A Famished Stomach Doesn’t Hear!
The Oblates in Laos have lived a short and sorrowful history. They arrived in this country, situated between Vietnam and Thailand, in 1935 and had to face all kinds of difficulties
and trials: hard journeys, numerous accidents and underhanded opposition. Of the hundred or so missionaries who served in this region, we recall the names of two from Quebec:
Fathers Jean-Paul Brouillette, and Leo Plante. These two Oblates, after forty years of a successful apostolate, were forced like many others to flee before invading Vietnamese
An Italian Oblate, Father Antonio Zanoni, however, successfully outwitted the enemy for a few years, thanks to the connivance of Laotians, and much astuteness on his
part. Arriving in Laos in 1958, this commando of God was soon caught up in the turmoil, and had to seek refuge in the mountains with a group of Meos, who were also hunted
down by the enemy. After a long series of wanderings, he was able to settle down in a rather poor region called Ban Pha Deng. Water was scarce, the rice crop was meager,
and hunting didn’t bring in very much. Often entire weeks went by without the taste of meat. But at least, life there was fairly secure. Father Zanoni could even perform
a regular ministry. He taught Catechism daily to a group of adults. Because of his courage, and prodigious savings, he was able to build a small chapel which also served
as a school. Such was his devotion in these circumstances that at the end of a few months he had the joy of preparing a Baptism ceremony for 75 adults.
A disturbed Baptism!
Since the chapel was too small for the ceremony, the people were invited to gather in the open air for this solemn celebration. Two Oblate confreres came to offer
their help: Father P. Di Grazia and Brother Donato Cianciullo. Father Zanoni took upon himself to direct the ceremony, with appropriate commentaries, while Father Di Grazia
baptized the neophytes. The air was festive. A large and joyful crowd gathered around the 75 prayerful adults who were anticipating the Sacrament that would make them
children of God.
The men were baptized first. Everything proceeded in orderly fashion, except for something unexpected, which was not part of the liturgical rites! When it came time for
the women to be baptized, Father Zanoni gave a sign to a few of his men, with whom he had made a prior agreement. A slight nod of the head meant: “It’s time to kill the buffalo.” The
buffalo… normally the animal is killed on the eve of a feast. But this time, the people of the village had decided to kill it on the very day, for, they would say, “we do
not have the courage to wait until the next day. The temptation is too strong; it has been so long since we have eaten meat.”
Therefore, even though the priest’s nod to his men had been discreet, no doubt it had not been discreet enough for hungry stomachs, touchy after a period of forced fasting.
General chaos ensued! The designated men tried to leave secretly, but all the newly baptized men and the children, anxious to witness the spectacle, rushed towards the pen
of the poor buffalo! Father Zanoni tried to restrain them, but it was all in vain.
The respectful women
What is most admirable in this story is that the women remained without moving, hands folded and eyes lowered before Father Di Grazia, who continued to pour water
on their foreheads. A short time later, once the “deserters” had satisfied their curiosity, all of them returned to their places to witness, in all seriousness, the conclusion
of the ceremony.
Around noon, the crowd gathered once again at the public square, this time for a meal of real meat. The festivities began under a radiant sun, but soon a storm burst, and
a torrential rain fall on the joyful guests, who nevertheless went about their “important task”.
André DORVAL, OMI