Editor’s Note: Missioner Amanda Ceraldi reflects on an experience of ministry of presence during her time at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala.
St. Francis got a lot of things right. He understood the reason for radical poverty and simplicity and lived it out. He understood that stepping out of your comfort zone is where the magic happens, even if that means leaving your family and everything you’ve ever known behind. He understood that creation has the ability to bring us to a closer relationship with God.
For me, and my time thus far on mission, the thing I think St. Francis got the most right was his understanding of ministry of presence. The quote attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all time, when necessary use words,” embodies how St. Francis understood ministry of presence. It was less about the words you spoke and more about simply walking the journey with people.
I have always loved St. Francis for this quote. Much of my devotion to him comes from his practice and dedication to ministry of presence, but I have been called even closer to St. Francis and his charism by manifesting that dedication to ministry of presence while on mission.
Living and working at Valley of the Angels has made ministry of presence a facet of every part of my life. I have a student in my second grade class named Elías* who allowed me to really put that dedication to ministry of presence into action.
From the first day that I met him, I thought that Elías hated me. He always looked at me with disdain, he never bothered to respond to me when I asked him a question, and he made a point to tell me that he would never like me or be my friend. Part of me wanted to write Elías off. He made my life as a new teacher infinitely more difficult. Once, he spent a class giving himself a nosebleed and spraying blood all over the other students, he spent most classes playing games in the corner, and he usually punched one of his classmates once a week. If he was never going to like me, why should I try to convince him otherwise? Honestly, I didn’t really like him either.
Then, during a time of prayer, it was like St. Francis was urging me to reach out to Elías. So, thanks to a little inspiration from St. Francis, I began spending time with Elías one-on-one. I gave him coloring pages of his favorite anime character, we played soccer together, I helped him practice his new English vocabulary, and sometimes I would just sit with him not saying a word. It seemed like I was making some progress, but I wasn’t convinced yet.
One day, when I was just about ready to stop being “present” to Elías, he gave me a hug after class—something he had never done before. Later that week he came to my apartment unprompted to say goodnight. Elías has now been consistently giving me hugs and laughing with me. And recently, while sitting on my lap coloring, he told me that we were friends and always would be. This isn’t the end of my ministry of presence with Elías, but really just the beginning.
My relationship with Elías is proof that St. Francis’ dedication to ministry of presence has real power and applying it in our own lives can bear unexpected fruits. On mission, ministry of presence has allowed me to walk the journey with my students and has shown me what a powerful invitation lies behind St. Francis’s words.