March – That the ministry of the Comboni Family may strengthen “gender justice”, and especially the protection of women and girls. Lord hear us.
(Third part of the testimony that we send you in three different moments)
The realization of a home a little more dignified
Among the children who started the school support were two little brothers Dibisay and Javier, they lived with their mother in a house that was on the other side of a sewage pipe and was in precarious conditions; a house made of reused zinc, a leaking roof, a dirt floor, a toilet and a zinc tile that served as a bathroom, a baby bathtub that served as a sink and dishwasher, a kitchen in a ravine and a wooden bridge that was about to fall down.
The first time I went to this house I was very sentimental for the conditions in which the children lived, their mother, a housewife, and their father, a master builder who works in Ibagué. One day I talked to Vane and told her about the situation, then we decided to make a video of the house and upload it on social networks so that our family, friends or friends of friends would join the cause of giving these children a more dignified home.
At first we did not imagine the impact the video was going to have and we thought we were going to collect money to make the bathroom, or maybe to change the roof, or to buy a laundry room… But I have always said that my God manifests his love when you do things that do not hurt anyone. In this way we gathered almost 7 million and together with some people who knew about construction in the neighborhood during the whole month of July we were working on the project that we called “Dibi’s house”, we were able to raise foundations, build the entire front facade of the house, change a roof, make a kitchen, make a bathroom, make two rooms (one in material and the other in Zinc), change the bridge to enter the house and the installation of pipes.
This house allowed us to learn the names of the construction materials, to learn how to make cement mixes, to cut wood, to lay the boards of the bridge, to check the quality of the material, to deal with the construction masters. Another work was finished with all the love, with a lot of learning and with a house in better conditions for the children.
Our Neighborhood Enterprise
In the month of September, Father Franco was informed that the Comboni Missionaries were going to send financial aid to families in the neighborhood that were affected by the COVID-19. In a meeting with the mission team, we wanted to convert this money into something sustainable and not something for charity. So we made a call for some people we knew who had no work and we started meeting groups where we shared cooking skills, initially there were 15 people, in each Saturday meeting there were less and less people left. When there was a group of 6 people left (Darilys, Lucero, Mrs. María, Don Cicerón, Don José María and Mrs. Claudia), after analyzing the products made and the demand in the neighborhood, it was decided that from the first Saturday of October we would start selling chicken empanadas, that day 45 empanadas were made and every Saturday we increased the production reaching on November 14 to sell 90 empanadas, in addition to the opening of a point of sale that was entrusted to God. This microenterprise has allowed us to intertwine friendships, trust, laughter and teamwork, in the pursuit of an enterprise with people who want to get ahead.
Gratitude for the Mission
I end this report of my year’s mission by thanking God for all the little people who have supported me in the distance; from Luz Dary for her economic contribution for the Christmas sharing of the children of Bajito de Vaqueria, for the chocolate with bread from the neighbors of the prayer of the block and the Dibi Project, to Diego Montilla and my cousin Edwin Vargas in the first edition of the video that was of great help in the collection of funds for the children’s house and in the edition of the second video of the finished house of the children, to my family for their support, love, understanding and for giving me money for my expenses, to my spiritual family and to my team of Comboni Lay Missionaries of Colombia for giving me money for my rent, food or my cell phone plan. Thank you from the bottom of my heart because without you it would not have been possible to support me emotionally and economically during this year. Thanks to my Marisol and my Vane for being partners in every idea, every walk, every school reinforcement, God rewarded me with their presence. A mission loaded with 90% of laughter, projects, dreams, love and blessings, 5% of tears before those people who are not so good and treated me badly and 5% of fear before the gunshots that were heard blocks away from the house.
Alexandra Garcia, CLM Group Colombia
(Second part of the testimony that we send you in three different moments)
Choir and first communion catechesis:
We started together with Bro. Pontien a choir, and in turn I also committed myself to be a catechist for a group of 17 children who wanted to receive their first communion sacrament, but the momentum lasted two weekends because our country was quarantined by the COVID-19, a little insecure and assuming a reality that we thought was going to be temporary became 7 months where group meetings were allowed with a limited number of people and where holding something virtual was not a possibility because of the conditions in which a significant group of families live in the sector.
Prayer in the Cuadra
In the first weeks of the quarantine, the mission team came up with the idea of organizing some activity that would allow us to be united with the neighbors and strengthen the spiritual area, and we called this new idea the “Prayer on the block”, we called the neighbors and Mr. Robinson, who belonged to a different religion along with his family.
