The angel who died on Christmas Day

The angel who died on Christmas Day

Arthur N. Ballingall

One of the continuing works of the Melbourne Overseas Mission is the sending of volunteer diocesan priests to mission fields scattered around the world, in particular, to what we have called the Third World.

One such Melbourne priest, Father Michael Shadbolt, was sent, replete with a new jeep and all necessary equipment, to what can only be described as the back blocks of Venezuela. Father was assigned a disparate area of many villages, in and around Venezeula's mountainous regions. Home was a mud hut, next to another humble mud-brick affair, serving as the local church.

Upon arrival he set out to meet his parish community, and being in a jeep, was an instant magnet for the local children, whom he obliged with many happy rides around the villages. His first impression, as it turned out, a lasting impression, was that that it seemed there were only children, and elderly people in the region.

He was soon to know that poverty-stricken people, especially in the Third World, age very quickly, characterised by a shortened life expectancy due to a life of grindingly hard work, inadequate diet, and non-existent health care.

Numerous times in the year, the priest would meet with families, bringing their sacks of coffee down from the mountains for sale - usually for a pittance - to agents of coffee corporations, who in turn would resell the produce at profit margins of 400% or more. One such family Father was never to forget.

This particular family of four children, leading a donkey burdened with sacks of coffee, followed by their father carrying another sack, had travelled in this manner for some forty miles. Wishing to give the family some respite, Fr Shadbolt took the children for a ride in the parish jeep.

The delighted children were very excited, but towards the end of their joyride one of them, a beautiful nine-year-old girl by the name of Lus Minia, vomited all over the nice new jeep! Feeling slightly annoyed the priest looked at the mess, but was mortified to see that the material was infested with parasites!

Returning the children to their parents, he begged them to allow him to take Lus to a distant hospital, for immediate and urgent attention. They firmly refused him, for two reasons. Lus was often sick and got over it, and secondly, she was needed to work on the family plot. For the priest, suddenly the word poverty had a whole new meaning.

Six weeks later, on Christmas Eve, an hour before Midnight Mass, the priest was chatting with a visiting missionary doctor, when there was a loud knock on the parish door. Opening the door he could see no one, but looking down at the doorstep, he saw an abandoned, but obviously dying, Lus Minia, - a fact the doctor was soon to confirm.

Lus Minia died during Midnight Mass 1972, with an Australian doctor attending her. Hours later the two men talked, long into the night, reflecting that had Lus Minia been an Australian, hundreds of people could have been found to protect her from such a calamity, but the reality, regardless of nationality, is that our little girl Lus Minia was the angel who died on Christmas Day 1972.

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