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Photo of the Week - Week 17

Thursday, May 5th 2022 7:21 am

Welcome to May!

In the culture here (and many other places too!) May is devoted to Mary. Here in Ascención, there is a large blue and yellow display with a beautiful statue depicting Mary.

I will be spending the next four days in Yaguarú, a special small town where the sisters minister Thursday - Sunday. I thought it fitting that I use the Mary I saw in the church there back when we went there for the end of Carnaval.

This is Mary, Undoer of Knots. I was excited to see it when I was there. The devotions to Mary, Undoer of Knots focus on asking for her intercession to help undo the knots in our lives. St. Irenaeus is quoted as saying that Mary undid the knot of original sin, and so a special devotion was born from that.

There is a novena connected to Mary, Undoer of Knots, but I tend to ask for help with things that have me tied up inside.

If you're interested, the start of the novena begins...
Dearest Holy Mother, Most Holy Mary, you undo the knots that suffocate your children, extend your merciful hands to me. I entrust to You today this knot and all the negative consequences that it provokes in my life.

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Photo of the Week - Week 8

Thursday, March 3rd 2022 6:44 pm

When these beautiful women come to call at the end of Carnaval - it's time to dance!

The last day of Carnaval was Sunday and we all went to Yaguarú (pronounced ya-wa-roo) to enjoy the day with a big picnic at the small pueblo about an hour from here. After the picnic, Sister Yanira and I went for a long walk and came back to relax. It was really hot that day but a group of mujeres (women) from the village came to the convent accompanied by drums and flute music. It is a tradition, that when the women (called "originales" I think!) come, they are dancing to mark the end of Carnaval. The joy of these women was incredible and they invited the sisters to join them (which they did of course!) When they invited me, I considered saying no, but then I decided to do it anyway. Dancing is not my thing, but I decided it was an honor to be invited and join in the fun. It was an incredible feeling to be surrounded by joyful, strong, wise women and to join in their dance. It was the thrill of a lifetime. I didn't realize it, but someone was recording our dance. You can see it by clicking here. God bless these women. What a way to end a great day!

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New Ministry in Yaguaru

Monday, September 5th 2022 2:03 pm

I have started a new ministry in the small town of Yaguarú over the last month or so. You might remember me talking about being invited to dance at the end of Carnaval -- that was in Yaguarú. I am spending Thursday afternoon until early Monday morning there in addition to my time at the nutrition center.

It's a beautiful place next to some extensive wetlands. Like many mission pueblos here, there is a central plaza that is popular for sitting and talking, or walking and talking -- especially after services at the church. The "Mary -- Undoer of Knots" that I had a reflection on is also here in Yaguarú.

My new ministry is simple. With another sister and the help of a friend in Yaguarú, we are spending time meeting the different families in town. Our purpose is to really listen to the people there, about their families, joys and struggles. What we are doing isn't quick -- getting to know people never is (even if speed dating was a popular thing -- is it still popular?) and it isn't always easy to hear of the hard times, especially when someone is still in them. Of course, as you might guess, language is a challenge as well, but as is the experience I've had here in Bolivia, people are patient and kind. Interestingly, with some of the abuelas and abuelos, we have needed additional help with language because they speak Guarayu, the indigenous language of the area. It seems to all work out in the end, and we have new friends in the town.

There are a few things that are missing from Yaguarú. There is no wifi at the convent. I hadn't really anticipated the impact that would have on my ability to respond to emails, but, as anyone who has emailed me in the last few weeks can account for, I have fallen behind on my correspondence as of late. My apologies to anyone who is waiting to hear from me.

The other is that they don't have a priest who is ministering here full-time. Unlike Ascension, where there is daily Mass every day and three Masses on Sunday, Mass is celebrated only on Saturday night here. It's when one of the priests from Ascencion can make the hour drive to come. The community still gathers daily with Celebrations of the Word and Eucharist full of music and prayers.

Next week, the town's grand fiesta will be happening. It is centered around the namesake of the church, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It begins on Saturday with a three-day novena at the church. On Tuesday, the Fiesta begins for the whole town and I hear that there will be wonderful Masses, processions, dancing and music. It concludes on Thursday. A priest who had spent some time in Yaguarú will be visiting, and I believe a bishop will be coming as well. As far as other fun, I guess I will have to wait to see!