One Thursday in March we began to call neighbors to come out of their homes and we, with Vane, animated the songs with the cununo and the Bombo (a learning process). Each week two neighbors were in charge of the Bible reading and its reflection. In addition, a basket was placed in the center of the block where each neighbor contributed with something from the market to help one of the families that participated in the prayer. This activity generated excitement and gave us peace because we trusted that God was going to protect us from COVID-19.
We spent three months meeting from the doors of our homes so that once a week in the afternoon we would share the gospel and some of the food that arrived in our neighborhood. In this way we got to know our neighbors Karen, Luna, Laura, Yolanda, Don Jose and his family, Don Esau (who lent the extensions and the microphone), Alexandra and her little Juan (who lent the sound), Mrs. Sandra (who allowed us to connect the sound in her house), Mrs. Maria, etc.
Markets Full of Solidarity
In mid-April we received a financial donation to give markets to 35 families affected by COVID-19, AFRO families were selected from the neighborhood, who were nominated by the Afro group led by Father Franco for more than 4 years. This market contained a prayer inside for the families to thank God for the people who had contributed money inside and outside the country for the purchase of these markets. This activity allowed us to meet more families living inside and outside our neighborhood.
Termination of my Contract
My contract was for three months, and when the contract ended there was no possibility that it would be renewed, the situation scares me but thank God those months were paid and with that money I could support myself for two more months. Then came my birthday and I received money from my blood family and my spiritual family (community Señor de los Milagros de Tauramena/ Casanare). In this way I was able to sustain myself until July.
Donation of a printer and school accompaniment.
At the end of April, a relative of Vanesa donated us the money to buy a printer and in this way help some families in the neighborhood with the online education of their children, we contacted teachers of second and third grade of the Buenos Aires Educational Institution, and with a group of five children (Dibisay, Juan Sebastian, Jhovanni, Laura and Javier) started in the apartment a school accompaniment, these children were two of second grade and three of third grade. They came to the apartment in the mornings and afternoons we proposed to work in order to be leveled, by the end of June the goal was achieved and we had a picnic as a prize.
The requirements that these five children met were as follows:
- That their family did not have access to internet data.
- Not to have the help of a person to explain the topics.
- They should always come bathed, with clean clothes and eaten breakfast and/or lunch.
- Comply with the schedule 10 am to 12 pm and 1:30 to 5:00 pm.
- To leave their suitcase with all the supplies at my house so they did not carry their suitcase every day (I made sure we always had all the materials to work with).
- Leaving the space in the apartment where we did our homework clean.
- Not disrespecting each other.
- Behave like smart kids to learn and get good grades.
In addition to this, thanks to the printer, 10 families would pick up printed guides after five in the afternoon, so that the children could work from home. One child came once a week for me to take the evidence of the solved activities and send it to the grade director.
In July, two new girls (Jondarlys and Sharick) joined the school reinforcement program, they were also behind and were in third grade, so I set up a schedule in the morning from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm and in the afternoon I received only three children, because when Laura and Juan Sebastian were leveled, they began to work from home on the two daily guides sent by the teachers. In that month of July, we started a construction of a house and Marisol (Laywoman) supported the school reinforcement from her house. In August I resumed the school support with three new children in the morning schedule (Paula, Shari and Adrian) two of second grade and one of third grade, and in the afternoon we attended all the children of third grade who were up to date with homework, by then there were 5 children, from this month some parents according to their needs made me a contribution of 15 or 20 thousand pesos per week and thus helped me with my expenses.
At the beginning of September, the group expanded, now I had 6 children in the morning (Shari, Jordanys, Gabriela, Nicol, Paula), who belonged to different grades; first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth. Then I had to look for someone to support me and God sent Natalia, a girl from the neighborhood who was 20 years old and had already worked with children. The afternoon group expanded and now there were 6 children (Jhovanni, Adrian, Jondarlys, Luis Ferney, Javier and Victoria). The processes here became more challenging because Jordanys and Shari did not know how to read and we proposed to start the process of teaching reading and writing.
By the end of October, Elvin, a third grader from another institution, joined the program and the challenge was to help him save the year, so by the second week of November this process was completed with two children in the morning and four in the afternoon. Only Jhovanni, 9 years old, was there from the beginning to the end of this experience.
The school support became a process where some children learned to read, write, do reading comprehension, color and work judiciously to meet the daily goals. They were months of laughter, tension, frustration tolerance, field trips (every month we did an integration excursion with the children who were there), a process where you help children not to lose a school year, to do good quality work, they were months of love and details. These children gave meaning to my mission because their witticisms, their personalities, gave meaning to my weeks. God bless each one of them and their families, and keep them safe from harm.
