I’m accompanying the youth group JUAP (jovenes unidos para el amor del prójimo) in Most Holy Redeemer parish in East Boston, enjoying their hospitality and learning from them and sharing some spiritual wisdom along the way! The members are immigrants and youth of immigrants, largely from El Salvador.
In April 2018, I and some friends initiated the first immigration retreat. I had been accompanying the Hispanic community at St. Anthony Shrine for several years until last year, and we had taken steps to organize the retreat before it ran out of support. But friends from the Shrine decided that we would do the retreat together in a small group format, which I think is the best way to do it. Accompaniment and sharing in the community life was the baseline for ministry. It opens the door for extending this retreat experience to other immigrants after an accompaniment period in a type of mission, as a grassroots, bottom-up retreat.
The retreat itself was supported equally financially by the participants, though I did most of the organizing, ideation, and procurement. It is a participatory retreat with a balance of listening, vulnerable sharing, teammwork, and personal arts and crafts. About 4 to 5 hours, the retreat environment allows Latino immigrants to identify, remember, unpack and recount their migration experience in the intimacy of small community of other immigrants. Afterwards, and each person can memorialize their story in a personal way by decorating a candle-holder/lantern that can be taken home and continually reused as a memorial of their migration experience and God's hand in it.
The retreat is placed in the context of the mystery of God's salvation as experienced by the Israelites' crossing the Red Sea. Retreatants are guided in relating their experience to that of the People of God, and a safe, trusting environment is established with sacred symbols, songs, interactive activities, and media.
Everyone who participated reported having a fantastic experience that had changed them to some degree and had changed our relationships. We all had a desire to continue with more meetings and workshops and activities that fed us spiritually and socially and communally. We have meetings planned to do this.
During a week's stay in Nuestra Señora del Carmen parish in Mocache, Ecuador, in January 2018, I provided pastoral and technical support during a crunch time in sacrament season.
- Offering reflections to adult and youth groups
- re-creating the ceremony guides / momentos for the First Communion and Confirmations that were coming up. Using Word and coordinating with local print-shops.
- Transferring the parish calendar into Google Calendar using the parish's current Google account, and teaching the pastor how to use and get the most out of the calendar and cloud capabilities with his smartphone.
In December 2017, I had the opportunity to guide the community in the Advent season and the Christmas novena, which culminates in La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). The life of the community rejuvenated during that stretch, and it was a special time for everyone involved. Many remarked that it was the best Christmas they had experienced to date - for me it was a fruit of many years of listening to and trying to follow God's voice, and of visiting and accompanying the people.
The youth, setting up the manger scene in the church, on December 8:
Preparations for an evening of Our Lady of Guadalupe for adults, December 12:
Each night of the Novena has its own theme, its own host, and the catechists rotated as the guides:
La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve)
The last night of the Novena, the Pase del Niño, the Procession of the Posadas, the Presentation of Christmas Carols, Mass, and hot chocolate and Christmas gifts
Some of the youth inviting, and decorating the church for the Nochebuena:
The procession from the church:
Arriving at the house for the Novena. The young woman playing Mary in blue is pregnant, and this is her house, where the first scene of the annunciation of the angel Gabriel is acted out.
After the novena, a procession through the neighborhood, including the Posadas: organized, sung visits to 3 houses on the way in the name of the rejection of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay.
Finally, we return to the church where the holy family gathers inside the porch. The annunciation and visitation of the shepherds is re-enacted. Then, the wise men make loop following a large, hand-star, after which they dialogue with Herod and finally reach the manger scene to leave their gifts.
Right afterwards, we moved upstairs inside the parish house for the Christmas Carol presentation, where there were 8 performances.
Some people dropped off non-perishable gifts for the new social outreach ministry:
And afterwards we had the Mass and then hot chocolate and navidades (bags of candies)
The next day, on Christmas, Ines and I went around handing out the leftover bread, and started to take down the decorations for the Pase del Niño. The leftover branches and wooden posts somehow popped up in way that left a sign for the mission:
You might notice that this is the only photo I appear in. I'm glad. The guiding and teaching and preaching comes from serving from the bottom up, from behind to the front. The people here are the center, and that I don't appear in the photos much, for me, that is the sign of the cross.
