Hello, it's been a little while since my last post on the time here in Ecuador, so here goes! …. Ayangue
Back at the end of June, I went with Padre Martin to the retreat house for the priests of the Society of St James, located in Ayangue. It's a large retreat center on a small beach, with a beautiful view and a chance for some time away with the ocean. I looked forward to this very much, because I love the ocean, and also a chance at some peace and quiet with English speakers. Most of my time is spent around people, and in an environment with a foreign language, as you're learning, it's taxing. It's like work all day long, in a sense, although there's of course plenty to enjoy. Plus, where I live in the parish house, in front of the concrete park, there is no shortage of people throughout the day and noise throughout the night. So the opportunity to get away to a beach with quiet was very much appreciated. I took a few photos of the beach, including this one of a boat:
And this mural at the retreat house also struck me, as a lay missionary friend of the Society. It says, Association of Lay Missionaries, above a boat of St James the Apostle. "Here I am Father God! You have created me with all your love and have given me life! Here I am Jesus! You teach me to give and give myself without measure! Here I am Holy Spirit! You inspire me to announce the saving message without fear and with fortitude!"
There were three priests there and we spent an evening and a day in fellowship, prayer, and social time. It was a good few days away. I think of the Scripture passage: "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest for a while." (Mk 6:31)
Ordination of David
A day or two after coming back from Ayangue was the ordinations of the priests for the diocese of Santo Domingo. My friend David, the deacon in the house, was ordained, and a bunch of us from Puerto Quito had the opportunity to be there for the ordination.
Padre David will be staying in the parish for the short term, which is good news for everyone who had gotten to know him. A week after the ordination, he had his first Mass in the parish, and a group of us celebrated with a lunch in Pd Martin's new house.
"You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizidek." (Ps 110)
The Project for the disabled - Fundacion Amigos del Arca Ecuador
I've been continuing to go to the Friday community day at the project for the disabled, Fundacion Amigos del Arca Ecuador. Padre Finbarr left for Ireland in June, so there is a new director who is guiding the project. Deysi is working hard to organize things, and otherwise things are going along as usual. Our Friday community day includes a prayer service with a proclamation of the Word that Sr Josefina and I usually organize with a few other volunteer staff. Hermana Josefina is good at engaging everyone in creative ways. We try to get as many people involved as possible. I often am the "celebrant" and preach a little homily after someone reads from the Scripture, that's always a blessing for me. We are in the beginning stages of a little project to build a little model of the project logo, where each member of the community has a part in it. It would be an ark of a boat, with each person putting their name on a flag and attaching it inside the boat, to form the Fundacion logo.
After the prayer service, we eat a lunch together and then there's either dancing (for therapy), or playing games or sports. The workers on the farm join in, too, so it's a good mix of workers and volunteers and parents with their disabled youth. Groups have gone for walks, and we've also discovered a river beach nearby, and last week we went. It's great to see everyone mixed together, and with the variety of activities, you see so many people come out of their shells and their personality opens up. At about 4pm, we drive back to the town center and drop people off. I usually help one of the volunteers, Freddy, with using the computer afterwards.
Each month as well, we've begun to celebrate the last Friday as the day for everyone who had a birthday in the month. We send out a more direct invitation to the parents to come, and we have a cake and music. Recently I've been taking pictures and giving them to the folks in the community. Pictures are not a common thing here, and to have a printed picture of yourself is a rare thing. By taking their pictures and giving them to them, I indicate that they're worth having their picture taken, and they are worth having a picture of themselves in their home. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. (Gen 1:27)
In July there were two different events of the Special Olympics, based in two of the nearby towns. The foundation that Padre Finbarr helped to found and that I've been helping in, Fundacion Amigos del Arca Ecuador, had a group participating in both, so I got to go to both. I put together the photos and videos that I made to make a few videos of them, using music from Chariots of Fire and the Olympics:
Both of the days were just a great blessing to be there for me. The kids are always an uplifting gift to be around, and it's especially great to see the smiles on their faces - and their Moms' - when they get to have some fun in the games. It's very moving to me even just to watch the videos afterwards, and it was hard for me to keep a dry eye, even though I was doing a lot of photo-taking and filming. These are kids who are barely only an afterthought in the world, and up until Padre Finbarr began his work several years ago, there was no care in the whole region for these kids. How happy they are! To see their spirit, knowing somewhat what they have gone through in their lives, knowing - as they don't know - what they lack in services and support and materials things compared to their counterparts up north in the States, they are heroes to me. "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 18:10) And I was impressed with the organizers and volunteers and parents, their commitment and spirit of giving and supporting these people with Dios-abilities. There's a young boy in both video who runs the races with one leg. How he does it, I don't know…
Visiting the Recintos (Villages)
I've been going to two of the recintos regularly for Celebrations of the Word and catechesis over the past 3 months or so, with a few of the Franciscan sisters that are here. It's been an amazing experience.