Alexandra Garcia, CLM Group of Colombia
(We open a testimony that we will send in three different moments)
Many times we make decisions inspired by a dream, an impulse, by necessity or because we want to meet ourselves, to define new goals. Thus began my desire to do mission; at the beginning I saw it as a requirement to do mission on the African continent, a continent that has always inspired me the desire to know it since I finished my career as a psychologist.
My mission experience allowed me to meet God in different faces, in different actions, in different details, to meet children, youth, adults, women and to be part of a team, a fraternity, the unity of women of different ages and with different personalities are part of the beautiful moments that this year of mission contains.
Christmas Novenas in Bajito Vaqueria
On December 16, 2019, I met the famous Father Danielle (everyone speaks very well of him) from Tumaco, a charismatic man, loving with his people, proactive, funny, intellectual and respectful, who allowed me to come to his house and gave me the opportunity to know Bajito Vaqueria (an island near the town of Tumaco). There I stayed for eight days with my partner Alejandro in the house of Mrs. Marta, who welcomed us with her son Jorge and her daughter-in-law “Dianita”. I met children, young people, shell fisherwomen and men who are absent during the week because they are out at sea with their boats.
Bajito Vaqueria is an island that welcomes you with a super long cement port, which connects you with the sea and with its beautiful colorful wooden houses, with a chapel in the center, a kindergarten that has around it stairs that allow women to sit around it in the afternoons to play bingo, an educational institution in which its stairs were the perfect space to rehearse the “arruyos” or Christmas carols that were played every night of the novena, a soccer field and next to it an arm of the river that joins with the sea.
This place had something perfect for me, there was almost no phone signal, this gave a lovely touch to my Christmas mission, because it allowed me to disconnect and appreciate the times, the landscape, the conversations with the women who told me about the history of this place, they taught me to prepare some typical dishes and also to extract the product of the shell. In addition, it also allowed us to play with the children and although the stay was short, we carried out several activities such as:
- The assembly of the nativity scene in the church with the help of the children.
- A choir accompanied by recyclable instruments such as bottles and broken buckets, where for the first time in my life I knew the famous “arruyos”.
- Cleaning of the main streets of the village so that baby Jesus would arrive and feel that he was in a clean place, because it was already beautiful!
- Games in the afternoons where we did acrossport, races, bible review, teamwork and water games.
- Sharing a little bit of my llanera culture and doing a choreographed assembly of a Joropo with beautiful dancers from the Pacific.
- Conducting a raffle so that Dianita could go to visit her family in Ecuador that Christmas.
They were eight days that opened the door to my year of mission with the Comboni Missionaries, eight days of laughter, of having the chapel full at night doing the novena, of seeing the children dance in an extraordinary way, eight days where God was making me attached to this decision that I had taken.
Altos de Cazucá- Where Children Let You Know a Little of the Kingdom of God
In January, I arrived at Barrio el Oasis (Municipality of Soacha), this would be the place where I would stay for the rest of the days and months to make a more exciting and constant experience. I started with a week of cleaning at the house of Father Franco who welcomed me for a month and a half, while I got a job that would allow me to pay a rent. I admit that the first weeks were full of not so positive emotions, because my parents questioned my decision to leave aside the studies I have and the lifestyle I was used to, it was not easy (I admit it) to have calls where you hear that your parents are crying and asking God that I rethink my decision. I was also asking my God that they would support me and that their attitude would change.
I was received by a mission team made up of Marisol (a laywoman from the fraternity of Charles de Foucauld), Sister Yolanda (a Juanist Sister), Father Franco (Comboni Missionaries) and Vane (a Comboni Laywoman who would move to live with me in the following months). With them, bonds were woven and they shared with me a little of the realities of the neighborhood. I started my mission with some savings and with the hope of getting a job soon that would allow me to support myself or cover my necessary expenses (rent, food, cell phone plan and medicines).
Thanks to Sister Yolanda I was able to contact Father Julio Castillo of the parish of Santa Maria de Cana and he gave me the opportunity to work, part time since February, earning half the minimum wage (that job was perfect), where I worked as a secretary and sacristan for three months. Having a job helped the idea that Vane and I had of renting an apartment, having our own space and being able to feel comfortable from there, so by the month of March we moved to an apartment one block above Father Franco’s house.
Alexandra Garcia, CLM Group of Colombia
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” (Mt 20:18)
Lent: a Time for Renewing Faith, Hope and Love
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Jesus revealed to his disciples the deepest meaning of his mission when he told them of his passion, death and resurrection, in fulfilment of the Father’s will. He then called the disciples to share in this mission for the salvation of the world.
