Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Helping the poor in Central America brings me closer to God

By Ana Garcia
Office of Small Faith Communities

It has been over two months since I left Guatemala and it feels like only yesterday that I was sitting on a colorful bus, filled with over 100 people (and some chickens and pigs) traveling for over five hours heading to my next mission… all while having the biggest smile on my face! Those six months were truly an adventure. I experienced and saw things that I know will stay with me forever and that I now realize have changed me. This experience not only showed me the meaning of hospitality, service and humility but it also gave me a sense of pride for my culture, country and people.

The gift of hospitality was shown to me by 83 wonderful women that have dedicated their lives to the people of Guatemala and to God. From day one of my mission, the Sisters of the Eucharist welcomed me with open arms and opened hearts. They shared their homes, their food, which sometimes was barely enough for them, and their ministry with me. They became my family and we shared so many special moments of laughter, prayer and sadness. The sisters have eight missions throughout Guatemala, some near and some far from the capital of Guatemala City; they gave me the opportunity to visit five of them. I was asked to spend one month at each mission, which allowed me to serve in many different ways.

In Santiago, Atlitlan I was able to visit the sick, help build homes in underdeveloped villages and take food to hungry children. In Xejuyup, Nahuala, I worked in a co-ed boarding school for underprivileged and orphaned high school students where I helped them in their studies… mostly with their English homework but was also there to give them advice and listen when they wanted to talk to someone.  In Joyabaj I joined the sisters in catechizing adults and children of the nearby villages, where our classroom was literally an open field because we needed a big enough space to be able to teach up to 80 children at a time. I will never forget their smiling faces and their joyful spirits as I shared with them about our Catholic faith.

In San Andres Semetabaj, at the mother house, I learned to live in community, grow in prayer and have a higher appreciation and admiration for all women in religious life. I grew very close to some of the sisters as they opened up their hearts to me and shared their life stories. It was so amazing how I was able to create such a close relationship with them in such a short period of time but every time I had to go to the next mission it was always difficult to say goodbye to all the new friends I had made. And last but not least, in San Jose Ayampuc, I spent my last days taking care of 16 abandoned elderly women, where I was responsible of bathing them, brushing their hair and preparing all meals for them, and in one case we even prepared one of the women for her burial. All of the women were over the age of 75, most of them on medication, and all had been abandoned by their family members.  Never- the-less, everyday they awoke with a smile, always ready to play some bingo, sing and dance. My time with them was the most memorable because they gave me the gift of hope. Being able to be witness to their sense of humor and loving smiles was the perfect way to end my time in Guatemala.

No matter where I was, how difficult the situation was or what new task I was asked to do, I knew that it was right where I was supposed to be and that God was by my side. I saw his face in all the people I met through their smiles, their gratitude and their love. Before I left for my mission trip I didn’t know what to expect but now that I am back and I can look back at everything I accomplished and experienced in Guatemala, I can truly say that it was more than I could have ever imagined. I have returned home feeling like a renewed person with a new sense of what’s really important in life, a peace in my heart and a faith-filled spirit!  

Ayudando a los pobres de Centro América ayuda a acercarse a Dios

Por Ana Garcia
Oficina de Pequeñas Comunidades de Fe

Ha pasado más de dos meses desde que regrese de Guatemala y se siente como que si fuera ayer que anduve viajando en una camioneta de multi - colores, con más de 100 personas abordo, (junto con gallinas y cerdos), en un viaje de más de 5 horas dirigiéndome hacia la próxima misión …. y teniendo una gran sonrisa sobre mi rostro! Esos seis meses de mi vida realmente fueron una gran aventura. Viví y vi cosas que sé que se quedarán conmigo para siempre y ahora me he dado cuenta que me han cambiado la vida.  Esta experiencia no solo me demostró el significado de la hospitalidad, el servicio y la humildad pero también me dio un orgullo más grande por mi cultura, país y ancestros.   

