Wishing everyone a Happy New Year after Christmas, especially those in Boston or other areas experiencing the cold! Here's the latest:
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Visiting Franciscan Friends in Otavalo & St Mary of the Angels
I got the chance to finally visit my friend Adrián in Otavalo in November. Adrián is from Quevedo, where Padre Julián now is serving at the Shrine of the Divino Niño. I met him last year when visiting Pd Julián and we became friends and have stayed in contact. Adrián was an English teacher before entering postulancy with the Franciscans, and we used to help each other a lot with language over Facebook after I came back to the US last year. The Franciscans invited me into their life inside the monastery for a few days. It was a greatexperience, the guys are all good guys, and I'm glad for Adrián. Please keep him in prayer. Here are a few pictures of the monastery, including the chapel inside the monastery, as well as the main church. In one of the photos, you can see all the indigenous who come to pray at the church.
While I was there I also got a chance to visit St Mary of the Angels, a house for abandoned children with HIV in nearby San Pablo. It's run by JUVILUS, an organization founded by Padre Alfonso Castells, OFM in support of people with AIDS. The house is for children with HIV who have been abandoned and have nowhere to go. Here is a Youtube video of the house. It's in Spanish, but I think the message comes across:
A soon as I walked into the dining area, I was greeted by about 10 children who all had this look on their face like, "I want to be with you!" It wasn't long before I was crowded and crawled over by all these little tykes! They love visitors and attention, and, being abandoned by their parents, they are looking for love. The demand for attention is high, but one guy Joel wouldn't let me go:
The house has three micro businesses cuy (guinea pig) and pigs and a restaurant, to raise the funds to operate the house. Some of the children help out in the work at times as well. It is a miraculous sense of family and love here in the house. If I didn't have so much catching up to do in writing, I would spend half a day on this place alone. (I found this video on Youtube that was put together by a woman who had visited (I don't know her):
Though it's in Spanish, I think like with the other link the video speaks for itself!) It really is a place of redeemed love, where the tragedy of HIV, and the greater tragedy of abandonment, are redeemed. This is another family, an amazing family, and though of course the challenges are huge, it is a house full of a love that is hard to describe. It's really a foreshadowing of heaven. I remember when Jesus was going to leave His disciples and they felt they would be abandoned - they were pretty much all on their own. "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house, there are many rooms." (Jn 14:2) I am so very grateful to have visited and hope to go back!
Amigos del Arca
In the project Amigos del Arca for the disabled, we celebrated the month of the dead in November, as well as the Christmas in December. In our Friday celebrations, we have started to use readings from Jean Vanier's book, From Brokenness to Community. Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche (The Arc), and this organization was the inspiration for Padre Finbarr to start the program Amigos del Arca (Friends of The Arc) here in Ecuador. Additionally, this book was a companion of mine coming down back in February. It's about forming community with the poor and disabled, about the transformation of a collection of broken individuals into a community, and the very personal transformation that accompanies that. It's about redemption, and it's about the source of redemption: Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Jean Vanier's writings very much resonate with me, and I find the Gospel very clear in them. I highly recommend his writings for inspiration in life! It brings to mind what Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, a great letter about community:
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end." (Eph 4:14-16)
As Paul says, and as Jean Vanier write in so many ways, it's the cross that makes it all happen …
In each of our prayer services and celebrations, we try to include readings from this book and interactive, participative dynamics that are attuned to the weekly Gospel and season of the Church year. The Church calendar points out where Jesus is in the world, the season of His life living anew in the world. Slowly, community is being formed …
Here are a few photos of a few of us at some of the gatherings in November and December:
I'm hoping to put together a video of the year, and when I do I'll post it ….
The Village Santa Cecilia
In Santa Cecilia, there were a few baptisms in November. We had them in the usual location where we have the celebration of the Word and catechesis, the house of Blanquita and her husband in the village. This is a miracle as well, here is the video I made to give to the girls as a momento:
Santa Cecilia also had their fiestas in November. We offered some light food, and I put out some rosaries and accompanying pamphlets for 10 cents each. Here you can see Blanquita and some of her family, as well as Maria de la Rosa on the right (looking sideways, she refused to look at the camera as much as I badgered her about it) with her granddaughter. Maria de la Rosa teaches the adult catechism, while Sr Josefina, who is taking the picture, teaches the kids' catechism. I help out here and there, and help to lead the celebration of the Word.
