Home / Stories / Happy Father’s Day – Ministry of Presence

Happy Father’s Day – Ministry of Presence


Richard Nalen encourages nap time with two girls, Noemi and Natalia, that are being treated for burns at Mosoj P’unchay, part of the Franciscan Social Center located in Cochabamba, Bolivia

“‘Zeechard, no te vayas,’ whines Marcos, who expresses dissatisfaction as I near the door. He is my two-and-a-half year-old friend, although my wife Kristen once overheard me renounce our friendship after Marcos threw my clothespins over the balcony. A fire-tested friendship, for sure. 

 Marcos lives down the hall from us here are the Franciscan Social Center. He is here because he was burned and needs intensive therapy. He helps me water the garden and watches me cook. I sometimes feed him and put him in his crib when he is ready for a nap. It is very difficult to close the door behind me, knowing Marcos is on the other side of it.”

 – Richard Nalen  (Group 23, 2007-2009)

This Father’s Day, we celebrate the paternal (and maternal) presence our missioners have provided over the years to children who have been abandoned by or separated from their parents. When Richard and Kristen returned to the U.S., new FMS missioners moved in to the Franciscan Social Center to continue the ministry.

Richard and Kristen also worked with children in a system of shelters called Amanecer (meaning “dawn” in Spanish) that aims to reunite boys and girls with their families. When a family reunion is not possible, Amanecer provides a safe environment for at-risk youth to achieve social, educational, and vocational goals.

At Amanecer’s Sayaricuy (meaning “rise up” in the native Quechua), Richard worked with about 50 boys who had been living on the streets. He offered after-school support, played marbles and chess, and lost many soccer games.

Richard with former street boys from Amanecer who are taking a break from school to share their musical talents during a Day of the Dead celebration. The boys sang and played traditional instruments in front of graves in exchange for food. 

But most importantly, Richard established relationships with the boys. Toward the end of his mission, Richard ran into boys he had connected with in the shelter.

“‘¡Cuñado!’ Miguel screams to me from across a congested intersection. He is with his posse of petty thieves–thieves that I know very well. He has called me ‘brother-in-law’ for more than two years. I have seen him pass many times through the shelter, but I cannot remember the origin of the
joke. I do remember his origins. His mother abandoned him immediately after birth at the hospital. He was born with a deformed arm and leg. He spent years in each of the shelters of Amanecer. 

Now he is twenty-three, without a diploma or employment, but always with a smile. Each one of his posse shares a secret handshake with me. Celso, the smallest of the group, corrects my sequence. ‘How could you forget?’ he asks. I said that it had been over a year, shocked at his recollection.”

Richard Nalen and Kristen Zielinski-Nalen are returned missioners who served Bolivia from 2006 to 2009.