Hello! It's been a while, so here's a "monthly" update for the record! As you may have noticed from a last post, there was a natural disaster in Chontal while I was there for Mother's Day. I'll include more on that at the end of the post. First, I'd like to share on some of the things that happened in Boston before coming back.
I was able to make a visit to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy for an afternoon, and catch up with a few friends there. It was Easter week, so everyone was preparing for Divine Mercy Sunday. You can see the preparations that were being made for the weekend, including the giant Divine Mercy image. "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink." (Jn 7:37)
I was also able to stop by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, to ask for prayers and Divine Mercy literature. They gave me a bunch of stuff, all of which I couldn't take because of the luggage limits.
While I was at home, I often made it out on Saturdays to the homeless ministry downtown. This one time, a bunch of youth from parishes on the North Shore visited and helped out:
I'm a member of the Men's Faith Works Group that meets at St Anthony Shrine in Boston, led up by Bob Giers and Fr Jim Czerkawski OFM. It's great to be a part of the group, and they always welcome me back when I come back to Boston. Great guys. They put together a package with a bunch of devotionals including rosaries and Divine Mercy images and scapulars. I couldn't take all of these either, and had to leave the scapulars behind for now. We got a picture of some of the guys in the last meeting I could make:
I was playing basketball weekly with the monks at St Benedict's Abbey for a while. I've been playing basketball with them for about 10 years now (amazing to think about as I reflect on it). This time, though, my right pinky finger got hit hard by someone, and right away I knew something was really wrong. I looked at my pinky, and the first half was pointing to Attatash and the second half toward Algonquet. Even though it didn't hurt, I ended up going to the hospital, and the doctor took x-rays: dislocation. That was great news! He popped it back in place, no problem. Here are a few pics, one of my hand, and another of the x-ray (I asked for a copy). It's still swollen and not supposed to recover for about 6 months I guess. But I use it here in introducing myself to the kids …
I was able to make it to a bunch of friends' homes to make chocolate with the chocolate from the farm from Amigos del Arca. There was a lot of trial and error - with probably more error - but it was enjoyed whenever it could be unstuck from whatever container it ended up in.
There was a big rush in my last two weeks to meet up with a lot of people before leaving. I actually counted it up afterwards: about 32 people/families/groups I made it to. No wonder I was tired getting into Ecuador!
Here's the gist of my arriving in Ecuador this time. Enjoy:
I arrived by plane in Quito on May 6. Now, the new airport in Quito is about an hour outside of the city center, so I got my bags and bought a ticket for a bus to get to the old airport. When I finally got to the old airport, I got a room in a hotel across the street.
The next day I got a 20-minute cab ride to the bus terminal in Quito, and then I caught a 2-hr bus trip to the city of Santo Domingo. Darwin, who manages the property in the parish I was going to, came and picked me up at the terminal to go to the parish. On the way, we stopped at his house, and I met his family, his wife and two sons, his nieces and nephews. Later on, he drove me to the parish and I was able to drop my stuff off.
Well, the very next morning, he gave me a ride back to the bus terminal, as I headed out to another province, to visit Chontal where I go every time I come to Ecuador. That’s where are the first people I got to know here in Ecuador, and where the church is built in memory of my mother. So, I took a 3 and a half hour bus ride to a town called Nanegalito, where I ate lunch, and then caught an hour and a half bus ride to Chontal. I got out and walked across the street to the family who has a hotel where I usually stay. They took me in and fed me and got me a room.
So, while there that day, I was able to meet with people and families, and also with the parish priest. He liked my idea of coming back every few months for a parish mission. He also gladly received the chasuble gift from my friend’s family for the church.
Well, that night, it just so happened that the community experienced the greatest crisis in its history, as the torrential rains brought down the mountains on every side. Houses were destroyed. The roads in and out of the village were covered with landslides. Water and electricity were cut off, as we used candles and rain water. People were scared, running, crying, working. And helping each other and praying. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But the mayor came, emergency response teams. It made the national news it was so bad.
But in the evacuation plan, I was able to leave. One of the soldiers and a few of the government workers helped us out. After walking about 20 minutes over and through landslide muds, we got to some vehicles. I got in the back cab of a pickup truck with 5 other young adults from Quito who had been visiting. As we took off for the town of Nanegalito, the skies were darkening. It was about 4:15, just about that time that the rains begin…
So finally I got out of the back cab of the truck in Nanegalito, drenched to the bone and cold. Someone pointed me to a bathroom where I changed into dry clothes. Then I went back to the bus stop, and waited. Then I asked someone about the buses, “Any going to Santo Domingo?” Apparently the road had just opened after a landslide had closed off that road as well. I was in luck. After about 45 minutes, a bus came – destination: Puerto Quito.
So I get on the bus for a 2 and a half hour bus ride to Puerto Quito, with the plan that I’ll know someone there I can stay with. (I didn’t mention that my cell phone had fallen out of my pocket way back at the beginning of this trip to Chontal, in my friend’s car?) I get off at the center and make the short walk to the house of the Franciscan sisters. The gate is locked, that’s something new. So I call out a few times into the night … until finally a light turns on …
I stayed a little over a day and then took another bus for an hour and a half to reach Santo Domingo. There, Darwin’s brother picked me up on a dirtbike, and we rode about 20 minutes to Darwin’s house. I put on some boots and spent much of the day accompanying Darwin walking through his farm, crossing rivers and passing through banana fields, checking on the long hose chain that brings water to his house.