Blessings to you all! I am still hoping to send an update every week, but there's a good chance I will be delayed at times. Es la vida! :)

Photo of the Week - Week 18

Thursday, May 12th 2022 2:24 pm

The skies were clear and bright as I snapped this photo. Admittedly, it's not very attractive. I still find it fascinating though. This is a photo of the solar water heater in Yaguarú. There are some in Ascención too, but I couldn't get a good angle on them. I love that they are using the sun's energy to heat the water for their rooms. As a matter of fact, this specific one heated the water in my room's shower! What a practical and ingenious way to take advantage of the sunny weather that is present most days here.

May is the anniversary of Laudato Si, a letter written to all people of goodwill concerning the environment and the need for us to care for creation. As a Laudato Si Animator, this encyclical is especially close to me. You can read the full letter here: vatican.va.

If you are interested in ideas on how you can care for creation around you, you can check out the Laudato Si Action Platform and create an account here: laudatosiactionplatform.org.

Fiesta, Fires, Families and Fun

Tuesday, September 20th 2022 2:23 pm

Many great pardons for waiting so long to post this but there was a fiesta in Yaguarú, and so I spent most of the week there. Since there's no WiFi, I can't write my posts there. Now that I'm back in Ascencion, here is a quick recap of the last couple of weeks!

The fiesta in Yaguarú was for the Catholic celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross, which the church in Yaguarú is named for. This is common for mission pueblos here in Bolivia. The town is so identified with the mission church, where the people originally settled, that the celebration becomes a celebration of the town. The festivities began when Padre Franz, a German Franciscan priest who served for four years in Yaguarú came to visit. On that same Sunday, the novena began for three days leading up to the festival. On Tuesday, the fiesta began in earnest with the Vigil Mass for the Exaltation of the Cross. That was followed by dancing and music in the plaza outside of the church. The fiesta continued on Wednesday with Mass in the morning celebrated by one of Bolivia's bishops.

As usual for Yaguarú, the music was incredible at the Masses. Great feasts, including one at the convent for the sisters as well as the priests who co-celebrated the Mass and of course the Bishop, were all there. Roasted pig with lots of delicious food was enjoyed by all. The official fiesta concluded with Mass on Thursday. Music continued all night, every night during the fiesta and through the weekend. It proved a bit much for some, but I am happy to be a sound sleeper so it was all good. Interestingly, on Sunday evening at around 10:30 p.m., the power went out throughout Yaguarú and stayed off until 6 a.m. on Monday. I didn't realize that I could sleep even better with total silence, but it was a great rest!

Over the last two weeks or so, there have been lots of wildfires in the area. They create a haze and the sun rises and sets a bright red. Although every day someone says, "Mucho humo! (There's a lot of smoke!") it doesn't phase the residents here. It took me some time to realize what it was, but it's a reality in a place that has a wet and dry season I suppose. The rainy season begins with spring in October, so hopefully, we will get good rain a bit early to help. I was able to see evidence of some of the fires on my ride back to Ascencion on Monday. It looks scary, I admit, and I wonder how much of it is natural, and how much is because of the changes to the area as more people come to live here.

Sister Yanira and I continue to visit families in the different barrios (neighborhoods) here in Ascencion. Lately, we have been visiting people who live closer to the town center. The needs are always the same, and I am always surprised at how many children are malnourished. As I am learning more, I have learned that there is malnourishment, not just from lack of food, but lack of good food. Our Soya workshops with families help with protein deficiencies, but there are vitamin deficiencies as well. Anemia is seen often as well as skin discoloration from a Vitamin C deficiency. As you might guess, the Nutrition Center helps with vitamins to supplement the children's diets when needed.

It's hard to believe, but with all the festivities in Yaguarú, I failed to take photos! I know it's hard to believe but it's true. To make up for it, I've included some photos that Sister Yanira took when we stopped at a roadside stand during our walk one day and enjoyed some Chicha (a drink made from yucca, corn and a bit of sugar - I am sure you remember me talking about it before.) She sent them to me in this order saying how funny my expressions were as I drank it.

You can see that I'm drinking out of a sort of bowl. It's a traditional "chomba" bowl made from a shell of a giant fruit that grows here. Much like a gourd, it is dried and then used as a bowl. Depending on the size, and they can get pretty big, they could be used for serving bowls or mixing bowls as well. This was probably the size of a super large soda from McDonald's! :)

I enjoyed it very much and although the photos might suggest I was scared to drink it at first, I was actually really looking forward to having my chicha out of a chomba for the first time. Blessings to you all this week! As always, your prayers are greatly appreciated. It's amazing how I can feel them even though I am so far away!

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