Gathering at the Table of the Lord
by Elbert L. Balbastro, SSC
Holy week is always an important part my life because it is when I am most reminded of the passion and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a significant event in the Philippines, where the population is predominantly Catholic. However, even in Pakistan’s small Christian community, the Holy week is also a highlight in their lives.
I experienced a different kind of Holy Week during my time in Pakistan as part of my exposure program. Though the process was similar to what we have in the Philippines, the Parkari Kholi tribe in Khipro Parish added a different touch to it. What struck me the most was their Maudy Thursday activity. After the mass and the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, people gathered outside the Church, brought their food and shared them to one another. For them, it is a commemoration of the Last Supper. For me, it was simply a new and amazing experience, one that I have not encountered in the Philippines.
As I roamed around, a man approached me and said, “You know, brother, this is a significant time for us because it is a sign of our unity amidst our own differences.” Indeed, this special event is a symbol of unity. Just like in the gathering of people during the distribution of seven loaves and five fishes in the Gospel, we are united with Christ during the meal. At that moment, I felt as if the Sacrament of the Eucharist was unfolding right before my eyes. Eucharist means gathering in unity and love, sharing what we have and entering into communion with each other. Perhaps God wants me to experience that in the Mass when we share the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
More than the food, the conversations that took place among themselves during the Maudy Thursday celebration was important. Scenes like a father hugging his son, a mother feeding her daughter and the laughter that took place in every conversation prevailed more than anything else. Maybe this is what heaven looks like, people setting aside their problems, worries, differences and struggles to immerse themselves in the experience of an event where we are all equal.
I thought that in coming here as a missionary, I would do all the giving. But no, I often found myself at the receiving end, thanks to the rich knowledge of the people. Thanks to the community in the Khipro parish, I learned that the Eucharist becomes more comprehensible when an experience is integrated to it.
Gathering at the Table of the Lord somewhere in Pakistan