“[Neighbor is] not he whom I find in my path, but rather he in whose path I place myself, he whom I approach and actively seek.”—Gustavo Gutiérrez
For the past two years in Cochabamba, I have honestly been a bit lost spiritually. Because my ministry includes working with people who have survived torture, I’ve witnessed a variety of intense experiences and questions continue to arise for me in the midst of the suffering that I see, hear, and share on a daily basis. I´ve been continually searching–searching for a small community that truly calls to me and where I could find a family that would hear me and see me in the midst of my questions and confusion.
In the city, where I serve with my Franciscan family members (who are phenomenal), everything is so big and numbered. Masses can easily have 300 people from all different parts of the city and who are in a rush to their next work task or family event. I felt distracted. I love my Franciscan family, but I prefer to spend time with them at smaller gatherings where I can sit and share and laugh with each person. When we provide meals and celebrations for the homeless and hungry, I have this incredibly opportunity to connect, but not so much at the neighborhood Mass, which is too big and over-stimulating for me. Other church communities felt similar.
So, I sat with the discomfort of feeling lost for a while and I searched…and I prayed…and I waited…
About six months ago, I was invited to a barbecue on a Saturday night at Nueva Vera Cruz in the far southern zone of Cochabamba (one of the poorest areas of Cochabamba), where my boyfriend Fernando lives and serves. After taking two modes of transportation, I arrived to find two Maryknoll priests (Fr. Paul (Pablo) from the US and Fr. Alejandro from Argentina) preparing the grill with Fernando, and accompanying them, a young couple with their 6 month-old baby–Jhovana, Fidel & Sarahí. I was welcomed with hugs and a smile from each of them and then we shared a meal together, talking and sharing with such familiarity.
For this small community, it was a ritual. Every Saturday night, they planned to come together to eat and share time, and after just one evening with them, I was invited to make it my ritual, too. So, I did…and I am so glad that I opened myself up to them because Nueva Vera Cruz is the beautiful small faith community that I have been searching for since arriving in Bolivia. Their invitation six months ago has opened up an incredible space for us, at least once a week, where we can laugh, share experiences, share really amazing food, and, most importantly, share time together.
The other day, I was talking with Fidel about my concerns and fears for the upcoming months and beginning the process of saying goodbye to Bolivia.
He said to me, “Aquí tienes amigos y no te dejarán. No necesitas pedir porque por ser tan buena, te damos todo el cariño del mundo con gusto.”
“You have friends here and they will not leave you. You don’t need to ask because just for being such a good person, we are happy to give you all of the love and care in the world.”