Home, Sweet…Home?

DSC_1277That’s right, I have arrived in Bellflower, California for the last three months of my volunteer service!

I’m living in the Formation House with the young women who are in the process of becoming Salesian Sisters. There are three postulants and one aspirant currently living here, plus now me!

We worked out my schedule and my main duty will be assisting the second grade along with math tutoring after school for fourth and fifth graders. Hopefully, my math is up to par.

I’m starting my second week at school and honestly, I totally love it. The second graders are awesome, their teacher that I’m assisting is awesome, and overall the general ambiance of the school is, well, awesome! So to celebrate this awesomeness, the Bellflower community had a special day yesterday!

Okay, it’s not actually for that, but we did have a special celebration yesterday because it was Gratitude Day! What is Gratitude Day, you may ask? Well, it is the day of gratitude for the Mother General (super Sister in-charge) and the Institute (the congregation basically), which also includes all the people you live with (like the sisters and volunteers (such as me!)). That means that everyone does special things to show how thankful they are for all the people who share their community and the ways in which they contribute.

Flower Fields Bellflower GroupOur community expressed a particular thankfulness for Sr. Sandra, the community animator (which is kind of like a hype-person, except for religion). She’s going to be leaving to head to the Provincial House in San Antonio this summer, so Gratitude Day also functioned as a Thank You day for her work in Bellflower.

To celebrate, we went to the Flower Fields!

In the evening, we had a program of performances by the sisters and candidates (plus me)! Lily and I did a dance number to Singin’ in the Rain (remixed) that Lily provided the vast majority of the choreography to, and everyone seemed to really enjoy it! There was also piano playing, poetry reading, and a song for the Sisters.

IMG_1641After the performance, we had a thanksgiving moment for Sr. Sandra, each of us giving our ‘hands’ to her to show our gratitude for all the beautiful things her hands have done over her six years in Bellflower. It was a beautiful moment to share with the community, even though I’ve only been here for two weeks! We even wrote little notes to each member of the community to thank them as well!

To finish off the night, we watched the movie Hidden Figures, which was so good! I strongly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already seen it.

On another note, the science fair is this week at school, so I’m sure I’ll be plenty busy, but I’ll let you know how it goes next time.

-Mary Margaret Mason, VIDES missioner

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A Burning Light in “The Dead City”

1704 Gabrielle CVN (5)edit

Dear Future Volunteer,

I hear you. The commitment is hard and there are a million reasons why you shouldn’t volunteer. The truth is if you want an excuse to avoid volunteer work, you will undoubtedly come up with one: I have no time; It’s too far; or in my case, I don’t master the language. But I must be honest with you, you’re limiting yourself and depriving yourself and others of a gift so wide-reaching that the million reasons to postpone or never do it are not enough. It simply won’t add up. My time with VIDES (Volunteers in Development, Education and Service) was one of the most powerful experiences that has brought me closer to my faith, and closer to the person that I’m meant to be. Through the training service in San Antonio, to my service abroad in Belarus. Belarus? Yes, you read right! Right next to Russia! Each of the two communities taught me and gave me so much more than I could ever give them, and thank God, I will never be the same again.

1704 Gabrielle CVN (4)

Part of our training for VIDES was running a camp for unaccompanied minors found crossing the border. These children are from Central America and come to find a life away from the violence of the drug cartels. Some are found alone, and brought to a center like the one in San Antonio. I was anxious about my limited Spanish skills. However, when the goal is to simply be there for the kids, to have fun and just love them, language is the least important factor.

On the first day, a few of the boys zeroed in and, like teenage boys do, tried to intimidate and show-off. One had an eye that was damaged and a wild look about him. He approached me on the basketball court, grabbed the ball, and said, “I am dangerous. If you’re a girl who is two inches shorter than the young man saying it, it wouldn’t be outrageous for you to act nervously. Fortunately, I confused the word for dangerous with the word for friendly. After a few comical moments of me saying, “Friendly? We’re friends?” he chuckled, shook his head, and replied, “Si, somos amigos.” I played basketball everyday with him and the others, and at the end of camp he thanked us so profoundly for allowing them to forget, however briefly, of their troubles and fears.

Every night, I repeat his name in my prayers along with the other 24 boys who taught me to laugh and find joy when all you might see is darkness. This was just the beginning of my mission, and once again, I would learn about service and joy, but this time thousands of miles away in a remote village in Belarus.