I did finally get my driver's license in Quito! I am legal to drive in Ecuador! Until my visa expires, cuz then my license expires too …. The process is complicated, so I put together a little summary document and shared it with the sisters here so that if another person from the States comes, they can share in what I learned from the whole thing.
Sr Josefina put me onto a perpetual adoration chapel in Quito. I like to go there now whenever I get to Quito:
Visiting Padre David at Julio Moreno
I lived with now-Padre David in the parish rectory for 5 months, before he was transferred to a small parish near the city of Santo Domingo, called Julio Moreno Espinosa. I went to visit him a few times since, including once at the beginning of December. We visited a little village for Mass, caught up on things, and went to a movie (Thor, in Spanish). Pd David is a good friend, and a pastor after having been ordained only in June. Please pray for him!
English Club at the High School Santiago Apóstol
In November and December, we finished making a video to share with Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton, MA. It was a miracle that it all worked out. After meeting in September with some of the faculty at Cardinal Spellman (including friend Jason Deramo from the seminary days), at first everything was a go. Then, it seemed like it wasn't going to happen after we had made progress on our end down here. We were ready to start planning the filming stage, but I wasn't getting a positive response from Spellman. I waited and looked for that response for almost a month, and I was even postponing meetings, trying to buy time with our own students to not lose their confidence and momentum, but I finally decided that it was time for us to move on. So it was a Friday at 3:30, and I was just about to head out the door to go to the school for our 4:00 meeting with the students. I was going to tell the students why we had postponed the last meeting, what had been going on, how I wasn't hearing anything from Spellman for a month, and that I thought we should move on and end interchange. If I had said that, I have no doubt that it would have ended then. But before I left, I checked my email for some reason. I had received an email moments before from Janet at Spellman, confirming their interest and activity. Another 5 minutes later, and the project would have been dead. Knowing God a bit, I have a feeling that there will be a retrospect moment someday down the road where it's realized how critical that moment really was…
Well, anyway, we finished the video and sent it along. I am very proud of the students. And their teachers as well - I mean, I haven't taught them anything formally: whatever they've already learned of English is from their teachers and their own personal experience through media. We were very short on time to get everything done. But we worked well together, my goal was to let them lead, get a feel for what they wanted to do, and be the guide and prompt to keep things moving. Except for some of the editing, we did everything together. Planning where to go, how to get there, what to do on camera, what to say, then what to narrate. I guided and prompted, but looked for their inspirations. The goal was for it to be authentically their introduction. Everyone was happy with it.
Generally speaking, not always but generally speaking, the style of teaching in the culture is more authoritarian and command-obey style. It's carried all the way through to adulthood. Authority figures dominate, yell, and command. Those not in authority obey. And repressed resentments and despair abound, there isn't a sense of freedom (for all the faults you mind in contemporary American culture, be thankful for the continued spirit of freedom that still does survive!) And sometimes the students are looking for that, expecting it. Most of the time, the adults are expecting it, and actually do expect it of each other. And parents expect it from teachers. And if you have skills and capacity, if you have power, there's a temptation to use it. And some do. But that's not my style. And I'm glad the students have had a different experience.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Lk 4:18-19)
The students did a great job. (One young woman, the one narrating, is the president of the whole student body at the high school.) And at the end you'll hear one of the local Christmas carols, as well as bloopers! So here it is:
We got a video from Cardinal Spellman as well, so far they've only done a brief introduction, so I'll wait on showing anything for now… maybe next time!
