Past Ministries

Immigration Retreats in Boston Area

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.

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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.   

Advent & Christmas Novena in Chontal

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:

Getting ready:

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.

The Angel Gabriel (Giovanny) announces to Good News to Mary (Alva) that she will be the mother of Jesus. This is Alva's house, a restaurant her grandmother owns. She is 19 yrs old, and 7 months pregnant with her first child. She volunteered for the role in the Pase del Niño.

The Angel Gabriel (Giovanny) announces to Good News to Mary (Alva) that she will be the mother of Jesus. This is Alva's house, a restaurant her grandmother owns. She is 19 yrs old, and 7 months pregnant with her first child. She volunteered for the role in the Pase del Niño.

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:

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And afterwards we had the Mass and then hot chocolate and navidades (bags of candies)

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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:

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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.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
— John 15:13

Animating the Community in Lawrence

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.

Local Presentations About the Mission

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.

Youth Group in Chontal

On Easter, a new youth group was born from the visit of the youth group from Quito and Sr. Meir. It was actually basically the kids from the English class that formed the new group. A great theme of my time in Ecuador regarding English and language was the theme of water turning into wine, especially from the story of the Wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John. That theme really picked up in my time in Chontal when "Santa" turned water into snow, and shortly afterwards, this English class turned into a youth group.  We do a whole variety of dynamic activities in our meetings, including a spiritual theme, and we use videos, music, dance, and arts and crafts, and more. The kids had already started fundraising by selling jello and watermelons, and we talked together about services we could do for the community. We came up with our own name, Guardian Angels (the patron of Chontal is St. Michael the Arcangel), and theme song, "My God, Give Me A New Heart", which you can hear here.

I had tried to start a youth group for about a month or two before the kids from Quito came, but with no luck. The older kids - high school aged- were not responding, as I didn't have as good rapport with them, having never visited any of the high schools because they are an hour's drive away and I don't know any of the the faculty. But I do know the kids and faculty in the elementary/middle school, and so as it turns out that's what was happening all along!

In 2014, these kids lived through the natural disaster of the mountains collapsing on the village in landslides that destroyed seven homes. Several of the kids' families were directly affected - in fact one family lost their house completely and just escaped alive. These kids also experienced the loss of 4 of their schoolmates - and for some, classmates - to suicide just several months earlier. So, it was such a grace and gift to be a part of! I love the kids!

My last day in Chontal before leaving in May 2016 was spent in a spontaneous pick-up soccer game with the kids of Chontal, a memory I will never forget!  And despite troubles finding another adult to continue, the kids continued to meet throughout the rest of 2016. I'm planning on returning for a visit in late 2016. and introducing them to a youth group from St. Monica/Lucy parishes in Methuen,MA. And the story continues...

Ministry to Don Olmedo's Last Days

Don Olmedo was one of the original founders of the community in the mountain called Chontal Alto. He came down with cancer in his right foot in the beginning of 2015 and moved to Chontal, where a bus route passes, so that he could be closer to a trips to the hospital and medical assistance. He played the guitar, and so I started to visit him with my charango, hoping to learn a few local songs from him, to give him something to do, and to pray with him and bring him communion when no one else could.

I had the idea of bringing young people to him to learn the guitar, but it didn't have time to pan out, as Don Olmed

Don Olmedo's condition worsened quickly in late February. I had the opportunity to accompany him and his family through his last days and then through the wake and funeral and the follow-up weeks. I especially had some private moments with him in his last days of consciousness, it seemed I always left him with a smile.

Don Olmedo died on Easter morning. We had invited a youth group from Quito to come and spend the Easter weekend with youth in Chontal. Several youth from the group came to Don Olmedo's bedside to pray on Easter morning, moments before boarding their bus to return to Quito. it was a beautiful sight, the room filled with people and some inspired young people praying. Right after they left, they boarded the bus, and as the bus pulled away, Don Olmedo took his last breath.

I noticed in my visits that there were no flowers or cards or anything cheery in his room or near his bed. So a few of the kids from the English class made a little poster expressing our support for him and his family. This poster was placed in the wall above his bed, and remained to the end. 

Holy Week Mission Quito - Chontal

In February, I spoke with my friend Sr. Meir about her youth group in Quito and if they had plans for Holy Week. That turned into a visit from this youth group to Chontal, to join up with and inspire the youth from Chontal. It had only been about 5 months since there were 4 suicides in the school at Chontal, and the kids had 3 months of vacation with nothing to do. It turned into a magical experience for everyone, as they held a workshop all day on Saturday leading into the Easter vigil, and afterwards a new youth group was born in Chontal (see photo below).

Organizing it was a huge challenge, because there were almost 25 people in total that came from Quito to this village of about 250. Over 25 families volunteered to invite groups of the kids into their homes for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners over the 2 day stay, it was remarkable and a great sense of unity. Everyone was happy with how it turned out, and the youth from Quito were great!

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Bibles and Bible Study in Chontal

In 2015, while living in Chontal, I was able to get 20 bibles at about $10 each, and then sell them discounted to $2. To follow up, I began a Bible study on the Sundays of Lent to prepare for Holy Week and Easter. I used Powerpoint presentations and we covered different themes chosen by the people. Anywhere from 4 to 20 people came each time, and it was a good introduction to the Bible while providing some cool insights to different stories.

Lenten Retreat for Religious Ed Teachers

In Lent 2016, I organized a retreat for the local religious ed teachers in Chontal. We went to Mindo, which is a well-known tourist area that also has retreat ground belonging to a religious community called Communio Sanctorum.

I incorporated a trip to the butterfly farm at the beginning to prepare for the retreat. We finally arrived a the retreat center at lunchtime Tuesday, and we left late afternoon the next day. A visit like this is rare for the people here, and it stretches their funds, but the parish priest donated a bit of money to support too.

The retreat experience was awesome, and each person had time to share with me - there were some amazing stories! We had fun coming back (we have to catch a few buses), and that turned into an adventure as well. There were some landslides that stopped the last bus route, but we got a truck to take us to the landslide in the rain, and a group of us walked across it in the dark, At the other side, a truck from Chontal picked us up and took us home. When I got back, I was up til midnight hand-washing my clothes and backpack that were covered in mud!

Tragedy Recovery Therapy in Chontal

In October and November of 2015, four students from a local family in the local elementary/middle school in Chontal committed suicide. The faculty and the local people were at a loss at what to do, and although after I arriving in December I had offered to assist them if they wanted to memorialize the students, they were reluctant to react.

In January, another student tried to commit suicide. A teacher came to me at night, and decided she would be open to doing anything. We met the next morning with two other teachers, and the idea for the butterfly memorial was born. The next day, I entered a class, and after doing a bit of English, transitioned the conversation to the recent tragedy. I shared about my own losses, and how I learned that when I memorialize someone who has died, I feel their presence with me. In fact, just like the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, we don't ever leave - we transform. We are still present, just not recognizable.  And the church down the street is a memorial to my mother, and I feel that she is always with me. I offered that we could if they wanted to, make our own butterflies, and describe our friend on one wing, while putting our own personal message to them on the other. I finally finished with a question: would you like to do that? It was a universal and resounding "yes".

The butterfly making spread from classroom to classroom as all the teachers one by one wanted it for their own. These memorials filled the walls in the classes of the deceased students, and a big weight was lifted from the school atmosphere.

Short-Term Mission Support for Family Missions Company

In May 2015, I helped out the Family Missions Company missionaries receive a short-term mission group from Louisiana. I had been in contact with missionaries Ryan and Jason with FMC for a while about making a visit to get to know their community a bit, and it worked out for me to come and help out in the mission. This mission was located in Puerto Misahuallí, which is located in the Oriente on the Napo River. I joined in with the missionaries Ryan, Jason, Candice, and James to receive the students (along with their guides) who had just graduated from high school.  My own experience with the culture and language allowed me to fit right in and be helpful, and it was easy to get to know the local people and the missionaries. It was a really special time, and we all bonded in a special way with each other and the local people. I hope to go back someday...

The experience also gave me some new ideas and solidified some of my own ideas on the hosting that I would like to do as Barriers To Bridges. 

First Communion for Santa Cecilia

In 2013, I visited the community Santa Cecilia each week along with one of the Franciscan sisters. Santa Cecilia is one of the satellite villages in Puerto Quito, and they received a visit from the local priest about once every several months. No one was available to visit the people there when the local priest asked me if I wanted to go. I invited Sr. Josefina to come along, and she continued for another year after I had to leave. By the end of the two years, 15 children received their first communion, in the first "first communion" experience of the village. For me, I also saw that the whole process was the children's - and the villages - first experience of communion in grace amongst each other.

The first time we went, we used the readings from the Mass to have a celebration of the Word. We had about 2 or three young mothers, plus some small children, gathered on a bamboo bench just outside of the local one-room schoolhouse. A dog lay nearby, and a large pig trotted by as we began. One young woman read the first reading while breastfeeding. And I remember that that was the first time that I ever preached, as a large number of small birds arrived to listen!  Well, from there we were able to use the schoolhouse for a bit, and then had to move to neighbor's house, as the group of children grew as well. We used material supplies that we could get in Puerto Quito plus our own creativity to give the people what I like to think of as the best activities of all the Sunday experiences in the Puerto Quito area! And above and beyond all, an experience of heart-felt communion. Check out the video:

Living in Puerto Quito

I spent one year living in Puerto Quito, from Feb 2013 to Feb 2014, and was blessed to live in the parish house and come to know the community and their way of life. There are so many memories and continued relationships!

In January 2015, I returned to live for a month, alongside the Bazurto family, who became good friends. The Bazurtos were a family of 15 - including several young women with physical disabilities - living in a small wooden house. (Some have since moved out, and the matriarch of the family has found work.) I spent a lot of time playing with the kids, as well assisting the family with their poverty needs: food, furniture, and eyeglasses for the kids!

Enjoy the house party:

Bosque de Oro Comes to Life

In 2013, I regularly visited one of the satellite villages in the area of Puerto Quito, called Bosque de Oro, or "Forest of Gold". With two of the Franciscan sisters, we went almost every Sunday to this community that had a Mass maybe once a month. There, we organized a celebration of the Word with Communion. I had the opportunity to preach there each week, but also to join with the sisters in developing the event. We prepared people to announce the Scripture, to form a choir, and take our own place at leading the services. We taught the rosary after the service as well, so that people could get comfortable and pray on their own at home if they wanted. In the meantime, we had also visited a few sick people after the service to bring communion or to pray with them. The attendance at the service and the sense of community grew until I had to leave, but return visits are always special!

Animating a Project for the Disabled

In 2013, I was able to spend a few days a week accompanying people with disabilities in Puerto Quito in a project called Amigos del Arca. Working together with the leaders and workers, we organized an all-day event every Friday that included a dynamic spiritual service, a lunch, and many social activities for the community of people with disabilities and their families. It all integrated spiritual and social dimensions in a way that made everyone look forward to every Friday. You could see the whole spirit of the community came to life!