An Acceptable Year


Hello, it's been a while, I've been trying to get some time to post, and things have been busy as the school year came up. But here's what's been going on … First, a great Ecuador story. The other evening, I got home to the parish house here and was talking with a few people outside, when Padre Martin and David the Deacon showed up. We ended up walking up the stairs together, and we turned on the lights, each of us started to get settled, and I went into the kitchen to get a drink. I went to go and pick up a glass, and I happened to turn my head to the left and saw this:


This chicken had somehow climbed the stairs and gotten into the house, and found it's way into the kitchen, hopped up onto the counter top, and finally found its resting place on top of the microwave. The funnier thing is that it didn't even flinch when I went to take a picture or when David picked it up. It was making itself at home. It goes to show that everyone is welcome to make themselves at home in this house!


The school has a uniform for the teachers, at least for Monday, so I had to go and get a dress shirt and pants with exactly the same material. I got the shirt sized and set up (there aren't department stores locally, you go to a tailor and find the material and they make it custom), but they didn't have the pants materials in Puerto Quito. The next task was to go to Santo Domingo, the large city about 2 hours away by bus. But then I heard that they didn't have the material there either. So, one of the other teachers said they knew a place in Quito, where you can actually buy the pants made (like in a department store). That's about a 3.5 bus ride away.

So I called him up, and he said, why don't we meet at the school tomorrow at 10 and I can give you more information. OK, I said. I was planning on leaving really early, like 6am, because of the time, but I thought, hey, I'll still have enough time, and this man wouldn't invite me to meet too late, knowing what I was doing and having lived here all his life.

So I met with him and he gave me a little map of downtown Quito with several locations to check. I set out.

I get on the bus, and I get into an aisle seat near the back. A few seconds after I sit down, all of a sudden, I hear "Cock-a-doodle-do!!!!!!" coming from the guy right across the aisle from me, on the aisle seat. He's got a rooster. Not a single person flinches, no one bats an eye…

I get to Quito and a man approaches me, asking if I need a cab. OK. He leads me over to a car. A black car that looks like your aunt's. I say, I'm not interested in this, I'd like a different taxi. He gets all upset, and I get into a cab with another guy, who knows him, I guess. So I take this taxi to the first location in my Quest for the Chosen Trousers (using the words that Pds Martin and Finbarr use for pants) for $15. It takes about 2 and a half minutes to determine that they don't have it. At that point, I'm very hungry and I stop into a restaurant for lunch. After that, I got another taxi to another location. Busy traffic, by now it's almost 3:30pm. I finally get to this tailor shop, which happens to be smack dab in the historic Colonial District. Good news: beautiful church of San Francisco and La Compania. Bad news: tough to get out of - and no pants.

At that point, I'm all done with this pants thing, so I call the head teacher: can I just get something similar, these pants are nowhere to be found. OK, so I get something similar, they tailor the length, and at about 5pm, I have my trousers. I go into the church at San Francisco, and I got this great peace, and then a Mass started up. So I went to Mass. Afterwards, I went over to the backside of La Compania, where they have a photo of the teachers and students who witnessed the miracle of La Dolorosa. This is the image that was above my mother's bed for all my life, and always a sure sign down here for me of my Mom's presence.


Inside the chapel in the back was adoration, so I stayed only for about 5 minutes because I had to get back: still waiting was a trolley ride, a bus ride, then a long greyhound-like bus ride back to Puerto Quito.

So I bumble around getting directions to this trolley, and it costs - amazingly - only 25 cents. I'm on this trolley for about 45 minutes, basically going from the city center to the north side. I get off the trolley, by then I am in contact with David and Pd Martin. I'm about to make the changeover to the bus that will take me to the "greyhound" terminal, when another bus pulls away and hits a few roofs at the bus stop, causing some colateral damage and some nrevous reactions. The bus just drove away of course… So I get onto the bus that's going to take me to the greyhound terminal, and after about another half hour I get there. By then, I've discovered that Pd Martin doesn't think there's a bus that late that leaves for Puerto Quito. I'm thinking, there *must* be, it's only 7:30pm. I run up to the counter. Next bus: tomorrow morning at 5am.

So at that point, I'm beginning to eye up that hostel across the street. (No, this isn't the first time that I've been at that bus station possibly stranded, something similar happened my first time in Ecuador 3 years ago, and I eyed up that hostel then.) But then I got a call from Pd Finbarr. As it turns out, he was in Quito, not that far away, at Pd Paddy's. They would come and pick me up. But first I had to take a cab to the large mall shopping center.