One of the recintos is called Bosque de Oro #1. It's number 1 because there are two others in the parish with the same name. But there, with Sr Jenny and Sr RoseMary, we go each Sunday at 4pm to a little chapel they have for the celebration of the Word with the Eucharist. About 50 people now come. We have gotten to the point where the lay leaders have begun to lead the celebrations of the Word, where a choir is now formed, and there are now lectors. Now in our visits, we are helping them to be self-motivating and self-sufficient for the celebration.
For the first time in about 2 months, a priest was able to come for Mass this past Sunday. Fr. Martin came to register families for the catechesis program and for the Mass. It was great to see the lectors and the choir getting ready to go. In the celebrations we do, most of the Liturgy of the Word is included, but most of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is not. In the Mass this Sunday, you could see the effect. Whereas people were involved and ready for the first part of the Mass, the second part, with the Eucharist, was a little more awkward. On the one hand, it shows how sad it is that the community can't have a weekly Mass. But on the other hand, it shows that the celebrations that we do are really important.
Here's a photo with some new stenciled words on the chapel. It says, "Come and follow me!"
On Saturday, I visit a little recinto called Santa Cecilia. This is a relatively new and small recinto, off the radar screen of most, and it doesn't have a lot of experience in the Christian life or the life of the Church. Most have only been to a Mass maybe a few times at most. Many have never seen a Mass, or know much of anything about the Bible. But we go each week, Sr Josefina and I and another lay volunteer, to teach catechesis for First Communion to parents and children. After the catechesis, we have the celebration of the Word (this time without the Eucharist), where Sr Josefina and I collaborate and I give one of my homilies. We are up to about 14 children now, and there are about 3 or 4 mothers who come.
We have been meeting in a little schoolhouse, but recently the school teacher found that a child had peed in one of the little buildings there, and it got blamed on the catechesis kids. The government also has a law that the public schoolhouses can't be used for religious ceremonies. So, we've moved everything to one of the people's homes. It's rural farmland area, so we have the classes and celebrations - and the Mass this week - outside, under a thatched roofed little area of dirt, with dogs and chickens running around.
We have fun with the kids teaching the catechesis. One week we made videos of the kids offering prayers for Sr Josefina, whose religious sister in her community has been struggling with cancer. One week, all the kids made necklaces with beads and miraculous medals of Mary. We are all unique and different and make our own way, but Mary is our mother and that's what makes us one. Another week, I was able to find someone to cut some plants into about eighteen 3-ft-long posts to stick into the ground and, using some ribbon, make a maze. The kids paired up with one blindfolded and the other leading them through the maze. The other kids were supposed to yell and scream to try to get the blindfolded kids lost. They did a good job :) You need your buddy to go through life, that's why Jesus sent His disciples out 2 by 2. Then, one week we took photos to print out and give to them, and the next they traced their photos and colored them and then traced an image of Jesus next to it for more coloring. We hung them up on the whiteboard, so we could answer the question: Where do you see Jesus in our meetings? Sr Josefina gets them involved with good hands-on creative lessons. I really believe that these kids are getting the best. In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little ones … Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." (Lk 10:21-24)
Each week, on the way to the recinto, we stop off at a little store and I buy some bottled water and a package of wafers, called Amor, or Love in English. There are different flavors, like Strawberry and Vanilla. I get the big pack, and after we are done, before we leave, we give all the kids the wafers. Since we don't have the Eucharist there, I also see it as a little bit of a completion of the celebration of the Word, and a foreshadowing of their first communion someday. Like their manna in their desert. I give them my Amor, my love...