Nunca he sentido el don de la hospitalidad como la que me demostraron las 83 mujeres maravillosas que han dedicado sus vidas a Dios y al pueblo de Guatemala. Desde el primer día de mi misión, las Hermanas de la Eucaristía me dieron la bienvenida con corazones y brazos abiertos.  Compartieron sus hogares, sus alimentos, que a veces ni era suficiente para ellas mismas, y su ministerio conmigo. Ellas se convirtieron en mi familia y compartimos muchos momentos de alegría, oración y tristeza. Las hermanas tienen 8 misiones a través de Guatemala, algunas cerca de la capital, la cual es la Cuidad de Guatemala y algunas muy lejos; ellas me dieron la oportunidad de visitar 5 de las misiones, las cuales me dieron la oportunidad de servir de muchas maneras diferentes. 

En Santiago, Atlitlan pude visitar a los enfermos, ayudar construir hogares en áreas no desarrolladas y llevar alimentos a niños desamparados. En Xejuyup, Nahuala, trabaje en un internado para jóvenes y señoritas de bajos recursos y huérfanos, ayudándolos con sus estudios…  la mayoría de veces con sus tareas en Ingles pero también tuve la oportunidad de ofrecerles mi amistad para darles consejos y apoyo. En Joyabaj, acompañe a las hermanas a catequizar a adultos y niños de todas las edades en las aldeas cercanas, donde literalmente el salón de clase era un campo abierto porque necesitábamos un lugar lo suficiente grande para más de 80 niños. Nunca olvidare sus caritas sonrientes y sus espíritus inocentes mientras les enseñaba sobre nuestra fe Católica.

En San Andres Semetabaj, en la casa madre de las hermanas, aprendí a vivir en comunidad, crecer en oración y aumentar la admiración y agradecimiento por todas las mujeres religiosas que conozco. Logre crear relaciones cercanas con algunas de las hermanas porque abrieron sus corazones y compartieron conmigo las historias de sus vidas. Fue tan maravilloso poder crear amistades fuertes en un tiempo tan corto pero cada vez que me tenía que ir a la próxima misión siempre era muy difícil despedirme de todas mis nuevas amistades.

Finalmente, en in San Jose Ayampuc, pase mis últimos días cuidando de 16 ancianas abandonadas, donde era responsable de bañarlas, peinarles el cabello y prepárales todos sus alimentos y en una ocasión tuve que ayudar a preparar una de las mujeres para su entierro! Todas las mujeres tenían más de 75 años de edad, la mayoría recibían medicamento y todas fueron abandonadas por sus familiares pero sin embargo cada día amanecían con una gran sonrisa, con ganas de jugar lotería, cantar y bailar. El tiempo que pase con ellas fue el más memorable porque me dieron el don de la esperanza. Ser testigo de su sentido de humor y miradas de ternura fue la manera perfecta de completar mi tiempo en Guatemala.

Sin importar donde me encontraba, que tan difícil la situación, o que nueva tarea tenia que aprender, sabía en mi corazón que era exactamente donde tenia que estar y que Dios estaba a mi lado. Pude ver Su rostro en cada persona que conocí, por medio de sus sonrisas, su agradecimiento y su amor. Antes de irme a esta misión no sabía que era lo que me esperaba, pero ahora que estoy de regreso he realizado que fue más de lo que me pude imaginar. ¡He vuelto a casa sintiéndome como una persona renovada, con un nuevo sentido de lo que verdaderamente es importante en la vida, con una paz profunda en mi corazón y con en Espíritu lleno de fe! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Prayer for Beginners


By Father Benjamin Alforque, MSC, VF
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Fr. Thomas Green, SJ, - a physicist-philosopher-theologian and spiritual master, all rolled into one- introduced me to prayer.  Under his guidance and with his friendship, together with the community, I slowly learned a little bit more about prayer and how to pray.

Prayer is an initiative of God, inviting us to a relationship with Him!  He claims us for Himself, and He empowers us to be able to respond to His claim.  Prayer too is our personal response to this invitation.  In our experience, prayer as our response comes to us as a first moment of awareness. It seems like the desire to pray, and prayer itself, depend solely on our decisions.  But when we are able to relate to Him in a deeper way, in that second moment, we realize that we are able to pray because He has invited us first, and enabled us to do so.  This is so because God has so loved us that He created us, in His own image and likeness, to be with Him.  This is so because then we realize how radically fragile we are, sinful in our humanity and in need of God’s loving intervention.