Physics at the School
I've been helping out with some of the physics labs at the high school as well. We are in the middle of studying electric circuits, so the students are learning about things like resistors and batteries and whatnot. But there really isn't much for lab equipment or planned lab experiments, so I've been working with the teacher to put some things together. We bought some digital meters and wires and breadboards and resistors so that students can get the opportunity to move forward with learning the physics. Without the equipment, the test setups are awkward and time-consuming to put together, as well as unreliable. So the students spend a large amount of time trying to assemble the test setup, and then it half falls apart, and then the measurements are unstable, and all in all, it's very difficult to put any attentions on the real physics you're trying to learn. So now, with some more standard equipment, the students can move more quickly into the learning physics stage, and they'll also be better prepared for college if they go and they'll have had an experience a little more like other students in a developed country or in a more affluent area of Ecuador might have. We haven't gone all out in the quality and quantity of things we've got (what is available in a Radio Shack in Quito is all we can get), and it still needs some more things to put it in a good shape to be handed on for following years.
Other Americans in Puerto Quito
There's a guy out of college from Florida spending two years in the Peace Corps here, Richard. He's been here since August. There is also a group of young people from different cities in the States taking a year before college in a global citizenship year. Richard is a really good hoop player, and we get out onto the court in Puerto Quito to play every now and then. We'll chat from time to time, too - it's good having another person from the States there to talk to, even if he's a lot younger. I haven't yet gotten together with the other "kids" (I can say that being over 40, they could be my children), but I'm hoping to be able to get the Americans together every once in a while for a meal…
The catechesis for first Communion that I was guiding has ended for this year, and it will restart in April. In the down months, a number of us have agreed to continue to meet and talk about having a different type of faith-based meeting. I'm looking forward to it …
Parish Language Group
The language group in the parish has one new member, and we've done some pruning of what we're doing, after haivng learned some things about scheduling and ways to present and cover different topics and themes. We are still in a testing stage it seems to me, and although I have a number of books, there hasn't been the stability in my own situation to open the group up to many more. A part of it has to do with having some more access to US culture, to give some inertia for others to experience as they join. But we'll see as the next few months unfold.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
In one of the villages that I've been visiting regularly for para-liturgies (the proclamation of the Word with Communion), one of the Franciscan sisters and I went on a visit to a number of homes on the feast if Our Lady of Guadalupe. We went to a number of homes offering an ear and a hello, and invitations to the prayer service and availability for whatever we could help with. I also had a number of rosaries and rosary fliers with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on them, so it was a very special time for me. And a time full of gifts.
When we got back to our car, we found a large stock of bananas waiting for us. Bananas here are called guineo (gi-nay'-o). I've come to fall in love with that word, just because the guineos here are so tasty!
We went to visit another home and while Yenny talked with the woman of the house (it's complicated!), I played volleyball with a bunch of the guys. As we were leaving and driving away, we looked over and saw one more house a distance up the road. We decided that instead of leaving, we'd go and visit one more. I remember being struck at how beautiful the property was, and after we dodged the chickens, we were invited into the living room by a woman and her 10-year-old daughter. As we sat and talked, we mentioned why we were there, and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on that day. I noticed that there was a poster of the Virgen de Guadalupe on the wall, and we pointed it out. Well ,wouldn't you know, the daughter's name is Guadalupe - and it was her birthday. So Sr Yenny offered her candy (sweets for the mouth), and I offered the rosaries and the pamphlets (sweets for the soul, we say) with the image of our Lady of Guadalupe on it. The girl was so excited, it was beautiful. I couldn't help thinking after we left, what a gift for this girl, that God sends two missionaries to her house on her birthday, in the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe, her namesake, with gifts to let her know how loved she is. And what a gift it is for me to be a part of it!
Coming up to Christmas here, each village, and the town center, have a novena. This is a nightly gathering for 9 nights prior to Christmas where each village has certain prayers and readings and dynamics they would do together. I helped out in the parish center, where we also had Mass every night, but really nothing much more. I would have liked to have done something a little more dynamic, as is always the case with me! But also in this time, there is a sort of Chris Cringle in the schools and workplaces and other organizations. This is really the main gift-giving aspect of the holidays. You get a gift for the person whose name you drew at work, school, in the parish group, etc. The big event is Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, where people stay up late celebrating and have their gift exchange (if there is one - often there isn't much of one). The next day is pretty ordinary, and by Dec 26, everything is back to normal.