Since 2014, I've been assisting with education in English and Computational Technology for children and youth. These have taken the form of parish English classes, assisting English teachers in school classrooms, private computer lessons, English homework tutoring, and remedial math tutoring. The emphasis is on the human and relationship-building dimension of these in both the way they are taught and the direction toward which they are aimed.
Coupled with, and as a fruit of, sharing life in Chontal, a variety of pastoral ministries naturally arise as seasons ebb and flow, that are at the core of the mission of turning barriers to bridges as brothers and sisters from the USA to Ecuador. These include:
- Facilitating and preaching Celebrations of the Word
- Spiritual accompaniment, personal and communal.
- Visiting seniors, remote homes, and the poorest.
- Facilitating the development of new groups and local movements, providing initial support and guidance and impulse, empowering sustainable local vision, leadership, community.
- Facilitating new service-oriented projects and bridge-building.
- Teaching and forming others for church ministries, including catechists, lectors, altar servers
- Initiating and facilitating special faith-based celebrations, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, New Year's, local patrons, etc.
- Formation in tools for advancement: language and technology. An emphasis on service to the human person and relationships.
- Sharing of simple written materials, media, that are relevant to the local way of life and particular seasons. These include sharing my own book Luz en las Tinieblas, distributing foundational devotional literature, as well as showing of movies with quality themes.
In December 2017, I initiated a fundraiser to raise money to buy Christmas bags of candies for the children in Chontal on Christmas Eve. We raised more money than anticipated, and the extra money was used to become seed money for a new social outreach ministry for those in need in the parish to which Chontal belongs. Below are the updates included along the way, also included at the link here. Many thanks to everyone who offered the gifts - I hope this new project grows legs and continues!
I've finally had some space with good internet to post the final update on the fundraiser. it went very well, and there's only a bit more to add since the last update after Christmas.
As noted before, we raised $325, and the spending at that time was
- $200 - navidades for the kids of Chontal
- $25 - navidades for prizes for the Christmas Carol presentation, plus supplies for the youth to decorate the church
We donated another $12.50 to the cost for the hot chocolate and bread after Christmas Mass.
That left $87.50 for seed money for the spiritual/social outreach program for those in most need. Doing something communally for people most in need was something I was looking for, to make part of the Christmas novena. Then I found out that the priest was interested in starting an outreach program, so one night a few of us hatched the idea of asking the community for non-perishable donations as part of the Christmas Eve Mass. We prepared leaflets and went door-to-door. We received a few donations, which are waiting to be distributed once the new ministry starts to organize and form:
I gave the seed money to Fr. Marcelo, and we met with 2 people in Chontal to start the ball rolling. It will take some time and a bit of resources. (Very often there are no resources for these things, and what may seem to us to be the simplest first steps stall out because of that. That initial money should be able to "grease the skids" so to speak, eliminate those first obstacles for the program to advance.)
The plan was, starting with Chontal, to join together certain people of faith who are interested in and/or have experience with spiritual and/or social outreach, and form a group ministry. Three people who have experience are willing to form and be a part of it. What I particularly like is that the priest is interested in coordinating both the spiritual and material: one of the woman is very good at visiting and praying with seniors (she has taken up the Divine Mercy devotion full-time), I like her approach to it; while another young woman has a great deal of social experience with seniors; I accompanied her into the mountains visiting seniors a few years ago, she is excellent with the social dimension. The goal is to be a parish program (Chontal is one of 13 communities in the parish), including people from other communities. At first, the focus is to organize and take a first step with the goods that were donated during the Christmas Mass... There is another dimension that is helpful, in that the neighboring parish, Garcia Moreno, has a very developed program that is similar. The reason is that, until 6 years ago, Chontal's parish, Los Manduriacus, was a part of Garcia Moreno. So its structures are just beginning, but it has a form of a model in Garcia Moreno.
So, there is the backing from the priest and me, the desire and capability of several people, an example in the neighboring parish, and some financing. It has potential.
So, thank you again for donating! This will be the last update that I post to the fundraiser. If I have any more news on the new outreach ministry, I will post it on the website here: www.barriers2bridges.org
Have a wonderful year, stay in touch and drop a note anytime, and check out the website where you can sign up at any time for automatic updates.
We raised $325, after fees. Thanks for so much generosity!
The first $200 went to buy 200 Navidades, which were delivered already made several days before Christmas:
We handed out over half on Christmas Eve at the Mass, as it was delayed for over an hour (Mass began at 11pm, after the evening began at 6:30pm with the novena). The next day, Christmas Day, which is a low-key day here unlike in the States, I went and delivered more to others in the village, including some to the folks who had spent a lot of volunteer time during advent and coming up to Christmas. There are still a lot more to give away, and so the plan is to bring them to some of the kids up higher in the mountain who would not have received anything on Christmas - Chontal Alto and Magdalena Alto.
Of the remaining $125, we spent $25 on more smaller Navidades for prizes in the Christmas Caroling presentation (a number of families got up to sing carols and received a bag of goodies), plus supplies for the youth to decorate the church:
One of the families singing Christmas carols in the presentation before Mass. Each family who sang got a bag of goodies thanks to your donations. We had a packed house over 100 people!
The youth were working with Veronica, a talented mother who does a lot with arts and crafts, to prepare decorations for the church. It turned out great!
The balance of $100 is currently being worked on. Part of it covered bread and hot chocolate for after the Mass. Christmas bread and hot chocolate is traditionally served after Christmas Mass at the church in Ecuador. Part of it was funded by collections taken each night in the novena, but the accounting isn't done.
What remains afterwards will be contributed to support the new social works project that the priest is initiating. In a conversation with Veronica, who previously worked for the local government in service to remote seniors in the parish area, we decided to start a donation effort for non-perishable foods and personal care items for seniors. Some people brought their donations for the Christmas Mass. My idea was to take whatever money we have leftover and let it be "seed money" for that project, to get it going. Money is needed to travel and reach seniors, to start fundraisers, etc. I will let you know how that accounting works out financially hopefully before I leave Chontal after the New Year.
As you can see, I try to get good value from every donation you make, so that as many people as possible get a sense of being valued.
I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and thanks for being a part of making this Christmas - as some have told me afterwards - one of the best that Chontal has ever had!
Kids and adults alike in poorer rural places here like Chontal typically get one of these bags of candies & cookies - "Navidades" - from local institutions, like the public school or the local governments. It is a Christmas tradition throughout the country, that has lasted for many years. And for many families, those are the only gifts that they will pass hands for Christmas.
The church here rarely has resources to provide Navidades, and this year especially. I'm looking for people who want to be a part of providing these simple, inexpensive gifts to the local people at the end of the Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve.
$200 should cover about 150 Navidades. (If expenses come in under $200, I'll use the extra money for other aspects of the Christmas celebrations.) A few of us will drive an hour and a half (each way!) to go and buy the candies, cookies, and bags. After we get back, a group of us will take about 3 or 4 hours to put the bags together to be ready to be handed out on Christmas Eve. It's something I did in collaboration last year in San Isidro, on the coast.
I'd love to have you involved, and thank you for considering being a "star" and shining a light for all us here!
A new social outreach ministry is being formed in the parish San José de los Manduriacos, which is the parish in which Chontal is located. The aim is to integrate folks who have or have the intention of reaching out to those in the local communities who have the greatest needs: spiritual, emotional, material. As an initial participator and strong supporter, I aim to continue as a participator and supporter.
In Lawrence, MA, there is a sizable indigenous Ecuadorian community from the two small adjacent communities of Alao and San Antonio de Alao, in the County of Riobamba, in Chimborazo. We've been discussing for a while how I might make a connection with their villages back home when I go back to Ecuador. Here we were meeting during the novena that the community has been holding in preparation for Christmas, and we are taking steps to do a project that would bring Christmas gifts to the children and seniors of their villages back home, including a special day celebration when I go.
As there is widespread poverty in Alao, children - or anyone - there don't typically receive Christmas gifts, and seniors don't have retirement funds to cushion their later years. Please pray for this effort, I just think it would be a wonderful experience for everyone involved, as the community has never come together like this to do something to this scale for their families back in Riobamba!
As update, come and check out the summary of my visit in early January 2017! What a special time, and a great success for the people!
In the Christmas season and the New Year of 2016/17, I shared in the ministry to the people of San Isidro, including leading and participating in celebrations of the Word, funerals, visiting communities and the youth and children, as well as families and people with disabilities.
