Sunday, July 31, 2016
Produced & Edited by Patrick Matbob
Madang, Papua New Guinea
When preparing to come to the US for the six-week Study of United States Institutions (SUSI) program, we were asked to state any specific needs for our host to consider. My request was that as a practicing Catholic, I would appreciate being shown the closest Catholic church in Athens, Ohio, so I could go there for worship on Sundays.
We arrived on Thursday June 30; 18 of us from 17 countries of the world. The first fellow SUSI scholar I met at Columbus airport was Zakaria Musah from Ghana. We were brought to our Riverside 604 apartment and met Daniel Superville from Uruguay. As we shared our evening meal prepared by Dr Jatin Srivistava from Ohio who would be one of our facilitators, Zakaria asked where the nearest mosque was. He was a practicing Muslim. I wanted to know where the nearest Catholic Church was however, forgot to ask.
And so on my first Sunday morning in Athens, I woke up realizing that I had no idea where to go for Sunday mass. Then I remembered that I had been in a similar situation before. Few years ago, I had been in Cape Town in South Africa and stayed at the Ritz hotel. I awoke on the Sunday morning in my room some 20 floors high. I decided to scan the city to see if I could locate a church steeple and a cross which usually indicates a Catholic church. I noted one which was near the hotel, got my bearings and went looking for it. I found it alright and join the congregation for mass.
So I did the same at Athens. After whispering a prayer for divine help, I spied a steeple with a cross nearby and made a beeline for it. About 10 minutes later I found the church but it was a United Methodist church. I looked down the road and saw another church two blocks away. As I walked on, a familiar figure was coming up the road towards me. He was a professor from Ohio University whom I had met the night before at our welcome dinner. He had worked in Indonesia. We greeted each other and I said I was looking for a Catholic church. He smiled and indicated the church two blocks away. He said that was St Paul over there but the mass was over. But he added that I could go to Christ the King parish down the road for mass at 10 am.
On the way to Christ the King, I met a priest also walking towards the church in his brown cassock and greeted him. I told him that I had just arrived three days ago and was looking for a Catholic church to worship. He said ‘wow’ like all Americans do when I told him I was from Papua New Guinea and welcomed me to mass.
When I came home, I learnt that my flat mate Daniel was also a Catholic and had been wondering where to go to mass that morning.
And so we had been attending mass and receiving the Eucharist at both St Paul and Christ the King parish for the six weeks at Athens.
I heard two memorable sermons in both parishes. On the second Sunday, the Gospel was about Martha and Mary. Mary chooses to listen to Jesus and Martha who is so concerned about waiting on Jesus, has no time to listen and complains that her sister was not helping her. The message from the sermon was that often our daily chores and responsibilities can keep us away from Jesus. Yet like Martha, we must be prepared to set aside time to listen to the Lord. The catch phrase from that sermon was "the need to be needed". As professors and teachers, we often demand perfection from our students and others, and judge them by their performances. Yet, each of our students, coming from their various backgrounds have individual experiences that can enrich us, if only we give them time, listen to them and show that each of them are needed.
The second sermon was about communication! The sermon urged us to ask the Lord for all our needs and not to be afraid for God listens to all our prayers. But of course, if we ask for "snakes and scorpions" – poisonous things that can kill us spiritually – God, like a loving parent, will not give it to us! How true.