I'm finishing up this latest (somewhat) monthly update from Boston. So you might notice a change in perspective and location. And climate? ******************
Rainy season has begun again in Ecuador. That means that more or less every day at about 4 or 5 o'clock, it begins to rain, and it goes pretty steadily until the next morning. It comes down pretty heavy, and it cools things off too. Sometimes there is some heavy lightning, and sometimes we lose power. But most of the time, the internet connection is lost. So it's a bit tough to keep connected to the virtual world. Couple that with the lack of a smartphone with direct internet access, and that means that I can't post to facebook (or especially twitter, not that I've gone down that path) too much when I'm in Ecuador, and I've got to put together longer thoughts - thus the blog!
We had a physics lab earlier in the month, and one of the students was connecting electrical resistances up with a battery. He almost burned himself, "Yaaa!" I heard. In coming up with this lab, we had accidentally made one of the resistances too low, so that it basically short circuited the battery. So, we told everyone to back off of that test and change things up, but just as I was beginning to explain it in my broken Spanish, I looked down at the table where one of the groups were sitting, and their electrical resistor was beginning to ignite on fire, with sparks and smoke. They got it out of the circuit, and were left with a completely black blob on a wire. You've never really done science until you've blown something up. That day, they became scientists … The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it. (Psalm 111) ………………..
Since I last wrote, this new blog was launched, and it was a long time coming. With the limits of free blogging, it is hard to put the content from both blogs into one and let people choose which one and how to follow it. It made it so I had to make two different blogs, one for the reflections and another for the mission to Ecuador. But each one is linked to the other with a listing of latest posts, so you're not far away from one when you're at the other, or other one, uh, either way … what????? You get the point …
I was able to visit Padre David in the parish where he is serving outside of Santo Domingo, a city not too far from Puerto Quito. Julio Moreno Espinoza has a center and about 7 villages around it that Padre David visits each week. We got a chance to catch up, visit some of the villages for Mass, pray together, and go out to see The Hobbit on his day off. It was good to be able to renew the friendship. Like Puerto Quito, being in nature as it is, it's a beautiful experience, and the people I hope to get to know more at some point down the road.
Speaking of nature, we were on the road into the recinto Santa Cecilia one day and we saw two toucans. They were up in the trees so we couldn't get too close, but you could clearly see them. They are amazingly beautiful birds, with the big beak but also a bright red tuft under their tail that you can see when they fly (away!). That was a nice gift, it always makes me feel like I'm on another planet when I get to see an exotic animal like that in the wild.
Some of the Franciscan sisters and I visited Mindo again for a day off (a true day, off - I know you're reading this!) We took a long walk along one of the roads and although we didn't meet any donkeys, we did encounter a horse, two ostriches, some tropical birds (what seemed like a parrot in the wild), and some cows to meet and greet. All along a beautiful, fresh-water river. The experience of nature here is always renewing for me! It's like a garden of eden experience.
So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. (Gen 2:19-20)
At the farm for the Amigos del Arca, there have been several piglets from the mother pig that was there. Originally there were 12 pigs, but nine died because of a disease in the mother. Three were salvaged, one of which had since died since making this video here. The poor little piglets are sooo hungry - they can't feed off their mother so they are fed by hand (bottle) every couple of hours. But they are the cutest little guys:
There was also a big snapping turtle that was found at the edge of the farm, near a river:
One of the couples from the catechesis group that we had in the parish in Puerto Quito has gotten married. Where we are, there are not a lot of sacraments because of the remoteness of people and limited number of priests. So, many people do not receive communion at Mass in the main church, and in the recintos (villages), many people do not either, especially because they have a Mass just once a month. Without a sacramental life, a lot of the understanding of what the Church is, is absent. On the other hand, a good, inspired person can make a big difference. But one of the consequences is that there is not a lot of marriage, as you would understand it in the US. And that's either civil or sacramental. Often, couples are living together and they consider themselves "committed", or "married". It's a very complex issue that, I've found out, can only really be understood by sharing life with the people, experiencing the culture and mindset, the pressures and tensions and whatnot. But, then, it was nice to hear that one of the couples in the group have gotten married. Miguel was always very active in the group, with a lot of grace happening in him. At first, Mercedes was distant, but in the last half of the year she began very sweet. Their children are the cutest. We'll be staying in touch through facebook:
The High School Santiago Apóstol
At the high school, a few of the students wanted to complete some of the themes that we had originally planned for the video for Cardinal Spellman HS. So they went off with my phone one Saturday to the farm of one of the students to get some video of the farm life. We brought it in, edited it, and added some narration. We also changed the ending, adding some credits and a couple more bloopers, and we sent it off to Spellman to view. The students all enjoyed it, I'm very proud of them, and it's been a nice group. We are still in contact right now through a facebook group that we use… Right now we are in the middle of having elections for the group so that there is student leadership. We'll see how it turns out. It happens to coincide with the elections time for Puerto Quito. … I am also hoping to visit Cardinal Spellman in my time back here, so let's see what happens there as well …
The students at Cardinal Spellman also made a video for us as well, presenting the school and some of their favorite activities, in and out of school:
Amigos del Arca
In the last months at the Friday celebrations that we've had at the project Amigos del Arca, we were very creative in putting together dynamic times of prayer and sharing, with a lot of participation by many different people. We would draw our inspiration from the scripture in the liturgical calendar, as well as the book by Jean Vanier, "From Brokenness to Community," which was our goal! As you can see from the pictures, each dynamic gathering usually involved some crafts around a biblical theme with particular pieces related to real life that people could relate to and select and make their own. Together with all the different pieces, we would assemble something or do a specific dynamic with a relevant spiritual meaning for our communion as Amigos del Arca, as family and friends of people with disabilities. This always was a special time for me, with my own sister having been disabled. It was a special time of connection and communion with these wonderful people!