Sr. Meir Montiel of my friends the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph asked if there was any way we could get gifts for a number of children with disabilities who she works with in Quito. We were able to put together enough to be able to buy therapeutic gifts for 9 children, including a baby carriage for one, and another 25 small gifts for other children. The people are grateful as you can see from the pictures below.
Sr. Meir noted at the beginning of the meeting that the gifts were donated by generous people from Boston. Hopefully one say they can come and visit!
***UPDATE: Our goal of $275 has been reached, and then some: $457! A great big thanks from me and Sr. Meir and everyone at Fe y Alegría! We're now able to also get a small Christmas gift for the other 25 children in the program, so thanks so much for your generosity and being a part of lifting the kids up. These children have a whole array of disabilities that include Cerebral Palsy, epilepsy, Down's Syndrome, paraplegia, among others. But as I like to say, they have "Dios"abilities! ... And you would always be invited to come some day and meet them, so they can lift you up, too ... I will have an update soon.
Join with me in helping Fe y Alegría (Faith and Joy) in Quito, Ecuador to give badly needed therapeutic Christmas gifts to 9 kids with disabilities in their inclusion program. With your gift, you join hands with their families and the staff in their daily care of lifting up some very special children!
Sr. Meir Montiel of the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph is a good friend who works with children with disabilities at Fe y Alegría in Quito, Ecuador. This organization works to advance integrated education that includes students who normally are marginalized or left out, including children with disabilities. The kids that Sr. Meir works with have a range of disabilities, especially cerebral palsy and epilepsy and different degrees of physical paralysis. There's a great need for therapeutic tools, and this Christmas is an opportunity to be a part of the love and care that these children are receiving for their development.
In 2014, for the first time, I received a donation to buy a Santa outfit and arrived in Chontal to visit the children in the school. When I asked a girl in the village beforehand if Santa was coming this year, this looked down and said, "Santa never comes here." It was the first ever visit from Santa, and gave the children an experiences of being valued like other children. I also bring fake powdered snow that turns into snow with water, and that's a favorite with the adults as well! Each visit comes with a spiritual message that is relevant to the year that the people have had.
I returned in 2015 again, and this time encountered a school suffering the effects of 4 suicides in the previous 2 months. With the snow and the Santa outfit, I was able to honor the memory and the continued presence of the children lost, and joy sprouted for a day.
In 2016, I visited a gathering of about 40 children in Quito who were receiving gifts from a donor:
And on Christmas day in 2016, I came as Santa to the children of San Isidro for the very first time, in the first Christmas since the earthquake of April. We made 150 caramelos for Santa to give out, along with a whole bunch of snow to make.
After sharing a presentation on Barriers To Bridges and its history with several members of the hispanic community at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, several wanted to participate by making hand-made crafts for the kids in Chontal. After several trips shopping and buying supplies, we set to making almost 200 bracelets by hand for me to bring at Christmas time. They include colorful plastic beads and Marian medals for the girls, and wooded beads and crosses for the boys. On the last day, Fr. Carlos Suarez happened to be present for the Mass and he helped by blessing the bracelets.
Not only was it a good experience for everyone chipping in and forming community together, but we all learned how to make bracelets by hand. An activity like this - scaled down a bit - could be a part of a great spiritual workshop someday.
On December 9, I arrived at the school in Chontal to give out the bracelets, and later on the kids from the youth group met and I gave them the earrings and other bracelets for the boys. The kids were really happy with their Christmas presents!
After the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador in April 2016, I was able to be a lead in organizing two relief trips to one of the most affected areas. Joining with many generous friends and the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph, the parishes of St. Mary of the Assumption, Milford, MA, St. Monica and Lucy's parishes of Methuen, MA, and the Archdiocese of Portoviejo, we were able to bring over $10,000 worth of food and goods to the people of San Isidro, who had already had been living a challenging life affected by poverty.
Check out the presentations below to find out more.
St Mary of the Assumption, MIlford, has since given another $3K, and I'm continuing to facilitate bridges for more funding. A local parish with an Ecuadorian has over $10K of funding that is likely to go there, and through that parish, there is the possibility of a much larger follow-on project.
I went to San Isidro in December to live there until the new year, doing pastoral ministry and projects and facilitating bridges.
At St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, I've been accompanying the Hispanic community in the Masses as a Eucharistic Minister and Lector, as well as sharing some of my mission with the people. Lately, I've been playing my charango in the choir for the Mass, and that has helped me prepare to be able to play in Ecuador when I go.