After that, he drove me about 20 minutes to the parish house, where I took a quick shower, and then we went off about 30 minutes to visit a village where we were received for a celebration of the Word of God, and where I got to do a little preaching. We got back a little later at night.
That is the beginning of this year in mission.
Here is the video I made to help raise funds for the people of Chontal. It briefly tells the story of what happened:
This is a very difficult time for the whole village. Please consider supporting the people there through this gofundme page, I would be very grateful, and I will match 10% of your donation. Please share with others too! .....
My friend Joe Lennon helped me to find a place to stay while I was home in Boston. I ended up staying in an apartment at his sister's house. Joe had me over one evening, and he gave me the vestments that were given to his family at the wake of his mother. I had felt bad that I was in Ecuador and couldn't make the services for his Mom. But he gave me the chasuble and stole to bring to Ecuador.
I brought them down and gave them to the church in Chontal that is dedicated to my mother's memory. The vestments will stay there, and in a way be a symbol of our mothers being together. I got a photo of Padre Marcelo and María Belen, with the chasuble. Thanks to the Lennons! I hope it continues to be a remembrance of both of our mothers and our friendships.
I'm finally getting settled into Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Julio Moreno Espinosa, outside of Santo Domingo. Padre David lives here of course, and a seminarian also spends weekends here, too. The church is attached to a school, all having been built through an Italian missionary some years back. The school is run by laity, but a group of 3 religious sisters moved in about 3 months ago to integrate into the school life and the parish life. We are starting to form a sense of community among the 6 (and more) of us, so please keep un in prayer!
My role here is a lay missionary, and as a pastoral assistant. That means I do a lot of things a priest would do, except celebrate the sacraments. Visiting the villages, facilitating and organizing the pastoral planning, celebrations of the Word of God when priests are unavailable, preaching, visiting homes and the sick, catechesis, etc. It is like St Paul wrote:
"For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." (1 Cor 1:17)
St Paul was my patron saint for my Confirmation…
I visited with the bishop and he gave me his blessing, which was a blessing for me (yeah, I had to say that). I'm looking forward to it, working together as a team, especially as I am still in the process of learning the language, though that is continuing to improve.
There are about 8 villages to visit. The people are very humble and it's a joy to be with them, to begin to get to know them. One man, Pedro, in a village called Cold Stream, was standing by and I noticed his hat. It said, "Boston" on it. I think we're going to be friends ….
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Is 61:1-3)
Although Santo Domingo is a flat city, where we are is tend toward mountains. The villages are all rural mountain locations, and the landscape is breathtaking:
Pd David and I were arriving at one village the other day and it turns out the bridge was out, though you wouldn't know it until you almost had already crossed it. What we heard was that the river was dammed up further upstream, and when that burst through, a large torrent of water overtook the whole bridge and the area around it, taking out a lot of the support soil. It happened at night, due to the heavy rains. You can see from the pictures what a torrent of water it must have been!
We finished on foot and passed by a new friend:
What can happen here is that it rains higher up in the mountains. Then, the rivers start to rise - they can rise quickly - down at the lower levels. So, even though it isn't raining at a bridge, the waters can overflood the bridge and make it impassable. You can see a view here, although this time it wasn't too much to pass through:
There is a movement of the Divine Mercy here in Santo Domingo, spurred on by a property developer who has had a conversion and a new devotion to the Divine Mercy. He's using a lot of his resources in this direction now, and is building a lot of things, like this Divine Mercy center:
Pd David was asked to be the spiritual director of the movement. Part of my coming down was a response to the need for a connection to the authentic devotion in the rest of the world, especially through the Marians. The one problem - and a real one at that - is that this movement so far is isolated from the rest of the world in the devotion. They have no contact here in Ecuador with the Marians of the Immaculate Conception of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. These are, respectively, the congregation entrusted by St John Paul II with the official promotion of the devotion, and the community of St Faustina herself. This is where I come in! I'm looking at a role to be a bridge for the new manifestation of the Divine Mercy movement here in Santo Domingo and Ecuador, to encounter and being relationship with the MIC and possibly the SOLM. I'm hoping to be able to get a group of the significant folks in the movement with Pd David to attend with me a World Mercy conference in Bogotá, Colombia in August. A delegation from the MIC in the States will be present, and it could be a great opportunity to start bridge building. Please keep this in prayer!
I was present at a 3-year-old's birthday party the other night. I was with Pd David in Santo Domingo, after a big Mass for the movement called "John XXIII". With a few friends, we went out to get a bite to eat afterwards. We finally found a tiny corner eatery, open air, that sold pretty much just fried empanadas. We took a seat in the old warped benches at a dingy table and each got a $1.50 empanada and a tea. While we were talking and catching up, a little family of four squeezed into the small table next to us, sort of crammed into the corner. A few moments later I turned and saw a 3-year-old girl with a plate in front of her.
Her birthday cake? One empanada.
The candles? Three wooden matchsticks.
The smiles and joy? Priceless.
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. (Lk 6:20)
Until the next time! ¡Hasta mañana!