On the feast of the Twelve Apostles (June 30th), we hear that the people around Jesus were “helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” These words echo in my mind after the death of Fr. Antonio Patá Tuctuc on June 20th, at just 42 years old. Last year the people of Guatemala lost Fr. Andrés Girón, their beloved spiritual father, and only one year later they have lost yet another father in the faith. The struggle of Christ's flock in Guatemala is painful to watch.
During the funeral of Fr. Antonio, a teenager grasped me and cried into my shoulder. A woman collapsed on the floor, wailing, “Fr. Andres left us and now Fr. Antonio too!” An older man took off his shoes and placed them into the tomb. “I want Father to have these,” he told me with tears. “When he is resurrected, he will walk with my shoes.”
How can we stand with these people who feel “helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”? To fully answer their needs, the Orthodox Church will have to send more missionaries and more support in the coming years. This is a pressing need that must spur us to action. Yet, at the same time, the Orthodox Church is already making a powerful beginning. I want you to find courage in this assurance: the people are feeling your presence even now in the midst of their groaning and tears.
During my sermon at Fr. Antonio's wake, I told the people “you are not alone” and explained that thousands of people are praying for them across the world. Later, as I took photos of the funeral, I overheard someone whisper, “I wonder if the people abroad will see that photo.” Right there, in the midst of their grieving, the people were beginning to feel their bond with everyone in the whole Church. You truly were in our midst, and that is powerful.
So, despite this great loss, God is helping us to push forward. God has used all of you in the broader Orthodox Church to encourage his flock in Guatemala. Please continue with us! We will need your prayers and support more than ever in the coming months. May the memory of Fr. Antonio be eternal, and may Christ have mercy on us all!