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Once you decide to serve, if you’re anything like me, you enter a period of arrogance. It’s the part where you believe that YOU will make their lives better. Yes, you’re a gift, but you are simply the hands for God to do his will. Flying to Smorgon, Belarus I pridefully imagined bringing my faith to a tired people. I pictured myself as a hero, a saint. It’s humbling to remember, and so embarrassing to admit. Once there, I found myself in a community so strong in faith and virtue, I wished that just an ounce of their unyielding strength could be brought home. Smorgon is a town historically situated on the battlefront of two world wars, earning the name “the dead city”.  After the treaties were signed, those that found their way home were publicly forced to renounce their God and families, all while secretly continuing a burning devotion and tradition that decades of Soviet oppression couldn’t smother. The scars from the forced deportations, collectivization, famines and wars were etched on the weary faces of the babushkas and preserved in sepia printed photos of family members and friends that never returned home. Despite the hardships they sought joy in the peace that allows them to live their beautiful and faithful lives. The sisters worked tirelessly to provide friendship, faith, stability and virtue for the children and youth of the community, asking nothing in return. Every Mass was packed, and every day after school, the community center echoed with the laughter of kids learning their faith and playing with the sisters, priests and brothers. Everyone worked together to better their community without complaint or competition to be a hero or martyr. Once again I felt myself grow as my ego fell to the wayside.

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It’s startling to have your life, blessings, and shortcomings laid out in front of you and you either change or ignore it. In San Antonio, I met children forced to grow-up years before they should have. They needed someone to treat them like the children that they are and love them unconditionally. In Belarus, I lived with people who kept their faith and families alive under the most painful and dark periods of human history. It was an opportunity to grow into a more complete Catholic, and I’m forever grateful.

1704 Gabrielle CVN (1)So, my dear friend, take the leap. Whether it’s service in your own hometown, or thousands of miles away, stretch beyond yourself. Say yes to God’s call for you to reach out to your fellow man. The cost will be the person you were before, but the reward is the person you are after.

Your friend and sister in Christ,
-Gabrielle Prieto, VIDES missioner



BIG GIVE 2017. May 4th.

I’ll be there. You’ll have a great time knowing that you are part of this adventure too! Take the plunge! You don’t want to miss out!

Mark your calendars. Invite family and friends to do the same. Support #BIGGIVE2017. Take up our #VIDES10at10 challenge. Donate $10.00 at 10 o’clock May 4 to VIDES+USA.

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We currently have an amazing opportunity. Thanks to a matching grant, what you donate through the Big Give, up to $1,000, will double. That means you can make double the impact with your generous donation!

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When Things of Heaven are Wed to Those of Earth

Megan and LouisePalm Sunday

Kicking off Holy Week, I attended the Palm Sunday Youth Mass and Procession. It began with the blessing of the palms in the stadium in Embu town. Sr. Carol and I were a little late; as soon as we joined the crowd, Bishop Kariuki sprinkled us with holy water and off we went! The crowd consisted of about 200 young people, but as we processed through the streets of Embu, more and more people joined us.

Most people had full palm branches they waved while singing songs of Hosanna. I have never felt so close to Jerusalem before! As we processed through the streets, there was a great energy and excitement among our group. I could easily imagine Jesus was just a couple steps ahead of me.

I quickly lost Sr. Carol in the crowd, but one of my friends, Louise, found me in the crowd. After our hour walk to Karangu Girls Secondary School, Louise and I found a seat under the tents for Mass. The Embu University choir that had kept the music going as we walked there, continued to be awesome. They had so much fun, singing and dancing at Mass that I wanted to go join them!

Bishop Kariuki gave a wonderful homily on Pope Francis’ theme for youth this year, “The Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). He described how Mary’s words echo in our own lives, when we trust in God to work miracles.

During Communion, the skies opened and rain poured down. Although the Eucharistic ministers were under umbrellas, I knew I’d be drenched going to them. However, just as I was about to exit the tent, the Bishop (of all people) appeared right in front of me! #Godmoment

Palm SundayAfter Mass, the choir danced for entertainment and then the fundraising portion. At this point, it was about 1pm (we had started in the stadium at 9am). Louise and I were joined by Brenda, another student. We went to the food vendors that were gathered around the gate of the school, enjoying smokies and biscuits.

