The funeral of Father Andrew MacDonald took place on Monday at All Saints Catholic Church in Cardigan. It did not disappoint. You may find such a remark about a funeral to be somewhat insensitive. But if you knew the joyous Andrew MacDonald, you would know how funny, and how accurate, he might find such a description of a great celebration of a great life.
In this case, Andrew's funeral, and Andrew's life. Or as Joe Byrne, a former co-missionary to Latin America, put it, "Andrew did not leave us early, having lived to the age of 80, and his message was a great one. There is a lot to celebrate."
For Andrew was warm, and Andrew was joyous (almost with every breath), and Andrew was courageous. His courage no doubt originated with his faith, but perhaps most importantly he did not allow this faith and courage to be confined by any one institution. He would even denounce his own church, as an institution, if it was not standing with the poor and the oppressed.
From an essay by Andrew about his days in the Dominican Republic: "When I got to Santo Domingo in 1968, I began to take some radical stands...I was a parish priest....It became quite hot, we found ourselves hiding people who were running for their lives. It was quite tension filled work...and we were drawn in by the struggle. In order to be faithful to our call we felt we had to become more committed. Really what we were doing was looking at the Roman Catholic church and how it was not taking the side of the people, the side of the poor."
This was reflected when one of his life-long colleagues, and co-missionaries, Marie Burge, proclaimed during the celebrations of his life, "He spent his life being a voice with, and for, those who have little or no voice, impoverished people, women, racial and ethnic minorities. He believed that God is found on the underside, on the margins. He would get riled up about injustices, which show up either in the church or in the wider society. He often said, 'I wish I could do more'."
Indeed, he will do more, for it seems that much of what Andrew contributed was just a prelude to continuing work. Even much of the content of the funeral was a call to action to those present, and beyond, with such phrases and prayers for the following, ringing from the pulpit:
"For public policy makers that they may overcome the temptations to be guided by the rich and powerful and hear the voice of the people, especially those who live on the margins...
For all people here in P.E.I. and in the wider world who do not have enough income to ensure their rights to basic living conditions...
For the people of Latin America, and especially the Dominican Republic, that they may keep alive their hope to overcome the economic, social, and political oppression they face every day, etc..."
Wow. There might never have been a sweeter harangue than that. It made what followed, the burial, even more beautiful when another great love of Andrew's life, music, filled the graveyard. Eight members of the Queen's County Fiddlers, including Father Cheverie and this newspaper's Carolyn Drake, stood in a huddle on a sunny April day and fiddled away as Andrew was lowered to his final resting place.
As Andrew begins a new relationship with us, it is natural to reflect on some on his work as a missionary, and the book which documents some of that missionary work. Entitled, ‘You Walked with us Awhile', it is a collection of essays, including one by Andrew, which details much of the work of the Latin American Mission Program (L.A.M.P.), a missionary undertaking formed by colleagues of Andrew in the Diocese of Charlottetown.
Its title, while (quite literally) pedestrian-sounding, suggests that the greatest service we can provide one other is simply to accompany, and in humility. A fellow L.A.M.P. missionary, Father Vince Murnaghan, had the words spoken to him by a Dominican, as follows, "We thank you for walking with us awhile in our struggles, our hopes, and our joys."
Same to you, Andrew. You walked with us awhile, and we are the better for it. You put on a pretty good funeral, too, and you never disappointed.
Campbell Webster is a writer and producer of entertainment events. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org