So I get into the cab, and we head off, and then the guy can't find the Toyota sign where I'm supposed to meet. He pulls over and asks someone, we pull a U-turn, and finally find it, $5 later. I get out, and right there, I see Pd Finbarr. Pd Paddy has dropped him off, and is driving around to the loop to pick us both up.

Pd Finbarr wants to make an easy connection when Paddy comes back, with all the traffic, so he points over to another spot to stand, across the lanes of traffic. We make a run for it through the traffic and safely land on the other side of the road. But then, Paddy is coming down the original way, and catching sight, we nimbly reverse our plan and head back the same way across all the traffic, back to the original spot. We hop in, and we're off.

About 20 minutes later, we're at the parish house. We spend an hour or two enjoying Pd Paddy's hospitality, then head off to bed. The next day, we recoup some large equipment for bread making into the back of Pd Finbarr's truck, and head back to Puerto Quito. We got back at about 12:30pm.

$75 and a day and half later. I ask you, have you ever heard of such valuable trousers?...

The movie The Hobbit has a great line by Gandolf the Wizard, who invites Biblo Baggins to come and join the mission. The exchange goes like this: "You'll have a tale or two to tell when you come back." "Can you promise that I will come back?" "No. And if you do, you will not be the same." ….


We've started up the language group down here on Saturdays. So far there's three, but a lot more have expressed interest for another time. We'll see … But the books I have are liked a lot, it is a book I found in Borders in Boston, a good one for Latinos to learn English. So we've started, and I'm hoping to continue to grow and build a cultural bridge. This first time around will be a test, something to learn from, so something bigger can hopefully be offered. I'm discovering that, despite many years of schooling in English, the people here are at the very beginner level in English. What happens is that whatever is learned is quickly forgotten, because the language study is done outside of culture. Without a culture to live in, language dies. So my hope is that if more people from the North gradually become involved, a cultural bridge can grow where whatever is learned of English and English-speaking culture can stick….


The first day of school came, it was a great day, of course I was a little nervous to go in front of a big group of kids when I don't speak the language all that well. Here is a picture of me in my teacher's uniform, with those magic trousers:


Here are a few pictures of the school and the classroom. There's a Divine Mercy image on the wall, a devotion that is close to my heart …


On the first day, there was a large number of new students in my class, the sophomore grade. I was thinking of about 40 or so, but there turned out to be 67. So, we had to move the class to a ort of auditorium - not a good place to put 67 kids! Anyway, it was already decided to split the class into two for physics, and now it seemed like it needed to happen for English too. So, what was originally an 8-hr a week in-class commitment, had now become an 18-hr a week in-class commitment. It was too much, with all the other things going.

So, the search went out for another science teacher, and just yesterday another teacher was hired who will do the physics class. The English class also, since it is so large, was divided and then transferred to one of the English teachers. (They seem to have enough English teachers at two.) But not only did that large class size cause a lot of changes, but also the government had some say in who was qualified to teach in classes as "Professores" and who wasn't. The bottom line was a big shakeup in class assignments. In the end, I have 6 hours a week teaching religion now! To the large group of sophomores, and to the juniors too. We'll see how that goes, and I'm sure that will be a regular update … But the "mission" remains the same, to just live with the people, discover loving them, sharing who I am, coming to know who they are. God has prepared me, and He will do great things with that - for all of us!

The most challenging aspect for me is to manage the class, in another language. That is tough. And listening to the kids - it's hard when you can't understand a question, a real challenge - you really feel inadequate. But good things are happening …


We had a convivencia meeting for the school teachers, which is a day-long spiritual retreat. It was really, really great. It brought everyone together in prayer and sharing, I thought it was a great, great day.

We were in groups at one point, and one of the questions that we were asked to answer was, what is a friend? In my group, I suggested we each take a personal experience where someone was a friend to us, and describe it. One of the teachers said, basically, that no one has ever been a friend to him, and that he really has no friends. I don't know if he was really serious or not (but of course he really was), but he didn't share anything in that exercise.

Later on, in the Mass, I remembered him at the time of peace. We were in a large space, and I was diagonally on the opposite side of the room from him. I saw him as I was moving around - He was alone outside of all the hugging and hand-shaking and kissing going on. I walked all the way over and with a smile shook his hand.

On the ride home, a couple of the other teachers told me that he's a self-professed atheist.

He's also the head of the English department, and the one who had a strong influence in removing me from teaching English.

"But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you... and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Lk 6:27,35,36)


I'm hoping to develop some things at the school, one being an English club. There are no clubs or groups at the school like you might have at a high school in the States. So an English club would invite students who really wanted to learn more and do some cultural stuff too - and hopefully be of service to the school. The hope is that these students can become tutors to other students in English.