We then walked back to Embu with Sr. Carol and about 8 more students. It was so great seeing the girls in normal clothes (instead of school uniforms). They were so happy and free! It had only been a couple days since I saw them last, but I had missed them!

Chrism Mass

The Chrism Mass for Embu Diocese was on Thursday; although I would also be going to evening Mass, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to witness a priest procession! There were probably 40 priests there–one literally danced down the aisle during the procession.

Mass only lasted 2.5 hours, which was short! Afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised to get a plate full of rice, chapati, meat stew and a slice of watermelon for lunch. Then, being escorted by the sisters, I greeted almost every priest and sister from other congregations. Holy Thursday is the institution of the priesthood and religious life. So everyone was smiling, saying, “Happy feast!”

For supper, we really did feast! We had chicken, potatoes, soda and GRAPES!!! Delicious, sweet, red grapes that cost ksh 250 per package. I didn’t know I had missed them so much. It was just another ‘oasis in the desert.’

Holy Thursday

For the Holy Thursday liturgy, we went to the nearby parish, St. Francis. I decided to sit by myself, since the church wasn’t very full. Luckily, it began to fill up as mass started. Two girls, probably around 8, sat next to me. At first, they kept their distance, but I kept catching them looking at me and my Magnificat. I handed it to them to look at as we waited for mass to start (this is Africa–nothing starts on time). They huddled close together, mouthing the words to the prayers.

Mass was not that different from home, but with extra songs added in.  My friends left for a bit, but when they returned, they sat right next to me. They were a lot less shy now. After Mass, Fr. Jeremiah invited the sisters (and their visitor) to greet the parish. When it was my turn, I spoke too fast, of course. I watched the whole church lean forward in the ‘pardon?’ gesture I’ve become very accustomed to. After repeating myself at a slower pace, everyone welcomed me with a loud, ‘Karibu.’ I love Kenya.

Megan Good FridayGood Friday

What I’ve learned this Holy Week: I love processions!! And the Stations of the Cross procession left from right outside our gate for Good Friday. Leading our group, a full-size cross was carried by someone different each station. I found it very inspiring as the cross-bearers clung to the cross at each station. Then, they would hoist it up onto their shoulder with help from the people around. We walked at the pace of the cross-bearer, so in a way we were engaged in their journey.

I loved slowly walking and praying in the countryside.  Since I didn’t understand the songs (except  ‘Nothing but the Blood of Jesus’) or readings, I was able to enjoy the mystery of Good Friday at my own pace. The sun was high and hot, so every bit of shade was cause for celebration. The fragrance of the path was a mix of Grandma’s garden, Georgian pine forest and something uniquely Kenyan. Just lovely prayer time!

The procession took 2 full hours from our gate to St. Francis church. Without realizing it, I received a righteous sunburn and as a result, felt light-headed and nauseous during the service. I spent most of it sitting outside the church, but I wasn’t alone since many people with children were out there as well. Even in that momentary suffering, I saw God’s hand, since it allowed me to be with Christ in his pain.

Easter Vigil

Once again, we headed to St. Francis Church for Easter Vigil at 7pm. We began outside, gathered around the bonfire. (As we waited, I made more friends–one little girl wanted to know all 3 names of everyone in my family. After each one, she said, ‘oh, that’s nice.’)
The liturgy was rather simple: no brass section, gorgeous bouquets of flowers or ornate cloths. But, they had an energetic choir and parishioners, a keyboard with a variety of beats, and many songs! Around 20 new Christians were welcomed into the Church that night, many in darling white dresses.

Not going to lie, I fell asleep many times during this mass. It lasted about 4.5 hours! Luckily, once I got too comfortable, the keyboard would start again and we’d get up to dance and clap. Attending this liturgy was great (despite my sleepiness). It was simple and authentic, full of true human experience!

Easter Sunday

Surprisingly, this was the most unexciting liturgy this week. The sisters decided to attend mass at Don Bosco Boys Secondary School (which is just down the road from us). There were only 15 people in total; mass only lasted 45 mins! Afterwards, Fr. Minor invited me and Sr. Jane to tea. Since I have only been to DBBSS once before, I was happy to visit with our neighbors.

