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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In the Blood

Reading the blog of my brother friar Steve Dewitt (A Franciscan abroad, link to the right on this page) brings back memories of my days in Bolivia. I spent a little less than 3 years there between 1981 and 1984, a lot less time than I've spent in other places, nonetheless to borrow a term from Catholic sacramental theology, it left an indelible mark on my soul, mostly for the the better, although there are a few scars as well. Thankfully those have been healed

I think that anyone who spends time away from his or her home country, above all in a poor country, is challenged to stretch, to be open to see life in a different way and to question a lot of the presumptions about life that seemed quite reasonable back at home, and also to appreciate more the many blessings of home.

I could go on at length with various examples, but I'll mention just a few things that come to mind.

1. As a priest and friar I never was big on ecclesiastical pomp and the inner workings of chancery offices and Vatican congregations, but experiencing Church at the level of the campesinos of Bolivia, whose faith is so genuine, real and down to earth, moved me oven further from that dimension of Church, and keeps me grounded in dealing with Church now, helping me to focus on the Church as what is happening in the lives of very real people rather than what is going on at the top.

2. I speak Spanish, perhaps the greatest gift that Bolivia gave me. Sometimes I think that in God's great plan for things that is the reason why I went there. I left Bolivia in a down mood, thinking I had "failed" because my ambition to spend a lifetime there didn't work out. Since returning I spent two years at our largely Spanish speaking parish in Camden, NJ, and now move about the country preaching missions in English and Spanish. With the language comes an openness to the varied cultural differences of the people I meet from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Spanish speaking countries. This has added a richness to my life that would not be there had I not been in Bolivia.

3. My thirst for justice is stronger. I look at issues such as immigration reform, health care, etc. through the lens of my Bolivia years. Likewise my perspective on the present economic downturn is colored by my encounter with a poverty more extreme and severe than anyone here in the US can know.

Again I could go on with more but that could turn into a book. I thought it would be good though to share with you, the readers of this blog, a glimpse into these very important years of my life.

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