THE diocese of Anatuya, in Argentina, almost twice the size of Ireland, has 12 priests, as against the 8,000 priests in Ireland. It is a country of great spiritual and material poverty.
A priest says Mass in at least four places on a Sunday, often more; transport is primitive. The transport problem occurs again when he carries out his other responsibilities throughout the week in farflung parts of his parish.
The material poverty is striking. A description of a funeral may be taken as an example. Coffins are seen as an American luxury.
A body was lowered on four crossed sticks, covered in a cloth. The cloth itself was removed at the last minute for future use. The body was clothed in the oldest rags available. It is difficult to keep food because of the lack of refrigeration. Weather conditions make life difficult. The intense heat means it is impossible to keep food for long, and rain impedes transport — it is often impossible to move on foot or horseback for two or three days.
Life for the priests in Anatuya does, of course, have its lighter side. One describes how he had his lunch in a bag to eat on his journey.
In a downpour he took shelter in a cave . . and afterwards found the donkey he had been riding had made a hole in the bag and eaten almost all his lunch.
The priest summed up the situation when he said: "Poverty, thy home is Anatuya".