Every Saturday morning Father Joe requires the 200+ children who call Mercy their home to attend Mass. For some reason, over the years Michael and I have never attended.
Today I had to be at Mercy at 8:00 a.m. to test my three eighth-grade girls on their English skills, so Michael decided to come with me and we would both attend Mass at 10:00 a.m.
Since nothing is as it seems here, I knew I was in for a surprise. And I was not disappointed. This was certainly not your typical Catholic mass, although Father Joe is indeed a Catholic Priest. It was more like a gathering of the tribes.
The music class played melodies on wooden Thai instruments and the children sang. Father Joe asked the children to pray for the children in Burma who are being murdered. He asked whether prayers could cross borders or were they stopped by immigration?
Naturally, it was conducted in Thai, but out of respect for us, Father Joe translated much of what was going on. There were stories, prayers, and blessings, and even a few laughs. As the family meeting got underway, I was surprised that everything was discussed out in the open, with little shame involved and in great detail.
One topic included this commentary from Father Joe: “Three of the girls stayed out until midnight last night and we had to send the security guards out to get them.”
He quoted an old Thai saying that roughly means, “You don’t raise cobras in your house. ” (You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.) He sounded matter of fact in the telling of this. Later, he told us it was for the “housemoms” to handle, but everything is put on the table at this meeting each week: good and bad.
Birthday kids stood up and were honored. Often these kids just pick a birthday when they move into Mercy because they are throwaway kids and don’t even know when they were born. Some kids were awarded prizes for doing special things throughout the week.
We moved on to the sick. One of the housemoms reported a child was in the hospital and had procedures (and these were described in great detail) and the treatments weren’t working and the child was not doing well. The community of children prayed for their own. Then Father Joe moved on to something lighter. Apparently the boys had been kick box fighting in their dorm rooms. Father Joe started kicking his legs out of his priestly robes to show the boys he knew what they were doing and good naturedly told them they needed to stop. Someone might get hurt.
The gathering of the tribes went on for almost two hours. And so that we couldn’t forget where we were, the small child sitting next to us was a little girl about four. The right side of her body had been badly burned in some sort of terrible fire before she found her way to this safe haven: this home of love and caring.