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“To be loved as to love” – Saying Goodbye

Part of the journey toward Easter peace is moving away from “me” and toward “thee,” thinking less of myself and more of others — we are trying becoming “Little Christs.” Like Christ, we are called to love. We are to open our hearts with abandon. 

Our missioners travel abroad to serve with open hearts. Years later, when its time to return to North America, they discover just how much they had come to love the community. They discover just how many people they were able to capture in their open heart and take with them forever.

Chuck McKone from our fifth class of missioners shares what it was like saying goodbye to the small village of Chuaquenum in 1996.

“There I was, a 31-year-old man from Texas, crying my eyes out in front of a 5-year-old girl and her family in a remote Guatemalan mountain village!

What had happened to me? I had never cried in public before – at least not that I could remember. After all, it was not right for a man to cry; it looked bad and made everyone nervous. If my friends or family or former co-workers could see me, I would be so embarrassed.

Yet, I wasn’t embarrassed and it didn’t bother me too much that I was letting my feelings show like this in public. So be it, I thought.

At that moment I was just finishing my three-year commitment as a Franciscan lay missioner in Guatemala. It was time for saying goodbye to the many friends I had be fortunate to make during those years. I decided to start the goodbyes in the small village of Chuaquenum. It had just 13 families whom I had gotten to know very well, especially the family of Don Enrique and Dona Alejandra.

So off I went to Chuaquenum, sad at having to say farewell, yet feeling as if I was in control of myself. I didn’t expect to show my emotions in public that day. After all, I had always managed to control them in the past even during the most difficult periods of my life. Why would this be any different? I spent the better part of that day visiting with the various families, slowly saying my goodbyes and trying to savor every minute of this last time with them.

Chuck McKone on mission in El Salvador and Guatemala from 1993 to 1996.

Toward the end of the day Don Enrique and Dona Alejandra invited me into their home for a goodbye. All of their children were present – Juana, Esteban, Cristina, Alejandra and Maria. I knew each child well because on my many visits to Chaqauenum I had always stopped by their home to say hello and play with them.

Just after entering their home, I heard Dona Alejandra say as she bent down to her 5-year-old Alejandra, ‘Carlos nibe jun mul’. We had always preferred to speak in Cakshiquel [a Guatemalan Indian language] so it was easy for me to understand what Alejandra was telling her daughter: ‘Carlos is leaving for good’. At that little Alejandra looked directly at me and began to cry.

I just stood there watching the child’s tears running down her cheeks and the rest of her family standing around not saying anything. For the first time words did not come to me, and even if they had, I would not have managed to speak them.

More than that, not only was I unable to say anything to this little girl who had touched me so deeply, but I couldn’t hold back my own tears. The only thing I could do was to give the child a big hug and let my tears flow.

Then I hugged the rest of the family and left their home and the small community of Chuaqauenum. During those two weeks before leaving Guatemala, I found myself doing a lot of hugging and a lot of crying as I finished my good-byes. In saying these goodbyes I felt as if I was really leaving my own family as I had done in Texas three years before.

These Guatemalan friends were such a blessing and gift to me, making me aware of how much Christ really does love each and every one of us and how very real are His words in the Gospel, ‘Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much…’ (Matthew 19:29) These words, I realized, had come true for me and for that I am forever grateful!”

We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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