JULIEN, AUTHOR OF THE BIBLE
For our modern sensitivity, our good Julien Vézina* is not quite the type of missionary to imitate. Anyway, he is inimitable.
In the mountains of South Honduras where the climate is very hot and where life is very rough, he is the freest man of the world. He does not sleep, eats very little and never stops. He is a man whose passion is to be with the ordinary people, to make them happy, to serve them. He plays cat-and-mouse with the children, he extracts teeth, and if no midwife is available for delivery, he is the one who plays the role of «mid-husband». No unemployment.
When we are Julien Vézina, we enrol in the Eucharistic Crusade the babies still breast feeding and communion is given to them just like with adults. We direct the brass bands at all the patriotic celebrations and we play any musical instrument. We use the typewriter at the speed of lightning and we create documents. For those thousands of people who have no papers and need a baptism certificate so as to have the right to exist, but don’t have one because the archives were burnt or stolen, Julien, with closed eyes, produces the so desired document without fuss, «authenticates» it by stamping it with the seal of the parish and turns it over to the new citizen, saying: «Next! » It’s free.
His catechesis is at the forefront of technology. The exterior walls of all the chapels – already whitewashed – are used as screens for the projection of films that are unique in the whole world. The material is being carried in the mountains by a caravan of seven or eight mules, including Anselma, his pet mule. Julien himself edits his films with sequences «borrowed» (to use a euphemism) from other movies of his impressive collection. He pastes them to one another according to a surrealist framework of which he only has the secret. Short scenes about Jesus and Mary are shown here and there between the adventures of Mickey Mouse and are followed by other topics as essential to salvation as the most beautiful goals of the CH of Montréal in the series of the Stanley Cup, or excerpts of the family rosary with Cardinal Léger, without omitting the Max Brothers and the apparitions of Fatima… Each time, a huge success!
One day, in Cuba (he was missionary in the Philippines and in Cuba before ending up in Honduras), Julien is going his way wearing a white cassock when two braggarts ask him what kind of woman is he to go out with a dress on. Without a word Julien grabs them together by the neck, lifts them at full arms and knocks their heads against one another like in the best movies of the already mentioned Max brothers.
The strength of our Tarzan is legendary. The gloomiest military men and the most roguish prisoners bow in front of him out of respect. When he speaks, people listen to him, and even though the stories he invents are unbelievable, everybody believes in all he says. For example, to urge the parents to bring up their children in a good way, he does not hesitate to tell that when he was in Cuba, Fidel Castro was his altar boy. He tells them: «How many times have I warned the mother to send her son to catechism, and since she did not listen to me, well, he became the devil who is making the world tremble!».
Not only does Julien impress by his physical strength and his stories, but also by his kindness and his tenderness. Under the shell of a boxer, Julien has a child’s heart. His preferred weapon to open hearts is the candies. At all times, he has a bag of them handy, and he distributes them on his way. To the young girl who stick to him like glue, to the grandmother who looks at him as if he was God, to the policeman armed to the teeth and who struts like a peacock, and to the toughest one who hates the whole world, it takes only a candy to become great friends. Jesus said: « Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth»; this beatitude, Julien lives it out by dint of candies.
At the time, it was forbidden to priests to celebrate more than one mass a day, except in very rare cases. Julien himself would nonetheless celebrate up to five masses a day, each one at a different place, by using the host and wine consecrated in a previous mass. Everything goes on in an impeccable way and with an atmosphere of perfect piety, especially as, from the sign of the cross at the beginning up to the final blessing, the mass would last hardly ten minutes, hymns and homily included. No one complains.
If you are a confrere of Julien and live under the same roof, do not be surprized when things from your bedsheets, your towels, your shorts, your shirts, your pants, your altar linen, your cassock and your surplice disappear like magic. It is the “invisible hand” of Julien that is taking away from you everything that can be useful to the poor.
From this indescribable companion, I learn that we can cheerfully open the way to salvation with Jesus’ gospel in one hand and dynamite sticks in the other hand, throwing up in the air everything that in the troubled geography of the country was an obstacle to the passage of the holy jeep of the missionary.
I even learned from the mouth of some pious country women that it was not the pope who wrote the Bible – as claimed by ignorant people – but by Padre Julián…
In the jail of Choluteca, the Padre Julián is not only the chaplain but also the greatest of the heroes. Today, the jail and its chaplain are awaiting hastily the official visit of the First Lady of the country. In the hope that she will demonstrate her generosity toward that institution which wallows in misery, Julián personally organizes the reception. He carefully teaches his friends – a great number of them are known murderers – how to welcome the august visitor. From the moment that the prisoners see Doña Alejandrina enter solemnly arm in arm with Julián, a clamour reaches the heavens. But instead of «Long Live the First Lady», what bursts out from all over is «Long Live Padre Julián!” The face of the good Julián turns to a red beet. As a good catholic, Doña Alejandrina amuses herself. It seems that on that day a bundle of lempiras came out of her purse. Did this help in improving the life conditions of those unhappy prisoners? We have to ask the administration… One thing is sure: if that money had been put directly into the hands of our good Robin Hood Julián, there would not have been any question asked.
Julien was not a “Curé d’Ars”, nor a new Moses, nor a Che Guevara, nor a Mother Teresa, neither the most up to date version of a 21st century missionary. He was only the « Padre Julián », the unique Padre Julián. And then, one day, he passed away. Even though he and I were as similar as day and night, I had much affection for him. I was really saddened by his departure. I had the feeling that a great marvel had just left us. If the delinquents and all the underprivileged whom he loved and served during his life had accompanied us during his burial, I am sure that we would have heard them crying as far as the end of the world.
Translated from the French by Jacques Bourdages
JULIEN VÉZINA, p.m.é 1913-1983
Missionary in The Philippines : 1941-1945 In Cuba : 1945-1956, in Honduras : 1956-196. Died in LavaL, Québec, Canada: Feb 14, 1983