I'm hoping in that context to invite some Latino friends from the States to participate in making a short video, to give the people here examples of Latinoamericanos who have learned English as a second language. I'm also hoping to make connections with a high school and a well-known university in the Boston area, for sustained relationships ...

What becomes more and more obvious to me, what becomes more and more confirmed to me, in being down here, is the need for a real, sustained relationship between the people at home in the States and the people here. The people here have a real need for Americans to reach out to them, because they can't reach out to us. The cost to go to America is huge. The people here on average make about $5000 a year. So some save up money, even up to $30,000, in order to hand it over to people in the underground system that takes people through Mexico to the States. There is an oppression here from the gap-like separation between the States and here, that only we in the States can relieve, because we are in the position of power in the matter. Latin America is like the poor Lazarus who sits on the door step of the rich United States. (Lk 16:19-31) In fact, wild dogs - all skin and bones - roam the streets here in Puerto Quito, scavangers always on the hunt for food. I have no doubt that if a man were lying on the ground with exposed sores, the dogs would lick them. In fact, in another sense, they constantly are licking the sores of Ecuador.

Lazarus can't change his situation - God gave the rich man his riches for the express purpose of sharing them with Lazarus. We are interdependent. We Americans are slow to notice who is on our doorstep, like the rich man was in the parable. But the good things we have are meant to be for others, too. If we don't share, well, we only have to notice that the name of the poor man Lazarus is known forever, but the name of the rich man is lost forever…

Yet the people here try to do it themselves without help from the US. They are tired of waiting for us, and I can't blame them, though I see it as another sad dead end. I see it in the education system, in the attempt to do things, where they really should be getting help from developed countries. There is a lot of control and micro-management, of overplanning and formalization of things, all signs that a people (or a person) is trying to do too much itself, outside of the realm of trust and relationship.

In an English book, I saw a paragraph that described what Ecuadorians ought to do. Each must work hard and do their drudging part. If we each do that, Ecuador will someday be big and rich, will have schools and business and hospitals, and will have peace. No creative imagination, no idea of collaboration and self-acceptable. Just a miserable, nationalistic drive to be big and rich like the rich man who never notices us. It sounds to me like national socialism, or naziism. It's not far off.

But then the next paragraph in the English book describes how Americans use far too much water. So the big and rich man is wasteful. But someday, we'll be wasteful too - is that the goal? It's a sad and confusing situation to be in when you're poor and the rich don't help. Can you blame them? Maybe these are the type of thoughts that Lazarus had when the dogs were licking his sores for food, the thoughts of someone who needs the help of another, but never receives it.


I look to share everything I am and I have with the people here. I was looking to have my video projector mailed down. But that wasn't going to work out. Then I was thinking even of buying one, but that wasn't working out either. Then, I found out that Pd Finbarr has one, and he offered it to me to use. And I needed one a few nights before I get a hold of that one, and David across the hall happened to have one on load. When He wants something done, God provides …


I was playing soccer with some of the teachers and friends and hurt my foot. I don’t think I'm cut out for soccer. But some of the students here like basketball, so I'll try both.

Since Easter I've lost about 20 pounds. The constant heat takes energy and sweat out of me, and lowers my appetite. (Puerto Quito is one of the hotter locations in Ecuador.) I was up to about 185 right after Easter, after being so well fed at all the homes we stayed at. Now, I'm down to about 165, and not in great shape. But that's my goal weight, and I hope to pick back up with the exercise once the foot is feeling better this week. I'm glad to be at this weight and not the 185, and now I'm ready to put some muscle back on. Starting with the pushups and situps again. If the body cooperates, that is...


I have been visiting one of the villages, Santa Cecilia, with one of the Franciscan sisters here, for what is something like a Mass, but it's a celebration of the Word, without the Eucharist. It's a small village that is mostly off people's radar screen, and doesn't receive much attention for ministry. One person in ministry said it's an awful place, and that he didn't want to go there. Many of the people haven't received the sacraments yet, though some have been baptized. I give a little homily each time too, I think the people really like it. The first time we went, after I gave my little homily, we noticed that a bunch of birds had gathered. We laughed, thinking of the time that St Francis preached to the birds! Especially because Francis's preaching to the birds was the first thing he did after he got confirmation from his friends to preach rather than live a cloistered life in solitude.

A week ago, we arrived to the little school were we have the service, and the doors were locked because the teacher who comes by on some Saturdays wasn't there that day. Here's a couple of videos of our approach to the village "center" where the school and bathrooms and teacher's office is (this is the type of "center" of many of the little villages, a school locates it).

