Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Serving those who serve (Part I)

It's been an amazing experience so far, and I've only been at Manas Air Base less than a week. It is so easy in Eastern Montana to get a sense that most Catholics look, act and talk like us. Here, one quickly realizes that is not the case.

As the only Catholic priest serving the international force gathered at Manas Air Base here in Kyrgyzstan I've had to put my communication skills to the test. The Spanish contingent here has a group which attends Mass regularly, including one member who attends Mass daily. While many of the Spaniards speak and understand some English, this daily communicant does not. I may have to practice my Spanish enough to allow me to say Mass in Spanish once a week or so. I've already been invited over to visit the Spanish crew for a dish they call "Paella" which is made in a skillet that is about four or five feet in diameter. This meal, made with rice as the main ingredient, and chicken and sea food added was a real experience.

My first Saturday evening, just before Mass, a group of soldiers from Poland were milling about outside of the chapel. I tried to invite them to Mass, but they had a difficult time understanding me. A different group from Poland stopped by for daily Mass one evening just after that. They understand and speak English much better than I could ever speak Polish. The only Polish word I could think of was "Pierogi" which is something like a pasty from Butte. I could not even work that word into the conversation.

I've seen military members here from Poland, Spain, France, Lithuania, and Kyrgyzstan. By the time I leave I'm sure I'll see even more. The languages, the food and cultures are much different than Eastern Montana. I've heard people back home comment from time to time that they stopped going to Mass when "Father So-and-so" was there because they could not understand him. I think some of these Catholics have missed the real point of our Eucharistic celebrations. We gather for Mass. We unite to offer the greatest prayer possible. These military members from these other countries who stop by to attend Mass have that deeper understanding. They know the prayer. They have it so ingrained into them that they hear it beyond the difficulties that may exist from lack of a common language, or a strange accent. Some people say going back to Latin is the answer. Others want all Masses celebrated in English with an eastern Montana accent. Neither is likely to happen everywhere throughout the diocese, but if we really appreciate the sacrifice of Calvary, we'll make our own sacrifices to be a part of Mass each Sunday, no matter which language is used for the celebration, or how hard the celebrant is to understand.

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