According to Fr. Jude Cédule, the pastor of St. Anthony the Hermit, there are two forums that bring the community of Chenot together: the market and the parish. The hub of parish life is the old stone church and the rectory, constructed by Swiss missionaries over 50 years ago. Most Sundays find the church bustling with activity as people make their way to worship, hear the Gospel, receive Communion and enjoy fellowship. Some walk an hour or more on Sundays.
Sunday Mass is scheduled to begin promptly at 9:00 AM, and parishioners begin arriving at 8:30 AM. Fr. Jude is a stickler for promptness. When too many of his flock were becoming careless about their arrival time to Mass, he tapped an usher to distribute a chit to those who were on time, and only they received communion. The system has been quite effective!
On the last Sunday of each month, Mass is geared toward the children. Before Father processes in, Wilber, a college-aged member, leads an enthusiastic congregation in hymns that most know by heart. The children’s choir is large and makes a joyful noise, and the rest of the school children sit in uniform with their classmates on this Sunday. Boy and girl altar servers, lectors and Fr. Jude enter by a side door, and by that time there is “standing room only.” In order for the scriptures to be meaningful to all, a child offers a short synopsis before each of the readings. Homilies at St. Anthony are long by our standards, running 30-40 minutes. On this particular Sunday, one of the missionaries addressed the congregation.
Fr. Jude’s visit and the sacramental celebrations with remote members of his flock draw large numbers of friends and family. While not all members of St. Anthony join weekly worship at the parish’s center, many of their children make the long trek to the school, and their families are able to stay connected as a vibrant Catholic community because of St. Anthony’s well-organized chapel system.
The Spirit is alive and well and moving at St. Anthony the Hermit parish, at its elementary and middle schools, and among its seven chapels. Much like our own parish, we can say of our sister parish: “the people make the parish.” In Chenot, there is only one priest to meet the needs of a great many, so the laity lives its faith daily by stepping up to be Christ to each other–physically and spiritually. As they live, work and worship together, they are aware of and sincerely grateful for the love we at SIJ extend to them. And we continue to be inspired by their indomitable faith even in the face of poverty and crisis. It is the common language of Christ’s love that holds us in this jumelage (twinning), and both parishes are richer for the relationship.