So, since we couldn't get into the school, we set up some wooden beams outside under a little roof area to sit around. There, following us into the area, was a large pig roaming free, and then a dog came and eventually sat with us. We celebrated it like a Mass without the Eucharist, with me leading like the priest, the sister leading the music and whatnot. The people volunteer to do the readings, as we all sit around. The second reading was done by a young woman while she was breast-feeding (in full exposure, as is common here) her infant. And I brought my rosary pamphlets, and we prayed a decade of the rosary together. The people said they were very happy that someone taught them this.

I knew something was really special about what was happening, but it didn't strike me until later. Afterwards, all I could think of was the nativity, the first Christmas. Here we are in a makeshift shelter, a tiny, neglected place, sitting on makeshift pieces of wood as benches, with the animals and the dirt, a woman breast feeding her infant, and the Word made Flesh is becoming visible.

Yesterday we visited again, and this time we were able to get into the school. I gave another little homily, and they seemed to like it. (If you read my blog, you'll have a sense of the homily.) We prayed a mystery of the rosary together again using the pamphlet guides, this time the Ascension. They really seem to like it. Here is a photo of everyone that we took afterwards:


I've also been visiting another village Bosque de Oro with another Franciscan sister. In this one, we also bring the Eucharist and the rosary pamphlets. I give a "homily" here too, the people I think really look forward to it, especially the young men it seems. The sister finishes with parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and distributes Communion. There were about 30 people today, even with all the Mother's Day drinking celebrations that go on, including several young men. At the end, I said, anyone who wants to join us after the celebration, we are going to the back of the chapel to teach the rosary and pray a mystery. If you are interested, stay after the service. When we finished, no one moved. I said, is *everyone* interested?? Yes. So we didn't go to the back of the chapel, we just continued. Not a single person left, kids, adults. I explained a little of the rosary - and learned that the word for bead is "pepita" which I told them I loved and that I'd be saying all night - and we prayed a decade together.

I am very happy and thankful to be with the people here in this, it is like a dream, like an alternative reality. Many times I sense that their lives are so different from what I have lived. Yet, in another way, in faith, we reach something that is deeper and more common.


I've also been assisting on Saturday mornings with the catechesis program. I sit in with the meeting for guides, or guias, for first Communion preparation. There are guides for the children, and guides for their parents, too. This meeting is for the guides for the parents. Anyway, on this day, there was talk of the first lesson, where the kids learn to make the sign of the Cross. There are all kinds of problems with kids getting confused with this, it's difficult to learn, etc, etc…... But I'm sitting there and sifting through the Spanish and thinking to myself, that is not true, and I am a witness to it. I have been in the classes for the children in the basement chapel in the Italian Home for Children in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and I have seen with my own eyes Sr Margaret Yennock teach children *in one try* how to make the sign of the Cross, and *every* child do it perfectly. Without exception! The secret?

She uses her opposite hand!

See, the kids are copying like a mirror. Adults might not do that, but little kids do. If you use your right hand to teach them the sign of the Cross, they get confused right away, because they start to use their *left* hand, like in a mirror. Then you correct them, and they're thinking in their little kid minds, "I'm just copying you like you said, and now you're saying I'm doing something wrong, now I'm all confused!" You lose their trust from day one.

So I shared this with the group, and you could see the light go on. Thank you Sr. Margaret!

One of the gifts of teaching or parenting or shepherding is that the ones entrusted to you will be your mirrors. They will mirror you, and reveal a lot about you. Whether or not we accept it depends on whether or not we're willing to look in the mirror ...


I also spend time on Fridays at the center for therapy for the disabled. There's a little prayer service with music where everyone gets to participate. It's beautiful, and afterwards we play games and sports. It's a great day with everyone together. And we are planning on doing some more activity on Facebook and doing some fundraising activities soon ...

There is a girl from one of the villages who goes, who has one leg, and a prosthetic. She doesn't speak much. But I also noticed her mother, who accompanies her, doesn't speak much either. She seemed a little standoffish and confused when I spoke to her (hold the woman jokes, please). But I came to find out that she is mostly deaf.


Despite all the good things I mention here, I am constantly at a loss for words as I learn a new language. I am constantly fumbling about. Many times I can't participate in conversations, and I worry about how I will teach in the classes. There are many times that I starve for conversation in English, and especially for expressing myself more deeply. Sometimes I don't want to hear any more Spanish. Many days I long for the variety of the food in the States, and can't even look at rice. The heat makes me tired a lot, I look for just one cool day that never comes! But, I keep on going...

It makes me think: I am planning on a year down here. What type of year? A year bringing good news to the people, that they are loved and not alone and important to God and the Church and Jesus - and me. Releasing some of the oppression, some of the slavery. A different type of year, for me, and hopefully for the people here.

An acceptable year.

"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)

Until the next time, blessings!