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The Spirituality of Hello and Goodbye

Blog Headers 2023-24 (16)

Editor’s Note: DC Service Corps volunteer Jennifer Eburuoh contemplates being fully present even in brief interactions through a concept that she calls “the spirituality of hello and goodbye.”

Being halfway through my service year, I would like to share an unexpected grace that I have begun to call the spirituality of hello and goodbye. This concept is born of personal reflection on two questions:

  • How do you encounter a person who you know will depart in a short while?
  • How would you engage with someone who you are unsure you will ever encounter again and whose future is marked by uncertainty?

Particularly, I hope to share how I have experienced this spirituality through life at Casa San Salvador and at my ministry site, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Firstly, the Casa is a place of transition: a home for many who have left or are soon to leave one home for another. Hence, I have become increasingly aware of the passage of time between greetings and farewells. While in November, we were blessed to celebrate the departure of overseas lay missioners, in January we had the joy of welcoming back returning missioners. Dinner conversations have evolved, sharing initial impressions of engaging service in DC to voicing lessons learned and challenges faced over the course of our time on mission. These shifts leave me wondering whether I have fully cherished the time shared with my community up to this midway point.

Secondly, while operating the immigration detention hotline at my ministry site, I am given only a glimpse into the life of the individual calling from a US detention center. I participate in a very brief moment in what is often a traumatic and lengthy struggle to seek asylum in the US, a journey that often begins with an experience of victimization, insecurity, and fear, and continues with a demanding journey from one’s country of origin to the United States. Due to the brevity of the conversations, after a call I find myself wondering how to give witness to their stories and trials.

In the Gospels, I find solace in the disciples’ struggle (shown through their hiding in the Upper Room) to adapt to the drastic change that was Christ’s exit from their lives. We are privy to the intimate relationship Jesus forged with his disciples. For this reason, we can sympathize with their mourning at his separation from them at his death. We can imagine their inability to comprehend his foretelling of his passion, that is, his farewell. I imagine that they pondered each gathering and each conversation, not knowing which would be their last with their Lord. 

However, we also see their joy in his return. Their zeal to live every moment as a testimony to what they not only believed but what they had witnessed. 

As the body of Christ, we are called  not just to savor every moment but also to sanctify each moment. This is the spirituality of hello and goodbye. I am constantly reminded how privileged I am to be in the company of my fellow volunteers and the migrants I accompany through the detention hotline. I challenge myself to remember that regardless of the length of time that passes between hello and goodbye, I should strive to glorify the presence of God in each exchange. 

Question for Reflection: How can you live the ministry of presence and make the most out of short interactions with others?

Jennifer Eburuoh is a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences and Global Affairs. She is originally from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Through FMS, she will be working as a Protection Counselor with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She is excited to be a part of an intentional Franciscan community and to work with marginalized members of our global community. In her spare time, she enjoys running, reading, and gardening.