At the end of July, the Ecuadorian community at St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Lawrence, MA had just begun their novena to the Virgin of Cisne, one of the primary Marian devotions in Ecuador. Instead of 9 straight nights, they chose to celebrate nine straight Saturday nights, because of work conflicts. When I arrived, there were a few people in a chapel and we awkwardly moved through a few prayers and a Gospel reading, and then wrapped up. Afterwards, we all met in the back of the church.
I came to find out that there were disagreements among the organizers, that we were already in the third week of the novena, and they were considering canceling the whole thing and only having a Mass on the feast day, nothing else. I started suggesting other ideas for the novena nights, and we began to resurrect the idea of going to different peoples' houses, having dynamic activities and music, an engaged reflection, and also movies and other activities. The people's spirit picked up, and we started doing just that. My first night, I showed my presentation of my visit to their home village in Alao, Riobamba, kept things light and engaged, and everyone had a good experience. I also brought my charango to play some songs, and we played some games and I shared videos I took of their family while I had been in Ecuador. From there, each week we covered a different theme, with different activities that were engaging, including a movie on the Virgin of Cisne made in Ecuador, and the crowd grew and continued to come. Finally, the planning for the fiesta was coming together and people were getting along - the miscommunications had ended.
On the fiesta, I invited a few of my friends to come, and they were given the royal treatment by the organizers - everyone had a great time, and the classic Ecuadorian party was in full swing, though it ended at a reasonable hour without much alcohol. I was gifted with an team jersey of the Ecuadorian national soccer team, which will obviously make everyone back in Ecuador jealous when I go. The whole month and a half was really was a coming back to life of the novena and fiesta, when it was basically left for dead!
Currently, there is another novena for the Child Jesus to lead up to Christmas, and I am participating a bit as I prepare to leave for Ecuador.
In October, I finally had printed a shortened version in Spanish of Flowers In Winter, a collection of meditations from my blog A Living Monstrance that I self-published on Lulu.com in 2010. This shortened version, Luz en las Tinieblas, or Light in the Darkness, contains 20 of the 150 reflections from the original, translated into Spanish by a good friend. It was a long process of over a year, with selecting reflections, having them translated, formatting, getting the publishing process moving, etc. - all slowed down because of all of the other activities going on! But it is done. Click on the image below to find it on Lulu.com. I hoping to distribute it among Spanish speakers, so please feel free to pass the word!
I continue to share locally here in Boston about this mission, and am always open to new ideas for others' participation and for bridge-forming between families, groups, communities, and institutions such as parishes, schools, and others (seniors, children, people with disabilities, etc.)
If you're interested in hearing more, I'd love to hear from you - come on over to the contact page.
As part of the relief effort for the victims of the earthquake in April 2016, a friend, Fr. Dario, organized assistance in his parish St. Mary of the Assumption in Milford, MA. There is a sizable community of indigenous Ecuadorians there from the sierran province of Cañar. At the follow-up presentation in the parish in June, a member of the organization Welcoming Milford was in attendance and wanted to explore furthering the relationship between Milford and the people of Ecuador. Through a few meetings and offering my own experience and perspective, Welcoming Milford was able to resolve initial plans for beginning a sister-like twinning relationship between Milford and the local home community of the immigrants from Cañar.
For a month in 2015 I lived next door to my friends the Bazurto family, a household of 13 (several of whom have severe physical disabilities) in a tiny wooden house in Puerto Quito. One day, the grandmother of the house Rosa approached me and asked me for $10 for food. The next day, I brought them a roasted chicken, and was invited to eat with them - the whole household would have had only rice to eat that night.
Over the days, I continued to bring them food and other household items like lightbulbs, mosquito nets, etc. Basically, if I got it for myself, I got it for them too. The kids needed eyeglasses, and I got some funding and brought them to the city to get eye exams and new glasses. Other funding was dedicated to more food support. And in 2016 after the earthquake drove them out of their home, we funded the updating of the house's support posts, which badly needed reinforcements.
Here is a presentation on the recent hose reinforcement, and enjoy the house party below!
I had a housewarming party in the new cement house I was staying in next door. I had a number of guests, and the Bazurtos were a little shy with other people around. But after everyone left and it got late, they brought their own music and had a dance party!