Opening to God: this is the first act of prayer as our response to God.  We open ourselves to Him:  “Here I am Lord.”  with hearts full of gratitude to the God who gives us life and who calls us to be with Him always.  But this gratitude can only come from one who is humble. Proud hearts cannot genuinely say “thank you” for they claim credit for themselves.  No, only when we are empty, only when we accept that we are nothing can we be filled by the grace of God, and find our identity in His divinity.  People who are full have no more space left for God.  Before Him, we cultivate an attitude of honesty and truthfulness: Lord, how do You really see the kind of person that I am now?  This fundamental self-revelation demands from us a vulnerability and transparency, because before God we cannot boast or lie.  Of course, we often flatter ourselves before Him, of how good and generous we have been, like that Pharisee in Luke’s Gospel (18,11).  Instead, let our prayerful stance be like that of a tax collector who said: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18,13).  Let our prayerful stance be that of the poor of God.

As I look back to my own growth in prayer, I realize how my mother was “used” by God to invite me to Him.  She just didn’t guide my hand to write my name.  She guided my hand to make the sign of the Cross, with the words:  In the name of the Father.. and that provoked me to ask her: why, mama?  She said something about God and the Cross.  But more than that, she was my first experience of a loving God and a redeeming Cross. And the sign with its words that she taught me has been with me ever since.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

HHS decision stifles religious freedom

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

It was announced last week by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that religious institutions will be required under new healthcare law to provide their employees with drugs and procedures that are in opposition to our belief as Roman Catholics in the sanctity of all human life. The decision, as we understand it, puts our Catholic hospitals, schools and public ministries in the very difficult position of having to violate their consciences in order to comply with the law.  This appears to run counter to the ideal of religious freedom that has always been present in our nation.  Fortunately, we have the opportunity to make our voices heard when we see injustice in laws and public policies. In fact, our faith calls us to be Faithful Citizens and stand up for the values of the Gospel today. We can do that, in this case, by contacting our federal elected leaders and communicating our concern about this violation of conscience protection and religious liberty. The Catholic Legislative Network (found at www.cacatholic.org) will be providing specific information about advocacy efforts on this issue. I also ask you to pray with me that the dignity of every human person is honored and protected not only in this issue but in all of the decisions that face our elected leaders. 

May God bless you.

Decisión HHS sofoca la libertad religiosa

Por Obispo Gerald Barnes
Diocesis de San Bernardino

La semana pasada se anunció departe de la agencia de Servicios Humanos y de Salud de EE.UU. (HHS, por sus siglas en inglés) que bajo la nueva ley de salud, se requerirá que las instituciones religiosas provean a sus empleados medicinas y procedimientos médicos que se oponen a nuestras creencias como Católicos Romanos sobre la santidad de toda vida humana. La decisión, según entendemos, pone a nuestros hospitales Católicos, escuelas y ministerios públicos en la difícil posición de verse obligados a violar sus conciencias por cumplir la ley. Esto aparece estar en contra del ideal de la libertad de religión que siempre ha estado presente en nuestra nación.  Afortunadamente, tenemos la oportunidad de hacer que se escuchen nuestras voces cuando vemos injusticia en las leyes y políticas públicas. De hecho, nuestra fe nos llama a ser Ciudadanos Fieles y a defender los valores del Evangelio. Podemos hacerlo, es este caso, contactando a nuestros lideres federales electos para comunicarles nuestra preocupación sobre esta protección de violación de conciencia y libertad religiosa. La Red Legislativa Católica (www.cacatholic.org) estará proporcionando información específica sobre esfuerzos de apoyo sobre este tema. También les pido que oren conmigo por el deseo que la dignidad de cada persona humana sea honrada y protegida no solo en este caso sino en todas las decisiones que enfrentan nuestros líderes electos.

Dios les bendiga.