In our Lenten journey towards Easter, let us remember the One who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). During this season of conversion, let us renew our faith, draw from the “living water” of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God, who makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. At the Easter vigil, we will renew our baptismal promises and experience rebirth as new men and women by the working of the Holy Spirit. This Lenten journey, like the entire pilgrimage of the Christian life, is even now illumined by the light of the resurrection, which inspires the thoughts, attitudes and decisions of the followers of Christ.
Fasting, prayer and almsgiving, as preached by Jesus (cf. Mt 6:1-18), enable and express our conversion. The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.
1. Faith calls us to accept the truth and testify to it before God and all our brothers and sisters.
In this Lenten season, accepting and living the truth revealed in Christ means, first of all, opening our hearts to God’s word, which the Church passes on from generation to generation. This truth is not an abstract concept reserved for a chosen intelligent few. Instead, it is a message that all of us can receive and understand thanks to the wisdom of a heart open to the grandeur of God, who loves us even before we are aware of it. Christ himself is this truth. By taking on our humanity, even to its very limits, he has made himself the way – demanding, yet open to all – that leads to the fullness of life.
Fasting, experienced as a form of self-denial, helps those who undertake it in simplicity of heart to rediscover God’s gift and to recognize that, created in his image and likeness, we find our fulfilment in him. In embracing the experience of poverty, those who fast make themselves poor with the poor and accumulate the treasure of a love both received and shared. In this way, fasting helps us to love God and our neighbour, inasmuch as love, as Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, is a movement outwards that focuses our attention on others and considers them as one with ourselves (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 93).
Lent is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing him to “make his dwelling” among us (cf. Jn 14:23). Fasting involves being freed from all that weighs us down – like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false – in order to open the doors of our hearts to the One who comes to us, poor in all things, yet “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14): the Son of God our Saviour.
2. Hope as “living water” enabling us to continue our journey.
The Samaritan woman at the well, whom Jesus asks for a drink, does not understand what he means when he says that he can offer her “living water” (Jn 4:10). Naturally, she thinks that he is referring to material water, but Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit whom he will give in abundance through the paschal mystery, bestowing a hope that does not disappoint. Jesus had already spoken of this hope when, in telling of his passion and death, he said that he would “be raised on the third day” (Mt 20:19). Jesus was speaking of the future opened up by the Father’s mercy. Hoping with him and because of him means believing that history does not end with our mistakes, our violence and injustice, or the sin that crucifies Love. It means receiving from his open heart the Father’s forgiveness.
In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated (cf. Laudato Si’, 32-33; 43-44). Saint Paul urges us to place our hope in reconciliation: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others. Having received forgiveness ourselves, we can offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain. God’s forgiveness, offered also through our words and actions, enables us to experience an Easter of fraternity.
In Lent, may we be increasingly concerned with “speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn” (Fratelli Tutti, 223). In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be “willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference” (ibid., 224).
Through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence the need to pray (cf. Mt 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love.
To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realization that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is “making all things new” (cf. Rev 21:1-6). It means receiving the hope of Christ, who gave his life on the cross and was raised by God on the third day, and always being “prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Pet 3:15).
3. Love, following in the footsteps of Christ, in concern and compassion for all, is the highest expression of our faith and hope.
Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need. Love is a leap of the heart; it brings us out of ourselves and creates bonds of sharing and communion.
“‘Social love’ makes it possible to advance towards a civilization of love, to which all of us can feel called. With its impulse to universality, love is capable of building a new world. No mere sentiment, it is the best means of discovering effective paths of development for everyone” (Fratelli Tutti, 183).
Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness. Such was the case with the jar of meal and jug of oil of the widow of Zarephath, who offered a cake of bread to the prophet Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:7-16); it was also the case with the loaves blessed, broken and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd (cf. Mk 6:30-44). Such is the case too with our almsgiving, whether small or large, when offered with joy and simplicity.
To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you” (Is 43:1). In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters.
“Only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognized and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society” (Fratelli Tutti, 187).
Dear brothers and sisters, every moment of our lives is a time for believing, hoping and loving. The call to experience Lent as a journey of conversion, prayer and sharing of our goods, helps us – as communities and as individuals – to revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father.
May Mary, Mother of the Saviour, ever faithful at the foot of the cross and in the heart of the Church, sustain us with her loving presence. May the blessing of the risen Lord accompany all of us on our journey towards the light of Easter.
Rome, Saint John Lateran, 11 November 2020, the Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours