During the mission trip I have been spending most of the day with the young men overseeing some small construction projects: school benches, vegetable gardens for families and a future school-house. After a long day working, I came one afternoon into the orphanage having in mind to simply spend a few hours with the children. These children are between 3-6 years of age, all of them lost parents in the earthquake or cholera epidemics.
I found the children in the playground area and as I entered I was surrounded by them. They know me by now and of course, they also know I will push the swings for them. The little children began pulling me toward the swings and saying, “mon Père!” which is a traditional greeting to a priest and means “my Father!”
I gathered the children around the swing-sets and began pushing the swings. After a few moments of this lightheartedness I was simple basking in the simplicity of life in Haiti. Life had given them very little but these orphan children needed very little to be happy.
After some time, a sister interrupted me with a request. “Father, could you repose the Blessed Sacrament for us?”
I readily agreed. Being close to the Eucharist is always a gift. The sisters had brought the Blessed Sacrament out from their chapel to a far end of the compound. At this end, they had established an open air pavilion that served as a church for the neighborhood. The pavilion was about one hundred yards from the chapel so it meant I would carry Jesus to the chapel in a procession. I imagined that just the sister would accompany me but I was in for a surprise!
Before the surprise however, I must backtrack a few years to Rome. Each June there is a Corpus Christi procession with the Holy Father. It is a magnificent affair. The procession is over a mile long and leads from the basilica of St. John Lateran to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The streets are decorated with signs, banners and flowers. Traffic is stopped while the faithful line up on both sides of the street to greet and adore the Eucharist and the Holy Father. Surrounding the Holy Father are a good number of bishops, hundreds of priests, close to a thousand seminarians, and countless religious and consecrated women. This enormous procession takes over an hour and is accompanied by hymns and prayers. During those hours, Jesus is very happy. I never thought I would enjoy a Eucharistic procession more than in Rome, but I was wrong!
I stepped out of the playground area and promised the children I would be back. Following the sister to the pavilion I found the Haitian locals were kneeling in silent prayer. I ascended the steps to the altar and knelt before Jesus. As is customary, I placed the host in a pyx. As I descended the altar, this time with Jesus sacramentally in my hands, I folded my hands around the pyx and kept them close to my heart. I would have enjoyed this silent walk back to the chapel immensely, but what happened next made it a moment I will never forget.
I backtracked toward the playground area to proceed on my way to the chapel. The sister was in front of me ringing a small bell and holding a candle. As the children on the swing saw me approach, they seemed to know instantly what was happening. Of course, for them this must be a common occurrence. They had seen this procession many times and possess a certain innate ability of children to penetrate divine mysteries without the complexity of adults. Jesus was walking by, so they were going to walk with Him!
The children got down from their swings, laid aside their dolls and toy cars and hopped down from the merry-go-round. The playground was vacated as they encircled me to be close to Jesus and join the procession! They held onto my pant legs and tried to be as close as possible.
The procession became an orphan’s walk with Jesus. A moment before they were laughing and singing like children do, but now they were imitating the solemn and prayerful walk of the sister and the priest. Jesus was very happy in that moment! It was simple and beautiful and it certainly gave new meaning to Jesus’ words:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Mark 5: 35-36)
We made our way slowly to the chapel and at the doorway I assumed the children would let go of me and stay outside. However, they all entered and followed me right to the tabernacle. As I knelt down before closing the door of the tabernacle, they all knelt with me. Once the door was closed they all began to laugh and giggle and talk. The procession was over!
I left the chapel still surrounded by the orphans who then ran ahead back to the swings and playground. I knew that this simple procession of about two minutes was possibly more pleasing to Jesus than the magnificent procession in Rome. We only had a handful of orphans and nothing more. What we lacked in flowers and hymns, pomp and splendor, we made up for with simple and pure hearts.
I think the beauty of the moment doesn’t need much explanation. In the spiritual life, we grow not by becoming more self-sufficient and autonomous. We grow the more we begin to depend on God. Spiritual growth means to become the child. Spiritual childhood means walking with Jesus along the pathway of life, not worried so much as where Jesus is going or what we are leaving behind. So long as you walk with Jesus, you are going to be alright. These orphans had nothing, but because Jesus was with them, they had everything, and all of them will be alright!