Editor’s Note: Returned FMS missioner, Amanda Ceraldi gave the Transitus reflection at the Monastery of the Holy Land on Oct. 3rd, 2018.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

Amanda Ceraldi stands in front of the gathered Franciscan community to give her reflection.

I walked into the cafeteria and it had been completely transformed. The multipurpose space we typically used for meals, arts and crafts, and Wednesday evening Mass had been turned into a Guatemalan version of Assisi. Replicas of the portiuncula, the Poor Clare Monastery at San Damiano, and the Archbishops house filled the space for our students’ celebration of Transitus. As I turned the corner I was met by a group of fifth and sixth grade boys dressed in miniature Franciscan habits. Tiny child sized brown habits with the traditional three knot rope tied around their waists were made complete with the beards painted on their youthful faces.

On the other side of the room little girls and boys were preparing to put on their Canticle of the Creatures’ costumes. Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water, Brother Fire and Sister Earth. Sister Bodily Death even made an appearance. Paper mâché costumes of flowers, clouds, trees, and even a gust of wind danced around as they prepared for their upcoming show. As I watched them have their faces painted and put their costumes on, I heard St. Francis calling my name. I usually called him Jorge, but today Jorge was San Francisco. Wanting to show off the stigmata painted on his hands and feet, Jorge begged me to take his picture. Soon, all the children participating in the evenings events were crowded around asking for pictures.

Alaben y bendigan a mi Señor y denle gracias y sírvanle con gran humildad.

Like most Franciscan communities, at Valley of the Angels, a boarding school for children who are poor and marginalized in Guatemala, the Transitus celebration was one of the most cherished days of the year. Unlike most Franciscan communities, the evening was centered around the 215 children who called Valley home.

Franciscan values and traditions were a part of everything we did at Valley—from spiritual formation to weekly Masses, from teaching of virtues to celebrating Franciscan feast days, and everything in between. I am a missioner and served at Valley of the Angels through Franciscan Mission Service for three years. The children integrated the teachings of St. Francis and the Franciscan tradition into their everyday lives, so it was only fitting that they take the lead role for the Transitus.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

After taking dozens of pictures of my students, it was time to begin. Omnipotente, altísimo, mi buen señor—Most high, all-powerful, good Lord—the hymn began and the children dressed as all the creatures Francis names in the canticle danced into the center of the room, praising the Lord. For most of the dance, it was hard not to laugh.

The elementary aged children weren’t especially graceful—they bumped into each other, looking at their classmates trying to remember the next dance move. Elsa, a feisty first grader with a big personality, yelled at her friend Mariana when she didn’t move fast enough. Following the dance in honor of the Canticle of the Creatures our students put on a play reenacting the final days of Francis’ life.

The Transitus, at Valley of the Angels, was a significant event for our community. The Franciscan priests and sisters at Valley were joined by supporters, benefactors, and neighbors. This coming together of community, like Franciscan communities around the world, created a relationship among all that participated, which brought us closer in relationship to Francis, his ministry, and to God.         

The Franciscan community processed to the side chapel of the monastery to honor the death of St. Francis.

Being part of the Franciscan community, this universal family, we celebrate Francis’ passing from life to death. I want to reflect on how unique that is. We come together for Transitus to celebrate the entering in to eternal life of St. Francis. But we know this is not the only time that we celebrate entering in to eternal life. The universal celebration of Transitus mirrors that of Christ’s dying and rising to eternal life. St. Francis modeled his life after Christ and lived according to God’s will. So, it is fitting that we gather every year to celebrate Transitus, just like we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.

Alaben y bendigan a mi Señor y denle gracias y sírvanle con gran humildad.

This final line of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures clarifies to me why it is I feel so drawn to the Franciscan charism. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility. Those words help me better understand my Franciscan call to love and serve God—to care for the poor, to enter in to relationship, to love all those I encounter. When I speak, and share about my time on mission I often express the deep love that I experienced.

During my time at Valley of the Angels I gave and received love more than I ever thought possible. I discovered infinite ways to love another person. The community and environment at Valley was one that cultivated unconditional love. Through the children, the staff, the benefactors, and all those connected to Valley love was at the center of the mission.

Most of the children at Valley come from homes where they experience abuse and violence. Despite the heavy trauma they’ve endured during their young lives, they still live with child-like, unencumbered joy. Transitus was an event that ignited that joy in the children and in turn ignited joy for all those in attendance. The transformation of love in the children exemplified God’s unconditional love for each of us.

My experience at Transitus confirmed for me that God loves me unconditionally. His love was absorbed into my ministry, teaching me that I also have the capacity to love unconditionally. The Transitus celebration at Valley opened my eyes and my heart to better understand the call that God has given me to love. God called me to love. God opened my heart in a way that allowed me to experience God’s real, life-changing, unconditional love on mission through every person I encountered. To love and be loved simply because I exist. I felt whole, because that’s what love does. I felt authentically myself, because that what love does. I felt alive, because that’s what love does.

The love I received and was in turn able to share with others allowed me to fully live out my vocation— exactly where God had called me. But I also knew that I wouldn’t be at Valley forever. God was calling me to a new opportunity for mission outside of my time in Guatemala. I knew that at some point I would return to the States and begin a new phase of mission. It was hard to leave the children and the community in Guatemala that formed me so profoundly, but I knew that it was time to live out my call to mission and my call to love in a new way. My time on mission helped me discover that I carry God’s unconditional love with me and that I can share it in all that I do.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

Throughout his life and in his death Francis lived out God’s unconditional love in the world. His ministry embodied the universal and eternal love of Christ. And isn’t that why we are all gathered here this evening—for that same desire to live out God’s unconditional love in the world like Francis did? We gather together here because of the foundational mission of love God gave us. In Francis’ dying and transition to eternal life and in the dying and rising of Christ, we gather to bear witness to the unconditional love of God. An unconditional love that is present within us, within our community, and within all of God’s people.      

God has called me to live out unconditional love in the world. My call, my vocation, my mission, is to love. The universality of Transitus has taught me that in the same way we experience love made manifest in the Mass and partake in the Eucharist, I am able to experience the love of my community in Guatemala here at Transitus.

Candle lit procession while singing Ubi Caritas.

I am able to experience the love of my community in Guatemala here at Transitus. As I stand before you here at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington D.C., 3000 miles away in Guatemala, the children at Valley of the Angels are also participating in the Transitus. The universal call to us as Franciscans and Franciscan hearted people allows us to transcend space—to be fully connected with our Franciscan brothers and sisters who also commemorate Francis’ passing to eternal life.      

Alaben y bendigan a mi Señor y denle gracias y sírvanle con gran humildad. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

My experience of Transitus, the depth of love I found in this celebration, and in my mission to love, has been given to all of you as well. Transitus reminded me of the unconditional love God shares with me. Like Francis modeled in his death, I hope to give and to love in the same way that Francis did—loving others so deeply and profoundly that through my love I am praising and blessing the Lord, giving Him thanks, and serving Him with great humility. My hope is that you too can experience God’s unconditional love and live like Francis.