By Father George Agger SVD
After being away, it’s good to be home on Montserrat. For three months, I was in my “other home,” the other Emerald Isle: Ireland.
It is always good to reconnect with family, friends and old neighbors who are part of our lives. Even Jesus enjoyed returning to his hometown of Nazareth although the reception he got was not always one of recognition and acceptance. Yet there is something in each of us that longs to be reconnected, longs to be back home, where our early experiences formed the person we are.
When going home is not possible, it can leave a great hollowness—a Runaway Ghaut in our lives. Many who are forced to evacuate from the places of their early childhood have this experience. The feeling might occur for us as adults when we are unable to return to a particular location that had become a big part of our lives.
Not being able to return can create a longing that cannot be fulfilled. Those of us in Montserrat who lived through the devastating volcanic eruptions and landslides of the 1990s know this feeling firsthand. Even now, almost 20 years after the evacuation from Plymouth and the southern part of Montserrat, people still think of themselves as being from St. Patrick’s or Kinsale or Molineux rather than Davy Hill or Gerald’s or Lookout.
I first observed this phenomenon when my aunt, a missionary sister who spent many years in Uganda, was forced to leave by the then-dictator Idi Amin. She could never settle in any other country or any other place; she always longed to be home in Uganda–a place to which she could never return.
I know other missionaries have lived through this predicament, men and women who were driven into exile after years of missionary work in places like China and Pakistan. They were refused reentry. The words and experiences of God’s people in their exile in Babylon come to mind.
Here on Montserrat, we talk of the Diaspora–using that same word that describes the Jewish people who were exiled from their homeland and not able to return. Montserratians living overseas, especially those who were forced to do so after Hurricane Hugo and the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano, will always have a relentless longing to return.
And even when they do return and visit, that longing will never be fulfilled as they are not able to revisit the places of their childhood memories, not able to walk down familiar streets and roads, not able to see familiar landmarks and buildings, not able to see the people who were so much part of their childhood.
How does one live with this pain—for pain it surely is, a pain in one’s spirit, a pain in one’s soul. And just thinking like that and using those important words laced with such deep spiritual meaning and nuance, may give us an indication and insight to the answer.
“My heart is restless until it rest in thee” is how St. Augustine expressed this reality.
Don’t we all have to make that jump—from thinking of home as a place from which we came to thinking of it as a place to which we are going? Jesus tells us there is a place in Heaven for all of us. “In my Father’s House, there are many mansions…I am going to prepare a place for you…so that where I am, you also may be.”
Yes, my brothers and sisters, while our longings for our earthly home are great, our longing for our heavenly home can become even greater. Not only greater, but with our commitment as Christians, we are tasked to begin the building of that eternal home here amongst us. “May thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Let us not allow that prayer to become an idle spiritual slogan. Let each of us do our utmost to work on making our home, His Kingdom in this world. A home filled with the values, principles and teaching of the One whose Home is waiting for us in Heaven. An eternal home that, once we reach, will be free from evacuations and departures, a home where there will be eternal happiness, peace and reunion.
Father George Agger SVD is the only priest on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Born and raised in Cobh, an island off the Southern coast of Ireland, Father Agger served as the provincial of the Irish and British Province for ten years. He also has worked as a missionary in the Philippines and the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Editor’s Note: Runaway Ghaut, one of Montserrat’s natural landmarks, is a spring at the site of the 1712 French invasion. Legend has it that anyone who drinks the waters of Runaway Ghaut will be compelled to return.