What was beautiful was that each of the dynamics was unique and special, each was put together in the waning hours of a Thursday night or a Friday morning, between Sr Josefina and me collaborating on inspirations together, along with Rosa the therapist and her sister Nelly. I always really enjoyed it, and felt it was a real, inspired experience of the Gospel for everyone who participated. I've got some pictures of a variety of the arrangements we used in the chapel here. I've also got a description of one in a little more detail:
I described in an earlier post the monigotes that are made and then burned on New Year's Eve. These are stuffed, life-sized dolls in effigy of someone, with a mask to boot. It can be a family member or political figure - anyone that you want to "roast". And you put a sign around the neck indicating the reason for choosing - and burning - them. It's usually in good fun, but it's really a sort of passive aggressive way to get back at things. Instead of doing something directly back at a person, you do it in effigy. Well, we decided to work with that in a different theme, one of forgiveness instead of revenge.
When people were crucified in ancient Rome, the sign nailed to the cross indicated the reason for the crucifixion. The crucified took the justice for whatever offense he had done in full public view. And in the case of Jesus, He was taking the brunt of everyone's offenses. Jesus was like the monigote for everyone. And the LORD has laid upon him the sins of us all. (Is 53:6) And He forgave it all.
That brought up the idea of the scapegoat. In the Old Covenant, once every year, a priest in Jerusalem would undergo a ceremony for the forgiveness of the sins of the Israelites. It's a detailed ceremony, but part of it includes the bringing of two goats into the temple. One will be slaughtered in sacrifice, and its blood sprinkled on the "mercy seat" in the temple. The other? The priest confessed the sins of the Israelites and ceremoniously placed them all on the other goat. That goat was led out into the wilderness, far enough away until it would be never seen again. That goat is what we call the scapegoat. It bore all the sins of Israel, and was gone forever.
Now, Christ fulfills *both* goats. He's the sacrifice, and He's the one who takes the sins and is "gone forever". For our little dynamic, we put the focus on the scapegoat. It became an opportunity to connect the monigote with Christ through the scapegoat. So, we made a monigote in the form of a goat.
We made a whole bunch of slips of paper with names of offenses that people can do to each other. And then each person had the chance to go and select those slips of paper that were most personal to them, that had the offenses that they felt had been done to them by others in this past year, and place them on the scapegoat. Then, we took the little scapegoat outside and burned it. That was our monigote for the Amigos del Arca. It carried all the offenses done during the year and it was burned. The goat - and the offenses - are gone forever …. It made a beautiful, direct connection between a lifelong cultural practice and the saving cross of Jesus….
And I put together a simple video from the videos and pictures I had of the year. It's really meant for those directly involved, but I'll share it here also with you:
In Santa Cecilia
And, my time in the recintos has come to an end as well, at least for now. This is where I first began to preach in Spanish, when we had a few people along with pigs and dogs and birds. The kids and their families are all very important to me, and this video was a little summary of the year of the pictures that I had. I gave them a DVD copy of the video as well, and we shared some sweets in my final time with them. At the very end you'll see a game we played for our Christmas celebration, basically like a wonderball type of game, except the wonderball was a plastic bottle filled with some candies.
The words of the song and the title of the video is "You are the light of the world." (Mt 5:14) These people have been a light for me in my time here. And I do believe that they are a light for the world. They are probably the poorest recinto in all of Puerto Quito, a village that nobody really wanted to go to I do miss them…
I had a variety of despedidas, or send-offs, from different people and groups of people. It's a sad time, as well as a time to express friendships and feelings for each other. I'm very grateful for how the people here have received me, with their patience with me and generosity and kindness, their "acogimiento". I'm very happy to have made all the new friends, and hope that they continue. Where I'll end up when I come back, I don't know!
Again, I am very grateful for the year together! Nos vemos pronto!
Back in Boston
Since arriving in Boston, I've spent the first two weeks getting settled in. I'm staying in an apartment owned by a friend in West Roxbury. It's a perfect place, an in-law apartment with just what I need for now - I'm very grateful! I think of the words of Christ to the disciples that He sends out: "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me." (Mt 10:40) And of course, there's the weather….
I've rejoined with a local men's faith group and have begun to have the chance to share more about the mission with them. I've also started with a spanish-english interchange group at a library in Jamaica Plain, and I've also been able to share some chocolate making with some families so far. I share the video that we made in the high school, because it gives a sense of what the place is like, what I've been doing there, and it also shows cacao plants and how they contain the cocoa bean inside. So, in the next month or two, I'm hoping to have more opportunities to share the chocolate, share the sweets from Ecuador, and invite others into sharing the mission…. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps 119:103)
When I got back, a Colombian friend who I was in the seminary with, Padre Dario Acevedom, invited me to come to his parish in Milford, because there is an Ecuadorian community there. I had the opportunity to share in the Sunday Spanish Mass and to share a few words with the people about what I was doing in Ecuador. They were very generous to me and to their fellow Ecuadorians. I didn't know that there were any significant Ecuadorian communities in Massachusetts, but apparently there are a few. I hope to make it by again sometime soon.
Of course, I'll keep posting updates here as it goes along. Until the next time, chao!