Hi, a few updates as the Christmas Novena is about to get started and things are getting busy ...
My Role for Christmas in Chontal
After wrestling a bit with what to do for Christmas - whether to stay in Chontal or to spend it in mission in another parish where a priest friend is - I did some discernment and decided to stay in Chontal, feeling this is where I best thought God was calling me. I thought, if it didn't work out well, I would at least learn more about myself and my discernment process.
It has gone well so far, despite some initial tensions with the pastor. We have our different ways, but we're also intent on working together. He put me "in charge" of the Christmas Novena here in Chontal, as has been supportive of my ideas and plans. The theme for advent is from John the Baptist and Isaiah the prophet: Leveling the way by lowering mountains and raising valleys. So, it has gone well, with its limits... I did get a chance to go around with him on Sunday to other villages, which is something I had wanted to do more in my last visits, but never seemed invited. But it has worked better this time around.
One of the things I've started to do is lead celebrations of the Word (like a mini-Mass), where I get to preach - which is something fundamental to my mission that I hadn't yet really been able to do in Chontal as in other locations. So that has been a big boost all around.
Meeting With the Bishop
I met up with the local bishop here and we had a pretty good conversation. When I explained the scope of what I'm doing, essentially Barriers To Bridges, he seems mildly interested, but not too much so. He agreed to support me for a visa. However, I've since found out that there are new visa guidelines in Ecuador that will require me to return to Boston as I had originally planned in January, and then take care of some documentation in the US before going back. But it's good to know that I am welcome in the Diocese!
I'm hoping as well to visit with Jason Healy of Family Missions Company when he returns in January, to spend some time with a friend and to get a feel for the local bishop and priest where he is in the Amazon.
Setting up the Christmas Nativity
Each year, a Nativity is put together in the church. We set up a day and date, and I went around inviting, especially the youth. We had a good group spend a few hours putting together the creche scene, plus some Christmas videos to keep entertained a big group of the younger kids. It was a good activity, as many of the members of the youth group had got back together.
Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only my patron, and an integral part of my being in Ecuador, but devotion to her has grown here as well. For example, a new grotto was built for the church by a family with a memorial to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Well, on Sunday, Pd Marcelo blessed the new grotto and the placement of the statue, and, after I suggested we entrust Chontal to the Virgin of Guadalupe in prayer, he led an entrustment prayer of the village to her. For those of you who know my confidence in, and history with, entrustment to Mary, it was a special moment for me. And I felt that something was changing.
Last night, I set up an evening honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. We had about 15 people for a celebration of the Word with Communion, and then I had a video to share that is a great and interesting video on the whole story and relevance of Guadalupe. I also shared some pictures of my own visit to the Basilica in Mexico City from back in 2012, including my arrival in Chontal directly afterwards from Mexico. At that time, I had brought some medals from the Basilica that I then shared with the kids in Chontal in a religious ed class. So, after the celebration of the Word, and then the video, and then the photos of my visit to Mexico, we arrived at a photo of me and kids from back then, with them and the medals on the necklaces they had just made together in class.
I also shared some videos of the fiesta celebrations that I had been to in Boston in previous years, for the Virgin of Guadalupe. And so, of course, we had to sing ourselves, too!
Finally, I had a whole bunch of free rosaries and Guadalupe rosary guides, as well as several copies of the book I wrote, translated into Spanish (Luz en las Tinieblas). The meditations I write on my blog and the collection of those into books, is all directly related to my relationship with the Virgin of Guadalupe. We wrapped up with that give-away along with refreshments.
One photo that I deliberately stopped on to talk about was this photo at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The "devotees" of the Shrine are quite caught up with the famous singer, who is singing sweet songs to Mary. But they take no notice of the homeless man on the side. The message is that devotions can distract us from Jesus. Devotions are only good in so far as they lead us to Jesus and a real love of each other, beginning with those most excluded, suffering, or hopeless.
I felt like this night was just that: instead of a barrier between Chontal (this very small, poor, remote village) and one of the largest, if not the largest, religious devotions in the world, it was a bridge. I felt very much alive in my closeness to God and the people here, and a fulfillment of my own mission in Christ.
Click here to see some photos - I don't often get photos of people while I'm at the center of ministering, so I only have some photos of the "preparation" if you will...
The Novena will be 9 straight nights of activities, and I'll talk about that afterwards. For now, I'm doing this fundraiser to assist with Navidades.:
Please consider if you feel inspired!
It's late now and I have to get up early, so I will send another update likely after Christmas. So, in the meantime, have a wonderful finish to Advent and a wonderful Christmas. May you experience in your own way a spiritual renewal in this season of the Wow of God.
Odds and Ends
An amazing sky
Bamboo in Mindo
A frog as a guest
An ant with a very painful sting, beware ...
Talk about a stairway to heaven! Check out the stairs on the side of the dome on this church!
Dust from the dirt road is everywhere in Chontal, it gets into everything at all times. It's a well-known health hazard here, as many people have long-standing respiratory problems. It also gets into technology, clothing, bedding, dishware, food, everything, costing everyone with effort, money, maintenance, and vigilance. (My technology, like laptop, is only out of its case when I'm using it.) There's talk of the road being paved within 6 months, I think it's one of the greatest needs of the village.
The mothers of the 2nd graders had their very first practice for the school's Christmas program on Dec 20. Some representation of the parents of each grade usually do some performance as part of the overall program. They'll have about 5 total practices to get the dance close to this. The song and dance is folklorical indigenous, called Chalguarmishqui, which is a drink in the mountains (which I don't know if I've ever had). I'll try to get a video of the actual performance on the day of. You'll see that they do put the whole thing together ....
Finally, I give you this awesome video, which might just take you back to your childhood. Poverty is never glamorous or easy or desirable. But you do have something that is lost when you're prosperous....