S Jane Making ChapatiFor Easter lunch, I helped Sr. Jane make chapati (fried tortilla thing). Which is another way to say: she corrected my mistakes on each one! We feasted at both lunch and supper, since it was also the animator of the community’s birthday. Sr. Geraldine turned 78! Like all celebrations here in Embu, we processed in with the cake, gifts and a drum, singing and dancing. It doesn’t get much better than seeing sisters singing ‘cut the cake-y’ and trying to hit each other with balloons.

May the joy of the Risen Lord be with you and your families!

-Megan Swanson, VIDES missioner

BIG GIVE 2017. May 4th.

I’ll be there. You’ll have a great time knowing that you are part of this adventure too! You don’t want to miss out!

Mark your calendars. Invite family and friends to do the same. Support #BIGGIVE2017. Take up our #VIDES10at10 challenge. Donate $10.00 at 10 o’clock May 4 to VIDES+USA.

Be a missioner with our missioners.

We currently have an amazing opportunity. Thanks to a matching grant, what you donate through the Big Give, up to $1,000, will double. That means you can make double the impact with your generous donation!

View our profile: (https://www.thebiggivesa.org/organizations/vides-usa)


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God Lured Me. He Got Me Curious. He Sealed the Deal.

IMG_2639When I first felt the tug towards spending a year in the service of God’s people I had a very firm idea of what the year of my life would mean for both me and those I served. What I didn’t expect was that by offering myself to God for one year He would completely change my outlook on life, show me how much bigger and greater His plans are than mine, and open me up to an experience of His transforming love and calling.

God put me with the Salesian Sisters, I didn’t choose them, it started with an email to the Salesian brothers to see if I would fit in their program, because I wasn’t interested in getting tangled up with the questions of my vocation. It ended with me going through a full formation camp experience before being told that I was not going to be sent to Bolivia as I had requested, and instead was being asked to spend a year of domestic service, in Los Angeles, California, with the sisters.

It wasn’t my choice, but it was where I encountered God and in the most ordinary of circumstances. I was accepted as a volunteer by the sisters in the middle of the fall and arrived at my Mission Site of Bellflower, California, in December, where I shortly began a full schedule of teaching music and art at the grammar school and helping out at the after school care program. I don’t remember ever being so exhausted after each day of work or being more excited to get up in the morning to go out and do it all again. The sisters welcomed me into the community as if I was a member of their family and the kids I worked with daily taught me about the challenges that young people face, even in our country, and the need to love and care for the least. It opened my eyes to the need for missionaries of love right here in our own country, people dedicated, not just to a job, but to a mission of bringing Christ to the young and the young to Christ.

photo 2I had plans of really changing the world for the better in my one year of service but in the midst of giving of myself, I found that it was I who received more than I gave. The love of the sisters, the children and the school and parish families touched my heart and made the exhausting days totally worth it. Gradually I realized that I didn’t want the year to end, ever.

God lured me in with the mission, He got me curious with the joy of the Sisters, He sealed the deal with His peace. I had never before thought of a religious vocation as being a pathway to happiness, but the sisters of this Salesian family I found myself a part of, radiated joy in giving everything to Christ and His Church.

I should have sensed that God was using these stepping stones to draw me closer to Himself, but I never saw Him coming. The Come and See weekend I attended, after living in the house of formation for 4 months, was kind of a joke to me, but I always wanted the full experience so I dove in headfirst while telling myself that I was really just company for another young lady who had come.

God used that day of openness and the wisdom and vision of Sr. Sandra to make that Come and See a before and after moment in my life. When I really prayed that God show me what He wanted for me in my life the answer was so clear all I could do was protest, I couldn’t ignore.

It took me three months before I worked up the courage to ask for an application to be accepted as a candidate for the Salesian sisters, and 4 more months before that same application was filled out. I was a hard sell, but God is the best salesman there is because what he has to offer no one else has, peace and joy!

IMG_7589 - CopyNow as a first year novice for the Salesian sisters as I look back on my time as a VIDES volunteer my heart is so full of gratitude. Deep down I know that I never would have had the courage to say “yes” to a vocation without stepping out of my comfort zone and realizing that true happiness comes not from what I have, but from what I can give back. In my time as a VIDES volunteer I found a meaning for my life far beyond what I had ever imagined, and took the first step into the scary, exciting, overwhelming and life giving reality of God’s boundless love.

