Missionary priest blesses cousin's Easton home

The Rev. George Lucas celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany and blessed his cousin Anne Fiyalka’s home in Easton during a visit this month from East Africa.

He might not be the George Lucas of Star Wars fame, but Father George — as friends and family call him — is a star in his own right for Fiyalka and a dozen of her friends who attended a luncheon get-together in her home.

Epiphany, commonly known as Three Kings Day, commemorates the visit of the Three Kings, or Wise Men, to the Christ Child in a stable in Bethlehem on the 12th day after Christmas.

Father George mused about what it might have been like had three Wise Women followed the star to the Christ Child instead of three Wise Men.

“They would have asked directions and arrived on time,” he said. “They would have cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought useful gifts, like diapers, instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

Father George’s humor added warmth to the winter gathering of the faithful as he led them in prayer and blessed the house. While on assignment in Peru, he said, he blessed guinea pigs in addition to houses and people.

“The Lord says where two or three are gathered in his name, He is there,” Father George said, acknowledging the considerably larger group assembled in Fiyalka’s living room.

Fiyalka read a selection from the Prophet Isaiah. Father George led the group in prayer, in English, of course, in contrast to the Swahili he speaks in East Africa. He spoke Spanish when he ministered among the urban poor on assignment in Lima, Peru. Learning to speak Rutooro, one of the local languages of Western Uganda, was a humbling experience, he said.

“The most humbling part is you have to start at the beginning like a baby or small child even though you may be fully grown,” he said.

A missionary with the Congregation of Holy Cross, Father George spoke of the example Pope Francis has set for the world through his simplicity and his availability to all.

“He preaches by his example, like Jesus,” Father George said. “He welcomes all, especially those in need, the poor and the marginalized.”

Bangladesh, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, France, and Italy are also among the 16 countries where Holy Cross priests and brothers live and serve.

Food for the soul

Born and raised in Bridgeport and Trumbull, Father George, 71, knew since high school that he wanted to be a priest. He was accepted at Our Lady of Holy Cross Seminary at Stonehill College and in 1967 was assigned to the Holy Cross Mission Seminary in Washington, D.C.

He began his theological studies at Catholic University of America in Washington and served in two African-American parishes.

While studying at the University of Notre Dame between 1968 and 1970, he helped the Urban League set up a Street Academy for youth on the streets. In 1970, he graduated from Notre Dame and left the United States for missionary work in Uganda as a deacon with the Congregation of Holy Cross.

He returned to the United States in April 1972 and was ordained a priest at St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, his home parish.

Father George has spent the majority of his 46-year career as a missionary of the Holy Cross in Uganda, Kenya, Peru, and most recently in Tanzania, in an area that just got electricity fully installed in April. He serves there with three African priests and a brother.

The area he serves is on the side of a hill in the Rift Valley, where water is limited and elephants sometimes dig up the water lines, he said.

It’s a harsher life than here, but the people are hard-working and proud, and they enjoy life.

“People here have many choices, but they complain a lot,” he said. “People in Africa have fewer choices, but they have more time to spend with one another.”

There is always room at an African table for unexpected guests who show up for dinner, he said.

“I have seen many changes and much development in East Africa over the last 46 years  within nations, the Catholic Church and within my religious family, the Congregation of Holy Cross,” Father George said.

“Therefore, I have considered it a great privilege to have been part of this new life and growth. Of course, the growing pains have been there, too, and at times the disappointments. Positive change is costly and slow, but then comes the harvest. There is an African proverb that says if you sow seed without care and attention, you will eat the poor results (Panda ovyo, hula ovyo.) The early missionaries lived and worked under much harsher conditions, but their commitment and labors laid the foundation for what growth and progress exists today within our parishes, schools, and dispensaries.”

He added, “The changes taking place today, however, are so rapid that I fear the new foundations are not given the time to set nor are the new timbers given the time to dry. Time will tell if we have to go back and repair what today’s haste has produced. In any event, the people’s faith in God and God’s abiding presence continues to inspire me and to help me remain hopeful for Africa, come what may.”

People often ask how they can help. Having lived among the people and embraced their way of doing things for so long, that’s a hard question to answer, he said.

His best advice is for people to take the time to learn about Africa and the rest of the world “and perhaps they will discover a need in doing that,” he said..

He has a ticket to Tanzania in February and expects to return to St. Brendan Parish, Kitete/Karatu, where he has been serving as an associate priest.

Food for the body

When Fiyalka was a student at Harding High School in 1936, she was selected to fly with the visiting Amelia Earhart, which she described as one of the most thrilling experiences of her lifetime.

Representatives from the Connecticut Air and Space Center have a copy of her photograph of the flight and recorded her experience for the center’s archives.

Perhaps it was there that she got her adventurous spirit and joy of living.

After the prayer service, she served a homemade lunch she prepared of baked ham, macaroni salad, her prize-winning beet salad, dessert, coffee, and all the fixings.

Her friends marvel at her spunk and energy. Although she will turn 95 in February, she looks and acts 20 years younger.

Father George said he hopes he will be able to celebrate Fiyalka’s 95th birthday at the Easton Senior Center before he returns to Tanzania.

“She continues to amaze me,” he said, “Even at the age of 95 she hasn’t lost her zest for life, desire to learn, or friendliness. Thankfully she has good health and is able to continue.”

Laurie Mellen, one of the guests for lunch and prayers, goes to Fire Island in the summer and takes Fiyalka to her son’s place there. “She will put on her bathing suit and trot on down to the beach. She’s a bundle of energy. She loves to play Scrabble, card games and jigsaw puzzles, so we’re up all night.”

This was the fourth prayer gathering with Father George that Mellen has attended at Fiyalka’s house, she said.

“I just love Anne,” Mellen said. “She’s active at the Senior Center, at the polls, everywhere. She’s a marvel.”

Another friend, Ruby Mastroni, said, “I think it’s great that Anne has a cousin who is a priest, and she invites a lot of people who are extraordinarily nice and friendly over for a midday celebration.”

Mastroni said she appreciates the chance to come together to pray and socialize.

She and Fiyalka’s other friends are already looking forward to the next gathering in Easton with Father George when he comes home again on leave, whenever that might be.