor

The Catholic Church in Mankhaw celebrated its feast day on Saturday, January 27, 2018 with a mass presided by the Bishop of Nakhonsawan. Mankhaw is one of the villages where the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) work. The village is located deep into the mountains where a dirt road finds its end.

I have been working in Mankhaw for more than nine months and I find this ministry in tune with our Founder’s words when he urges us to choose the poor, to work with them, and to walk according to their pace.

The poor of Mankhaw! Yes I know that poverty has many faces. But the poor of Mankhaw is a kind of poverty that gives no space to imagination, that does not justify our inclinations, the poor, there, are the people with nothing – the people who have no stable jobs, no palatable food on their tables, no nice clothing or beautiful car or a decent house. These poor people are those who have to wake up early morning and walk for hours to get to the fields and come home late afternoon with a pannier on their shoulders full of all their riches. These are the poor who feel shy to read or to write something down because they are aware that their studies were insufficient even to distinguish among the formal language of the country and their dialect that is why they are reticent even to write their names since they are not sure of the spelling of this familiar word. These are the people who confuse happiness with drunkenness and think that forgetting their frustration for a short moment by means of alcohol is already a great joy. Material poverty, I believe, is the most challenging because it prevents any improvement of our humanity. People have to strive every single moment of their life only to survive.

However, during the feast of the parish, I saw something unexpected. I asked my parishioners to prepare themselves and all that were needed for the feast in the best way they could. I wanted them to show that their simple life was, paradoxically, attractive. They had to search in themselves, in their lives and in their environment the best and to show to our guests. I asked them to dress in their costume, to prepare their food, and welcome the people according to their tradition. They had to find the way to decorate the places for the celebration as they decorate their own homes. They had to welcome the visitors as they welcome their friends and relatives before and after the Sunday mass.

Everything was set for the feast – the church had been newly painted; the place nicely decorated with bamboo wood; the kids lined up at the cross road to welcome the bishop and the priests with their parents and grandparents. A light rain was falling until it became a downpour, but we were there, with our shoes in the mud, happy because our guests could really experience what we have been experiencing for the most part of the year – our mountain weather, our mountain life. The Bishop was a little tensed at the beginning because the road was slippery and the mud stained his cassock (talare) but the tension disappeared when he realized that he was part of the family who lived a little discomfort of its daily life with peace and humor.

Our guests were many, we could not accommodate them all in a proper way, they had to adjust, but after the first moment of loss, they were happy to experience, after many years maybe, a camping life with all its inconvenience but with all its beauty.

The celebration was “solemn.” The small kids who helped as altar boys did their jobs greatly and the Bishop was so keen enough to notice even the smallest details of their service. The food was abundant and the short but amusing show was prepared to entertain our guests. The people were not in a hurry to leave because they fell comfortable in the new environment and, maybe,  they realized, deep in their hearts, that many things that make them extremely richer than my parishioners are not really essential. They discovered for a short while, that things can make our life more comfortable, but these same things have the subtle power to separate us from others and this solitude can be the greatest poverty.

The feast in Mankhaw was simple but wonderful and full of life. My parishioners did their best to show the beauty of their life and our guests experienced how such a lifestyle based on the values of simplicity, sharing, brotherhood, deep relations with others can be attractive.

It was drizzling when our guests left, it took time to get to their daily lives, but surely they won’t forget what they experience in Mankhaw.

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