Restoration

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Posted February 13, 2015 in MH Roanoke VA:
Notes from Near and Far: Roanoke, Virginia

by Zena Hitz.

I arrived in Roanoke October 3 and was warmly welcomed at the airport by Patricia Lawton and Marie-Therese McLaughlin. A month or so later, Canada followed me in the form of a great frosty weather system from the north, which the media called "a polar invasion."

Still, on the whole we had a magnificent fall with warm weather and beautiful leaves. The Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Roanoke have been beautiful shades of gold and rust. Marie-Therese is a great hiker, and she has been showing me some of the local trails.

Our house is not far from downtown, up the street from the jail and the courthouse, next door to the local branch of Catholic Charities (the U.S. bishops’ organ for social services), and in front of a day shelter for homeless men.

It is a poor neighborhood—mostly renters, not homeowners. Many of the social workers from the local services come to us for friendship and support. The homeless men are our friendliest neighbors—always ready with a greeting, always up for a chat if we are walking or working outside, often helping us with large tasks.

So the poor are very present to us, as are also the overstretched and underpaid social workers who help them.

I am a new staff worker, and this is my first mission house. How has my training in Combermere worked out so far? Well, shortly after I arrived, I was asked to pick green beans. Wow! That was no problem, thanks to the skills Chris Hanlon passed on to me at summer garden bees.

Then I was called on to remember everything Martha Reilander taught me long ago about ironing chapel linen. That was more of a squeaker.

Then the real challenge came: leading prayers. How exactly does grace after meals go? And what were those Luminous Mysteries?

I missed the Combermere priests yet again as we struggled to rid ourselves of a massive groundhog who had set up house under our porch. (The MH priests’ house has had an ongoing struggle with beavers.)

We hired a company to trap him, and they trapped … first a skunk, then another skunk, then a possum, then another skunk. Finally, the company filled the groundhog’s hole and declared him no longer a resident.

The Roanoke house goes to all five of the local parishes for Mass. There is a great variety of styles and cultures. One of our parishes features an African choir singing in Kiruriwanda and Kirundi at 9:30 Sunday with a Spanish mass at 12:30. The Maronite Rite parish draws heavily from the Lebanese community, but people of many backgrounds come there for the beautiful liturgy. Some parts of the liturgy are sung in Aramaic, the language that Jesus and Mary spoke.

We were also able recently to enjoy a taste of old-time Virginia culture at the very popular Folk Life Festival held nearby in October. The festival featured old-time music, traditional crafts, and rural know-how.

It was similar to our Heritage Fest in Combermere with some distinctive features: "coon dog" races where dogs chased a stuffed raccoon across a lake and up a pole; and, of course, a distillery. In a tent nearby moon-shiners swapped stories about their run-ins with the law.

We gave a talk on prayer to the children at the Maronite parish and another talk to a church group visiting from a nearby town. We went to the Diocesan Women’s Conference in Richmond.

I have a gloomy streak and while in Combermere, having relatively little contact with the outside, it was easy for me to despair over the apparent state of the world. "Out here," so to speak, I find it heartening to see so many people interested in preserving and passing on their inherited traditions.

So also it is deeply encouraging to see the ordinary people of the local churches pouring out whatever they have to build their communities in one way or another: the stretched-to-the-limit priest taking time on his day off to visit his dying parishioner; the working people who bend over backward to bring us toilet paper or groceries. The newspaper tells one story, but there is hope in the little places.

 

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