Editor’s Note: Executive Director Elizabeth Hughes shares a reflection from her October site visit to FMS communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia and Carmen Pampa, Bolivia.
There is a popular Spanish worship song — that also happens to be one of my favorites — called “Dios Está Aquí.” Its English lyrics proclaim “God is here, as certain as the air I breathe, as certain as the morning sun that rises.” On a recent evening in Cochabamba, Bolivia, this song was our Communion meditation during a mass celebrating the 12th anniversary of a home for adolescent girls who survived sexual abuse, often perpetrated by family members. One 11-year-old resident attended with her 3-week-old baby. As I sat with the FMS missioners and members of the local community in a multi-purpose room in the girls’ home, God’s presence was indeed palpable amid a kinship of compassion and solidarity.
This mass marked the beginning of my two-week site visit to Cochabamba and Carmen Pampa, Bolivia. As my first visit to an overseas FMS mission site, I was honored to experience a glimpse into the five missioners’ lives and the ways in which they embrace ministry of presence.
One of the Bolivian Franciscan sisters shared, “The pastoral need today is the need to listen.” This wisdom describes so much of the ministry I witnessed. At the university in Carmen Pampa, I saw Aubrey’s joyful spirit as she quickly embraced crying toddlers with a hug that provided reassurance that all would be well. I heard Maggie’s beautiful insights as she thoughtfully reflected upon her first year in Bolivia and the students who have touched her life. In Cochabamba, Anna invited me into conversation with the elderly women she visits at a local nursing home, women who often do not have relatives or other visitors. Catherine shared her visits to a female prison, where I met several of the women with whom she has become friends and who have participated in the workshops Catherine leads, and I witnessed the dozens of children growing up within the confines of the prison. Finally, at that same girls’ home where we had mass at the beginning of the week, I saw Allison bring out the fun-loving nature of adolescent girls as she engaged them with a Zumba dance session. She and the girls also created a large mural on the outside wall, comprised of beautiful mandalas designed by each girl to share her individual story.
Conversation. Accompaniment. Lifting up each individual’s worth and story. Recognizing we need each other. God is here. God is indeed present. As certain as we are present with and for one another.
Reflection Question: How is God present in your life in this moment?
Photo Caption: The altar at the mass celebrating the 12th anniversary of Nuestra Casa, a home for adolescent girls who survived sexual abuse.