– Sister Monica Wheeler, VIDES missioner

BIG GIVE 2017. May 4th.

I’ll be there. You’ll have a great time too! Don’t miss out!

Mark your calendars. Invite family and friends to do the same. Support #BIGGIVE2017. Take up our #VIDES10at10 challenge. Donate $10.00 at 10 o’clock  May 4 to VIDES+USA. View our profile: (https://www.thebiggivesa.org/organizations/vides-usa)

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Women of Courage

Thirteen extraordinary women shared the honor of receiving the 2017 International Women of Courage Awards. A special commendation for one of our very own, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian sister), Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, who is the first religious to receive this award. This is why we are here: to risk our lives for our faith and concern for others. Let us thank God for women like her who are bridge builders in our world.

Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh (Syria)

Date: 03/28/2017 Description: Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh (Syria) - State Dept Image

Sister Carol, as she is known, is a member of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. Throughout the war, Sister Carol has remained in Damascus, although she was born in Aleppo. She has put her life at risk to serve the people in this war-torn country and remains a beacon of hope. The nursery school she runs establishes a safe and friendly environment for more than 200 Muslim and Christian children, many of whom have been traumatized by the events of the war. The tailoring workshop, a United Nations Human Rights Council program she manages, provides a much-needed supportive community to vulnerable internally displaced women. The women receive an income and a job prospect, as well as support for their everyday needs. During the first year of the program, there were 14 pupils. Today over 100 Muslim and Christian women participate in the program, many of which have lost everything fleeing from other parts of Syria. At the end of the year-long training, participants have two choices: they can start working at home with a sewing machine provided by the school, selling their own creations or they can seek employment in the school workshop and earn a salary. Sales profits help the school to buy food for needy families, including some of the pupils and their own families, and to pay for rent, medication, and hospital fees as needed. Sister Carol explains, “We sisters help everyone, giving our all and without making distinctions between Christian and Muslim, following Jesus’ example. Our work is also aided by volunteers and Muslim partners, good and generous people who work with such dedication. We feel deeply respected by them as well as by the entire population, including the army.”

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Most Globally Aware Generation

Side Event InterpretersWE DID IT! WE ARE WINNERS!

That’s right, this past Thursday we successfully held our office’s side event “Youth for Human Rights and the Common Good” at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council! With co-sponsorship from 21 countries and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, we had one of the most supported side events during the session. The past week was spent preparing the panelists for the event, helping them prepare their speeches, and teaching them about the UN system.

Or, at least, that’s what some people were doing this week. I was generally in the office or at the UN, working on the flyer or taking notes on the different meetings happening regarding Item 3. We all went to a side event hosted by the Holy See on the issue of unaccompanied minors (which are migrant or refugee children that travel to another country with no adult assistance). As you can imagine, children are the most vulnerable travelers, especially when they have no adult assistance, as they are more likely to be subjected to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.

But back to the side event!

All the interpreters showed up and were able to get their accreditation badges so that they could get into the UN, which was a huge weight off my shoulders. They all went up to their booths and I double-checked the sound and let the moderator know which language was on which channel so that everyone could listen to their language of choice. The panelists all got situated, as did the keynote speaker (Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders), the moderator (Nuno Cabral from the Permanent Mission of Portugal), and the presider (Ambassador Carmen Elena Castillo of El Salvador).

The panelists were from five countries and they all did somewhat different work.

  • Zareh from Syria works in the oratory with children 7-18 and has a special group that he mentors.
  • Prence from the Republic of Congo is a teacher and travels to remote villages to teach children and their communities about their rights.
  • Marian from the Philippines has done literally everything, from a mobile education library to medical missions to political lobbying for anti-bullying and anti-corporal punishment.
  • Peter from Slovakia is getting his degree in therapeutical education and lives and works with marginalized children, particularly the Roma children.
  • Then there is Guillermo from Uruguay, who runs human rights education programs for people, usually young adults, that are being detained in prisons.

Now, don’t you feel inadequate?

But really, all the panelists have been super fun and we’re all pretty sad to see them go (they’re all leaving this weekend). There wasn’t a super strong language barrier as only one of them didn’t understand English well (Prence speaks French), but there were some interesting translations going on between people speaking in Spanish or Italian which then had to be translated into English while Pedro was translating it into French for Prence. We are very multicultural here at the IIMA Human Rights Office!

