By Sister Sharon Gray
I observed the deep faith of the people as they attended Mass in their village churches to which they are very devoted.
During the month of January, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time with Sister Higinia Bol in Punta Gorda and the surrounding villages in the Toledo District of Belize. As many of you know, Higinia’s ministry is a challenging one, covering a large geographical area, including 32 villages. The distance between villages and the challenges of the road make taking services, both pastoral and social, to the people very difficult.
To meet the needs of the people, Sister Higinia, as part of the pastoral staff of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, with the encouragement of Father Matt Rhul, SJ, pastor, and in collaboration with Father Sam Wilson, SJ, established the Village Committee which also includes three indigenous Mayan Catechists. Since its establishment in 2020, the Committee has assisted the Pastoral Staff in decision-making regarding the village churches. It also facilitates the formation of village church Catechists, prepares sacramental instruction, and provides presence at Masses on a weekly basis across the 32 villages.
It was a very moving experience as I accompanied Higinia to ten of these villages, meeting many of the people, attending Masses and observing the teaching of the Catechist Formation classes (called cursillo). The role of the Catechists in these village churches is truly a leadership role that connects them and the village churches with the Parish, St. Peter Claver in Punta Gorda. The Catechists lead communion services on the Sundays a priest cannot be present for Mass, as well as attending to other spiritual needs of the people. I particularly noticed the number of women now in the New Catechist Formation program. This is a new beginning in the villages with the women taking public Church leadership roles. Because of the distances involved, the priests and members of the Village Committee can be at each village approximately only once every 4-6 weeks.
To keep up with Higinia was a happy but daunting experience. First of all, just to get where we were going, I had to get into Hignia’s Toyota truck. After providing me with a special step, we were on our way. Some of the villages are not even accessible by truck. On one memorable occasion, I was able to follow Higinia up the very steep hill leading to the village of Jalacte only with the aid of xol’te, a walking stick made by one of the Mayan members of the Committee. Once there, she conducted the cursillo. Wherever we went, the warmth of the people and their hospitality made us feel ever so welcome. I observed the deep faith of the people as they attended Mass in their village churches to which they are very devoted. Often I experienced various people from the villages asking Higinia and Sam to visit the sick and anoint the dying.
Ever so much more happens in Sister Higinia’s ministry, from providing regular assistance to the village people who have food insecurity or seeking help for tuition, especially for girls, or just needing someone with whom to talk.
These were indeed grace-filled weeks for me being among these kind and wise people of the earth. The ministry is demanding, but it is laced with moments of laughter and true support among the pastoral staff.
The land of Belize is beautiful from the rain forests to the Mayan mountains and, of course, the Caribbean Sea. I am grateful to Sisters Carlette and Kerry who greeted me with such hospitality in Belize City. I am grateful to the Jesuit priests in Punta Gorda for welcoming me to the parish and for their commitment to ministry in the Toledo District. And, of course, I am especially grateful to Higinia for sharing her life and multi-faceted ministry among the Mayan people of the Toledo District. The Pastoral Team has accomplished much, but readily say so much more is needed. Let us keep them all in our prayer.