The time has almost come when I will have to leave here and go back to my life in Chicago. I want to thank Father Ron Hicks for encouraging me, and Father Phil Cleary for trusting in me without knowing me personally, and for asking me to come here to Guatemala. During my time with you all at NPH, I have had the opportunity to interact with children, adolescents and young adults in a much stronger and more personal way than is usually available for a priest. You have shown me a new way to love and to be loved- something that priests working in a parish do not have the opportunity to experience (at least at this level).
As you know: we priests do not have wives and children like most others. You call me "father,” and a strong paternal sense has developed within me. But you are also my companions and my friends. You have been very patient with me as I struggled with my Spanish. We have shared the experience of living here in NPH, and many of you have allowed me access to your personal lives. I feel a deep sense of connection with many of you, and I will leave having grown personally, spiritually, and emotionally. I have missed my life in the United States, but now I find it difficult to leave. I will return to Chicago a better person and a better priest for having spent these years with you.
I am aware of the fact that I will soon be one more person in the long line of those who have abandoned you throughout your lives. This makes me very sad. The lack of stability of adults in your lives is a shame and very sad. And I feel somewhat guilty for having developed this sense of love and affection ... only to leave you now. Whether it has been a father or mother, uncle or aunt of the house, friend, a blood brother/sister, a volunteer or visitor ... your experience has been marked by farewells, by people who have entered and then left your lives. I hope you will someday discover what it means to have permanent people in your lives, so that you can experience the wonder that comes with enduring and stable relationships. I am sorry that I will not be the person who can show you this ...
There are many disappointments in this life, but you can always count on God's love. It is more than you can imagine, and this love will never abandon you. When I receive communion at Mass, I am aware of the presence of Jesus Christ. But I am also aware of the presence of those whom I love: those who have died, like my dad, and those still living, but far away ...
I do not want to fail to say that if during my time I have here offended any of you: I ask your forgiveness. I am a human being, and sometimes lose my patience. I sometimes show my anger or disappointment in ways that do not help the situation. I usually try to apologize personally, but sometimes I offend people without being aware of it.
• You are quick to share with your companions food and the few belongings you have.
• You do not hold within yourselves too much bitterness, even if you are sometimes bothered or angry.
• You are genuinely friendly and show real kindness to others.
• You are very accepting of others.
• You know how to show affection. Emotional health is displayed via healthy affection among people who truly love. I love you, and I believe you have loved me; and I feel the affection we have expressed has been authentic.
• You know how to enjoy life. The ups and downs of life are kept in perspective. You are not unduly bothered by things you do not like or that do not sit well with you.
• Some of you have shown a commitment to the faith and to exploring important issues in life- this has inspired me.
• You take care of one another: older ones pay attention to the younger and more vulnerable.
• You are very careful about with whom you share on a personal level, but many have trusted me and shared on a very personal level. Thank you for this trust.
I also want to mention some difficult memories I take with me. I mention them not to scold you, but to challenge you to continue fighting for the good. I have always been honest and frank with you, and do not want today to be an exception:
• I remain saddened by the number of thefts on our campus. I pray that one day the thieves here will overcome this inclination/vice that causes much suffering and sadness among their brothers and sisters.
• I am disappointed that too many here lack interest in studying and learning. Benefactors who support NPH with their donations believe you want to take advantage of their generosity to improve your lives. The time I have spent with parishioners in the town of Parramos has convinced me that you at NPH have opportunities for which many of your counterparts in Parramos would give their left leg. I believe that incredible opportunities will be available to each of you if you dedicate yourselves to academic work while at NPH.
• One last time I want to mention the relatively small number of Catholics here who receive communion regularly at Mass. This lack of coming forward to receive communion has been one of my greatest sorrows here. I feel bad for having failed to motivate more here to practice this part of faith. Given the relatively small number of those who receive communion, the small number of those who took part in the sacrament of reconciliation this year, and the lack of participation in other religious and spiritual offerings ... I understand that everyone has their own individual path, and many find their way to Christ later in their lives. Perhaps in time more will come to appreciate the incredible offer that Christ makes to us when He invites us to His table. I can only pray that my successor will have more success with this I had. Speaking of my successor, I ask you to show him the same respect and affection that have show to me.
• Finally: as I mentioned at Mass a few weeks ago, I worry about how both “Pequeños” and employees leave our home. Certainly there are appropriate reasons to leave (both for those who are kicked out and those who leave on their own accord). But from my point of view, no one who left during my time here had a proper farewell, given the great importance that NPH had in their lives and the relationships that developed here. Those who left of their own accord did not want to say goodbye, and so quietly slipped away. Employees who were either dismissed or left on their own simply disappeared. Those who do receive a decent farewell are those who spend the least amount of time here: the one-week visitors, the one-year volunteers, and now ... me. My challenge to all of you is to try to give the farewell that everyone who has lived and worked here, and who leaves the house, deserves. And if you choose to leave on your own accord, give your fellow Pequeños the chance to say goodbye to you ...
Some words to strengthen you:
With all you have suffered, you are remarkably normal and well-adjusted. Many people think that after having lost so much, having suffered so much, after not having had a "normal" experience of childhood and adolescence in a normal family ... you would all be emotionally disabled. And I understand that there are wounds; there is sadness; there is still dysfunction ... but there is much here that is healthy.
A difficult childhood and a tumultuous adolescence can result in adults who are either hardened by their suffering or compassionate and understanding. They may be selfish and focused only on themselves or adults who are generous and focused on the welfare of others. They may reject God and the Christian faith or they can connect with the suffering Christ and His enormous love that strengthens and compels us.
Friends: in the future we will meet around the altar- I, from my altar in Chicago, and you around this altar, consecrated by our prayers together a few months ago. But all of the altars in the world are extensions of one altar, which is the altar of the cross. And when we find ourselves at the foot of the cross, we are gathered together again, just as we have gathered together here each Sunday.
Since my arrival at NPH, I have always been fascinated by Father Wasson, and I have tried to understand the depth of his love for and commitment to the Pequeños. After only two-and-half years here I think I have a small glimpse of what motivated and moved him. It is powerful; it is religious. It is also something very human. There is no force more powerful than the force of love that binds one person to another, especially when this love is rooted in God. I hope you never lose your appreciation for this force.
I want to conclude with a few words from the First Letter of John (1JN4: 7ff):
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.