On Christmas Eve, I went to a dinner evening and gift exchange for the faculty at the high school. On Christmas Day, the Franciscan Sisters here invited me over for dinner and some sharing time, and in the eve, I went to eat with one of the teachers from the high school. It was a great Christmas, though I also missed everyone and everything at home. It was hard to get into the season when it's 85 and sunny every afternoon and all the Christmas carols are brand new! (Not to mention I had a tough cold going on, but come to think of it, that would make it actually more like being at home!) But eventually I began to learn some of them, so it was a great experience to share Christmas with the people.
There's a traditional part of the culture here regarding New Year's Eve, it's called Año Viejo, or Old Year. Everyone gathers in their homes for the evening and come midnight, they each burn the large doll that they've placed outside their house. This doll has a mask on it, and a sign around its neck. It's meant to represent someone from the past year that they want to forget and move on from. The sign is usually something sarcastic, and the mask is hand made. These dolls, called monigotes, are made by certain people, it will take them the whole year to make. It's like a side business for some people. (I don't know when you put in your order for the mask, because you have to know how the year went with everyone to pick someone to "burn"!) But I find it a bit passive-aggressive and dark if you ask me. It reminds me of how the Romans put a sign around the neck of the criminals that were going off to be crucified, so everyone knew why they were being crucified - it was a power play. For Jesus, it was "King of the Jews". It's almost like a passive-aggressive crucifixion, and despite the temporary good feeling, I can't imagine that it gives anywhere near the freedom that forgiveness does. If I'm around next year, I have a few ideas of doing the monigote with a different spin on it ….
Well, I didn't catch any of it anyways this year, because I went away for the day before to the community Agnus Dei for a day of recollection. I had planned to come back for new year's eve, but the cab driver on the way advised me against it, saying the transportation was impossible on that day, and Jan 1 was better. So, I stayed overnight, but when I got to the bus terminal the next day, nothing was moving it was so crowded. I spent another night at Agnus Dei, and went home on Jan 2. it was good to stay, though I fought a bat and some cockroaches, and I started to get a return of some traveler's sickness that put me out of commission for several days!
I'm a little disappointed I missed the new year's celebration, but I celebrated with the religious community I was staying with. That included prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament from 11pm to 1am, where the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, was sung. It was a different experience, and at the end, as the book turns from a lot of end-times themes to the turning to new beginnings, I really felt it was a beautiful way to bring in the new year and celebrate the feast of Mary Mother of God. Afterwards, we gathered in the dining area for a little bit for some light refreshments and to celebrate the new year!
An Adult Baptism
A young adult in the parish was baptized the other day. It's always something a little different when a young person - not an infant or little child - is baptized, because it's their own decision. Miguel Angel had asked me to be his godfather, but I politely declined, suggesting that someone local would be better and that I'd do it only if he couldn't find someone after a search. When I first got here, he had begun to come to the church with another young guy for the music ministry, and we got to know each other a little bit. He may have felt a draw to me as a guide in the church I guess, but we never had any discussions about faith or God, and I don't know how long I will be local in Puerto Quito, so I didn't feel comfortable accepting his offer. But he calls me his second godfather, so as long as he's got someone else here local, I'm fine with that!
Meeting of Presbyterate and Religious and Laity of Santo Domingo
On Monday of this week, the bishop and all the priests and deacons and religious and lay ministers in the diocese were invited to the annual gathering, where there was Mass and some cultural dance performance, some short talks, and lunch. It was social and recreational, a good way to meet now and then with everyone else who is in ministry in the whole diocese. I got a chance to chat briefly with the bishop, who was also the bishop at the first Mass at the church built in Chontal. Somehow, our paths continue to be connected!
Well, that's all for now. The new blog is close to being released (lol), but I'm hoping that once it goes, I can update with shorter and more frequent posts. These types of posts are really different from the theme of the Living Monstrance blog, which is more spiritual meditations. For that reason, I didn't want to put up a lot of posts, and decided to make a separate blog for this bridge-building in Ecuador. So, when the blog is done, I'm hoping for some more dynamic interaction!
In the meantime, God bless you, please keep me in prayers, and you'll be in mine,