So for the first time in many months, the community will have a Mass on Wednesday this week. I look back at about 3 months ago, when no one wanted to go to Santa Cecilia and it was about to be given up on because of a lack of resources, and I was asked to go as a sort of last resort to lead up celebrations of the Word. After going once, I asked Sr Josefina if she wanted to come. And now, 3 months later, we have a group of kids who are happy to come there and there will be a Mass. Thanks be to God!
These celebrations are really needed, because priests can only visit about once a month. The rest of the weeks, the community would be without a form of liturgy. The gathering as a community in prayer and listening to the proclamation of the Word and receiving the Eucharist each Sunday couldn't happen, and the habit would lead to a real big loss in the spiritual life of the people. So these celebrations, which are really a distant participation in the Sunday liturgy in the town center, really save the spiritual life of the community. I remember when I gave the donation to the Franciscan Missions 4 years ago to help to build the Church in Imbabura, the thought I had as I held the request from the Franciscans in my hands was, "What if I didn't have a church?" Now I am here in Ecuador and working so that the people can have a church like I do - and not just the building. "Freely have you received, freely give." (Mt 10:8)
About a month ago, a few of us were visiting a family in another village, and a woman told us about her husband, who was now bedridden. We went in to his room to visit him. He had not eaten anything in almost three weeks because he couldn't hold anything down due to problems with his throat. He was completely emaciated, you could see all his bones and his stomach was almost non-existent. But he could communicate. The hospital nearby had sent him home 2 weeks earlier and that was about it. The wife said they didn't have any money to do anything else. Now, I'm thinking, money, shmoney, we can get some money if that's what's needed - why isn't this guy on a feeding tube somewhere somehow? But only 2 days later, before I could really make any progress in it, he died. It was like being in the presence of Jesus on the Cross, where He quotes the psalm, I can count all my bones. (Ps 22) and They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Ps 69) Jesus crucified lives here...
We are still going along in the English group in the parish. We just watched our first movie in English, with Spanish subtitles. Although, my Ecuadorian friends could only understand about 3 of the words in English. Little by little :) We are also doing themes, and one of the members will be introducing her family to the group with photos, using English words for family and relatives. The big obstacle here is that there are no resources. You might think, well just get some English CDs. Or take a little course. Those things just don't really exist around here. And for example, the young woman doing the project with the family photos, well, she really doesn't have many photos of family. She's going to get some from Facebook. But the poverty and different lifestyle, there just isn't the access to many of the things that could make things go more quickly…
Finally, the English group has begun at the school too. We've got some themes and ideas for activities set up. This week the students are supposed to bring in songs and acts they like to perform for a version of Santiago Apostol's Got Talent that we're going to do. Jorge Suarez, one of the two English teachers in the school, is also helping out. I'm hoping also to put something together with my friend Jason who teaches at Cardinal Spellman in Brockton. We're hoping that a connection can be made with the students, that's a great hope of mine ...
Catequesis in the Parish
I've begun to lead catechesis in the parish for First Communion. One group is a group of guides and catechists from the recintos. They will go later to meet with a group of parents from their own recinto. Another group is a group of parents from different recintos. I can see that there are special things going on, so let's see how it goes ….
Novena y Fiestas
We had the fiestas in July, and this time I didn't take too many photos or videos. There was also a novena leading up to the fiestas, where we'd get up for a rosary procession each morning at about 5am. Nine days in a row. But each morning there's a procession with a Marian image to a local house, about a half hour walk. Then, in the evening, a group of recintos are invited to gather at the house and accompany the image in another procession back to the church, for a Mass. It was great to be with the people from Santa Cecilia and Bosque de Oro on their respective evenings. That week is a chance for people throughout the whole parish to come together under the patronage of Mary, la Virgen del Carmen. Now, I missed the height of the fiestas unfortunately on the weekend days because I was visiting recintos on that weekend. But in the evenings I was able to escape from the loud noise outside our doorway in the park, and Padre David and I were able to stay up in Padre Martin's house in the farm, about 15 minutes away.
