Evangelized by the Poor: Literacy and the Word of God

The Word of God floods my life in Holy Cross. I follow along with the universal Church as she hears the Scriptures proclaimed throughout the liturgical cycles in the daily and Sunday Masses. Both my mornings and evenings are marked by communal praying of the Liturgy of the Hours as we pray the psalms together and hear other excerpts from the Scriptures. So too the other hours that I pray in private fill in more of my daily life with psalms, canticles, and longer Biblical stories. From the time I wake up until the time I wrap up my day with Night Prayer, my life is seemingly flooded with the Word of God.

Praying with Scripture has been important to me from the time I first began discovering what prayer could be up until today. But sometimes when life is so inundated with something, it becomes a part of the background that goes without notice or recognition, like the air we breathe. I’m afraid that Scripture has slipped into that space at different points in my life, and it has taken some person, event, or circumstance to recall me to the beauty of the Scriptures that so fill my life.

One of these great recalls to the life of Scripture came to me during my visit to Teliapara Tea Garden, which I shared a little bit about in my last post. I lived in Teliapara for about 3 weeks, staying in the guest room adjacent to the chapel in the village. The people of Teliapara depend on the $1.65 a day that they make by either picking tea leaves in the gardens or working in the tea processing factories. The people have very little opportunity for a good education, so when our Holy Cross missionaries first came to Teliapara, they knew that education would be the best way to provide children with the opportunity of a better life.

The school our Holy Cross parish sponsors in Teliapara educates children from pre-k through 5th grade, educating around 100 students. The sad reality is that very few of these students will have the chance to pursue their education beyond 5th grade. But even the brief education that these children receive can be very beneficial as they are able to read, write, and do simple math — all skills that allow the children who will eventually work on the tea gardens to stand up for themselves. By gaining literacy, the children will be better able to know their rights, fill out essential forms, and find additional means of support. With the ability to do math, they will be able to keep better track of their finances. These are the things that come to my mind as important for the education of the tea gardens.

But one mother of three young girls shared with me what her desire for her children was through their education: She wants her children to understand the importance of literacy because then it will free them to be able to read the Scriptures whenever they desire. 

This mother, let’s name her Celestina (name changed for privacy), told me that every time she attends Mass or a Communion service, the Word of God brings her to tears. She hears in the Scriptures the Good News that God remembers his people. She hears the Good News that her life’s sufferings are not in vain. She hears the Good News of God telling her not to be afraid, that God will always be with her, in her joys and sorrows, in her caring for her children, and in her work in the tea gardens. This is the Good News she wishes she could return to every day through reading the Word of God. But she never learned how to read.

Now she wants her daughters to be able to read so that they can always refresh themselves with the Word of God. 

What a powerful reminder Celestina has served for me of the privilege I have in the way my life is flooded with the Scriptures. I often ask God to grant me the desire to be nourished by his Word in the same way Celestina desires for the very same.

Published on October 20, 2023

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