An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people in Guatemala were in attendance June 6 for the funeral Mass and burial of Msgr. Gregory Schaffer, a longtime CFCA board member and mentor to staffers, volunteers and sponsors.
Bishop Gonzalo de Villa of the Diocese of Solola-Chimaltengo said at the time, “We are here for thanksgiving to God for Father Greg’s life; we thank the Lord for putting him as a pastor of San Lucas.”
We asked the following people to reflect on Father Greg’s life on the occasion of his funeral Mass.
Bob Hentzen, CFCA president and co-founder
I am happy and grateful to share a few memories:
I think it was 1968 when Father Greg was still a very young man. He came up to where I was teaching up in Huehuetenango [Guatemala] to work on his Spanish and Kakchiquel [Mayan language] at the school there.
I happened to meet him then. He always invited the missionaries in the country to come to San Lucas anytime we could, but in particular he liked to reserve July 4, Independence Day in the U.S., for a big wonderful gathering of missionaries, religious, diocesan and lay in San Lucas.
He would reserve a big boat and prepare a wonderful meal, and then we would basically go around the lake all day.
The ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s were so very difficult. What a miracle it was that when Father Stan Rother was martyred, Father Greg suggested to me, “Could we start the sponsorship program in Cerro de Oro?”
In the video that was made by the dioceses of Oklahoma City, I recall something that Father Greg said at that time, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”
Out of that group in Cerro de Oro, Father Stan Rother’s parish, came a wonderful seed that has blossomed into more than 14,000 families that we at CFCA are privileged to work with in San Lucas.
Once I was going to bring some of my students to climb the Atitlan volcano in San Lucas, but I wanted to do it myself first.
So I came down from Huehuetenango, pitched my tent in Panajachel and came across the lake on the early Sunday morning boat.
I came up the main street of San Lucas in front of the church, and here was Father Greg. He had just finished the 7:30 a.m. Mass and was out talking to people, still with all of his vestments on.
He looked at me and said, “Have you had breakfast?”
I said no, and he took me in to the priest house, personally fixed a couple of over-easy eggs, with black beans and tortillas.
Wow, what a nice memory I have of that personal attention of Father Greg toward me.
Over the years as the program grew, he has always been so very helpful. In 1996 when we did the trek from Kansas City to Guatemala, he and Father John (Goggin) supported that tremendously.
Those are some of the wonderful memories I have of Father Greg and his service on our board of directors for many years.
His presence always represented that concept, “They are important; they must increase, we must decrease,” and the prerogative of our creator to draw all things to himself does not give us the mandate to do the same.
In the early days Father Greg gave a lot of seminars, and I will also add the great Notre Dame Sisters were in San Lucas in the ’60s and ’70s; they were part of our formation.
I can remember sitting around that roundtable in the priest house that seated maybe 10 people. There was a lot of formation, a lot of listening, and then Father Greg would talk and share the theology of all this.
He has always been and will always be a great mentor of mine and CFCA.
Quotes from CFCA staffers in the Hermano Pedro project
MarÌa de Los Angeles Maldonado: Father Greg was a special human being, one with a big heart; he loved without distinction of race, color or social status.
He provided a helping hand for those in need of health care, education and spiritual guidance. Father Greg always talked about the importance of having strong family values, for the parents to love their children.
Father Greg had deep love for the children of San Lucas, and likewise the children felt this love for him. In his Mass celebrations, at the moment for giving the sign of peace, all of the children would run up and hug him.
Jose Manuel de Jesus Bajan: I remember so many things, but his love for children, his humility and sincerity really stand out. I felt his love for us since I was a little boy. He was very close to all of us, and he was a true servant of God.
Father Greg was a messenger of love, peace and fraternity. When I was a boy I still remember seeing him walking very early in the morning in the woods all by himself.
I did not know then, but now that I think about it, this was his way of talking to God.
Maria Patricia Santizo Letona: Father Greg did not have preferences for people because of their culture, color or religion. He always had the desire to help anyone in need, but especially for those living in poverty.
I have gratitude for Father Greg because he was there for me when I needed him most. He celebrated the Mass for my “quinceaÒera” (15th birthday), the Mass for my wedding and Masses for my children’s birthdays.
His spiritual guidance and words of wisdom helped me to be closer to God.
He gave me a scholarship to be able to continue my high school education; this helped my father very much.
Father Greg was not a foreigner; he became a member of our community. He knew us by name and was more than a priest; he was also our friend and father.
Quotes from CFCA staffers in the Atitlan project
Byron Anibal Morales Ajanel: He was one of us, the people of San Lucas. His happiness was to see families happy, to be among the poor and see them improve their conditions.
I am eternally grateful for Father Greg because he helped my family with a loan to purchase some land; and I believe that many people of San Lucas received many things from him.
His generosity, humility, love and smile will live with us forever. He was always there to listen and help; he never expected to be served. He called us “mi gente” (my people).
Pedro Ibate: Father Greg leaves a big emptiness for the people of San Lucas; his mission work has done so much for the Catholic and non-Catholic people in this town.
The people of San Lucas were inspired to work, move forward and improve their current conditions thanks to Father Greg’s example of hard work.
He never left anything unanswered; he always had an answer to our concerns.
Nazario Yoxon Lopez: I treasure the teachings that he has left us, the love that he gave to all of us, to his people. He treated everyone with love and dignity as an equal; he had no distinctions; and he treated everyone with respect.
I believe he is a messenger of God, and he came to us to bring that message of love to every child, man and woman of this town.
Today I have much sadness in my heart; I will never forget his love and that was his greatest gift for me. I am also happy because I can only imagine the joy that he is now living in the presence of our Lord.
Quotes from CFCA families in attendance
Maria, mother of a sponsored child: Our town will always remember Father Greg because we know that he took us with him in his heart; he remembered each of us by name.
In his humility he greeted us by taking his hat off and bowing his head, I will always remember this from him.
His love for children will also be remembered; he would come down to his knees to give our children a hug during the sign of peace in Mass.
When he came back from his trips to the U.S. he would always bring lots of chocolates. He would stand in the atrium of the church and call the children to share chocolates with every one of them.
Father Greg was not born in Guatemala, but our people consider him a Guatemalan.
Fermina, mother of two sponsored children: I remember Father Greg as my dad because I lived in an orphanage that he founded called “Casa Feliz.” There he treated us with love.
He always tried to bring happiness into the orphanage. He laughed and told us jokes. He was very caring; he would be in the dining room at 6 a.m. to make sure that we all had our breakfast.
I am joyful because he is now in the arms of God, but my human nature also gives me sadness because he is no longer physically with us.
Father Greg touched our lives, and he will forever remain in our hearts.
Carlos, father of two sponsored children: Father Greg was a great person. He did so much good for the people of this town.
My family and I lived on a plantation, but thanks to Father Greg we were able to get for a very low price a piece of land to build our own home.
One day he told me, “I do not feel like a foreigner. I feel I am from San Lucas.”
Thanks to Luis Cocon, CFCA communications liaison in Guatemala, for this report and the beautiful photos.