I should preface this by saying that when I was in college I told the Lord I would go anywhere and do anything for him, but not Central America. I wanted to avoid hot temperature, hot tempers and hot tacos. But the Lord has a way of getting you on the return.

So after spending 25 year in England I returned to the USA to be a Catholic priest and serve as a high school chaplain.Each summer we’d take the kids to El Salvador on a mission trip. One year we were there for the Feast of Corpus Christi and the village parish priest asked me to bear the monstrance in the procession.

After Mass in a packed village church which, by the way, was basically a steel and aluminum open sided pavilion, we lined up for the procession. I didn’t know it at the time, but the procession would wend through the mud streets to six prayer stations where altars were set up bedecked with flowers. The temperature was over 100 with heavy humidity. I was wearing cassock, alb, stole, cope and humeral veil and sweating like Niagra.

As we made our way out of the crowded church and across the courtyard to the street I could see the villagers thronged about waiting to join the procession. Music? The village mariachi band. At the archway of the courtyard was a fifteen year old boy straddling his delivery bike–watching the goings on. I caught his eye and he smiled, then as I passed him with the Blessed Sacrament he rang the bell on his bike three times.

I’ll never forget it. He was clearly a former altar boy and knew the drill. The simple reverence of that poor kid from an impoverished village has stuck with me.

Later at about the fourth station–by this time I am utterly exhausted and standing by as the people led the prayers. I felt a tug at the hem of my cope and looked down to see a six year old boy. He just whispered, “Padre. Agua.” and handed me a bottle of water. My lips were not the only thing moist. For he beauty of it all my eyes were leaking, and by the way, although I love my parish in South Carolina and all the good things with which we are blessed in the USA–if I had the language, the energy and the youth I would volunteer for service in Central America tomorrow.

This is one of the stories I relate in my autobiography, There and Back Again–A Somewhat Religious Odyssey.