Below are the fireworks, early in the day before they go off. You can see the mad cow, the vaka loca, that gets set off and carried around.
Juan y Sarah
My friend Juan Galvan-Rodriguez, who is Mexican American, came to Ecuador on vacation with his wife Sarah, for a get away in their first year of marriage. I lived with Juan for about 6 months or so when I lived in Somerville in the Sacred Heart House back in 2010. We were living together when I made my first trip to Ecuador and back back then, and we talked even then of him coming to visit. They made it down and made a little tour of the country, though we only got to spend a day in Quito together and a night in Puerto Quito. But they had a special time together as a couple.
Juan and Sarah also donated 25 books for Latinos to learn English. I'm very grateful, and I'm in the process of pasting their pictures in each of them. Down the line, after learning how the English group goes in the parish, after working out kinks and whatnot, I hope to expand it for others, and these books will very much come in handy. So thanks again Juan and Sarah!
A New Blog
A new blog is on the way, dedicated to this mission in Ecuador. The Living Monstrance blog will go back to the shorter spiritual reflections. It's in the works, and hopefully it will be ready soon. The goal is to have a dedicated place for more participation and sharing in this mission for everyone. So stay tuned!
Well, not everything is rosy in life, and here as well. Like everyone else, I have my down times and start to have my doubts about what I'm doing. This little excerpt from The Lord of the Rings was a lift for me for a few days, so I share it with you, my friends from back home.
A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of throwing a little pity party for myself, wondering what I'm doing here. I was pulling out all the stops, like I like to do with parties. So I'm walking down the street one day on my way to buy some toilet paper, and the party is raging: "Other people are getting married, advancing up the ladder of success in life, getting all the recommendations on LinkedIn, all the likes on Facebook. I do all this work here and no one notices. I feel alone and unappreciated. I miss not having a woman at my side. I miss not having a nice paycheck, using my deft God-given skills on a big team project, coaching a basketball team with all the motivating and strategizing. Here I am walking down the street, I can't get a couple of photos printed because the photo place is closed, I can't get any money out of the bank machine because the only cooperative - not even a bank - in town is closed. I just bought some anti-bacterial cream from the pharmacy because I fell and cut up my elbow and ankle trying to play basketball against one of the youth. And I am on my way walking to buy some toilet paper from the corner store. What am I doing here?" And of course, then comes the pity party keg stand: I was thinking of leaving.
But then, I hear whistling from across the street. People will whistle to each other here to get each other's attention, like kids do in your old neighborhood. But I don't respond to it because, (a) it's never for me, (b) it ain't respectful. But I kept hearing it, over and over. Finally, I turned around to look across the street, and I hear, "Jeromino!!" It's Cristobal, a very poor young boy always smiling and always up to something, who has a learning disability. His mother has a mental disability and left him with his grandmother. But he always switches the m and the n in Jeronimo. I laughed as he came over. "Cristobal, what are you doing? I don't respond to that, I respond to my name." Jeromino! Whay aren't you in school? I am, I was putting money on my phone. Where is your school? Over here, let's go. So I walked him back to his schoolroom. It's the day program for many of the disabled where they receive different forms of therapy. A lot of familiar faces for me, these are all the kids that I know through the Amigos del Arca project.
So as I begin to walk around and say hello, Cristobal, smiling and laughing and up to something as always, starts pointing up to something behind me on the wall, with eyes wide open, nodding his head with a big smile and laughing. I turned around to see what he was pointing at. On the wall, there was a giant-sized, full-color, hand-cut wall display of Jesus standing over the children. And I looked back at Cristobal and he's pointing at that smiling and pointing at me, and then gesturing around the whole room, smiling and nodding and laughing. It took me by complete surprise.
But that's why I am here.
"You shall be my witnesses ... to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)