Granny MaHong

Fr. Larry Barnett with Granny MaHong, seated wearing head scarf

A Shining Witness to the Gospel

By Fr. Larry Barnett

Granny MaHong is the aunt of Vesu the parish catechist here in the mountains of central Taiwan where I work among the indigenous Tayal people. She is the wife of Vesu’s father’s older brother, and when I came to the parish almost 15 years ago, she still lived in her husband’s house next door to Vesu, his wife Vinai who is parish secretary/ social worker and their daughter Zoe. When I was new in the parish, MaHong was one of three older women, all fast friends, who were regular and active members of the village Catholic community.

Fr. Larry Barnett with Granny MaHong
Fr. Larry Barnett with Granny MaHong

After Mass on Saturday evening the three ladies would sit together while the younger women prepared a meal, and I would chat with them over a small glass of brandy each. I called them “the prettiest girls of the parish” which always got a smile. They knew how to enjoy themselves but were also serious about their faith and never missed an event whether helping to tidy the grounds, celebrate the major feasts, join weekend Mass, or arrange weekly house-prayers in the village.

Some years ago, MaHong, whose husband had died before I arrived in the village, was found to have cancer. After treatment in a city hospital she returned to the village and announced that she was moving to her farm shed among her orchards and vegetable gardens on the mountain above the village in order to spend time with God and nature.

Six months later she returned to her house on the south-western edge of the village, refreshed in body and spirit. Whenever I went to see her, she always greeted me with a big smile, taking my hand and asking whether she was still one of the prettiest girls in the parish.

Last year, MaHong’s daughter convinced her to move to the neighboring parish, about one hour away by car. She would have family to better care for her and be closer to doctors and medical help.

Recently myself, Vesu the catechist and several other members of the village were in that neighboring parish for an event, and we went to visit MaHong. She had difficulty walking, did not speak, and rarely left her bedroom. When I went into the room her eyes lit up, and she reached out to grasp my hand, not letting it go the entire time I was there.

We celebrated the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and I gave her Holy Communion. As is the custom in our place, during the anointing we gathered around MaHong and, linked together, laid hands on her in silence as Vesu prayed for her in their tribal language. It is always a powerful moment and MaHong’s faith in Jesus was powerfully present and shone out of her. Such a clear witness to the Gospel and God’s Kingdom has its deepest influence on the people around, and Vesu, her nephew, was also visibly moved. In every place around the world where Columban missionaries live and work they know people like Granny MaHong. They are shining witnesses to the Gospel and inspire us to continue in Mission every day, to follow Jesus wherever life’s path leads us.

Editor’s Note: It is with sadness that we report the death of Granny Mahong in October 2020. Columban Fr. Larry Barnett presided at the funeral.

Columban Fr. Larry Barnett lives and works in Taiwan.