At the side event, they all spoke very well about their work and their goals regarding human rights education. The one thing that should be done differently was let a few people ask questions, let the panelists answer those, and then have some more questions. Over ten different State representatives asked questions, some of them asking multiple questions during their speaking time. That’s difficult for experienced speakers to handle, not to mention for our panelists (who have never done anything like this). They handled themselves well though.

So the whole point of this side event was to offer an opportunity to let States hear from actual young people regarding human rights and human rights education. Often at the UN, people forget about young people. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is applicable for children up to 18. However, once you hit eighteen, you are suddenly a full adult. The UN forgets that, for all intents and purposes, most people do not suddenly become fully functioning adults the day they turn eighteen. I was still in high school then, and I was definitely not an adult. I was like, a pre-adult. So the fact that the UN hasn’t really addressed the challenges facing young people is kind of a big problem.

Luckily, El Salvador championed a resolution on youth and human rights last year (HRC Resolution 32/1) and the UN Security Council acknowledged the role of youth in peace and security in its Resolution 2250 in December of 2015. This shows that the UN is moving in a more positive direction regarding the role and importance of young people in international policy formation. After all, young people are the ones who are going to have to live in the world that the current policy-making generation is creating; therefore, they should probably have some say in what is going on. Some people may think that young people aren’t aware enough to have good opinions, but if I’ve learned anything from graduate school, my time in Kenya, and the panelists that I’ve been spending time with all week, it is that young people are far more aware than most people give them credit for. They are also far more frightened and far more hopeful that what’s gone wrong can somehow be fixed.

Side Event TeamOur generation is the most globally aware generation that has ever existed. We have more opportunities for cultural diversity and appreciation, and we are more likely to meet people from other countries and traditions. That doesn’t make each person perfect. Discrimination still exists, however, the younger generation truly is willing to dialogue if people will listen.

And that, if nothing else, is cause for hope.

-Mary Margaret Mason, VIDES missioner


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“Strength, Audacity, and Glory”

“From pope francis article image editedwork, energy, and dreams, three stars in the soul of Pope Francis”

March opens the fifth year of the Pontificate of Pope Francis. Four years of a brief but eventful Pontificate have passed, a Pontificate that has been innovative, fruitful, renovating, and transforming.

How can we summarize the personality and the Pontificate of Francis? What can we say about the First Latin American Pope in the millennia-long history of the Catholic Church?

We should start by acknowledging and celebrating that he is a human being, very human, deeply human – with all the meaning defined by and contained in “human” and “humanity.” That is to say, Francis is a human being who, in his deep humanity, reveals his deep divinity, a human being who reveals the image and likeness of God, the imprint of our existence.

Countless deeply human gestures and words have defined his life and work – words and works through which he has been a vehicle of the divinity in his humanity and for all humanity. In Francis, we have a Bishop of Rome and Head of the Church who is above all else a “human” man. He is as human as that man from Assisi, recalled in the name our Pontiff chose for his Pontificate.

His profound human experience and humanity lead him – like Jesus – to approach the weak, the most needy; to address the causes of the marginalized and to raise his voice in favor of peace for justice, peace for solidarity and merciful respect for all, especially for the impoverished and neglected on Earth.

This profound humanity reveals the “style” of Francis and, like the philosopher Protagoras, we can say of Francis “the style is the man.” His style is the measure of all things, the measure, character, and seal of everything he is and does, of his entire Pontificate.

Francis is a Christian man. He is convinced of the causes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which spring from the recognition of God as Father in whom we are all brothers and sisters, with a fraternal, merciful and universal love, in the way the good Father in Heaven loves us. The authenticity of his Christian life is not an addition to his person. On the contrary, the Gospel is the essence of his being and is revealed in all his human behavior.

In the life and missionary work of Francis, humanity and Christian life are not an incoherent, self-righteous, and hypocritical juxtaposition. No. Francis is a human being animated by the Gospel of Christ, a Christian in his deep humanity.

Francis is a Christian who has dedicated his life to pastoral and priestly ministry, first as a Jesuit priest, later as a Bishop in Argentina, and now as a successor of Peter in the Catholic Church. His ministerial, priestly, and pastoral works have demonstrated his life as deeply human and, therefore, truly Christian.

In our historical moment, the style of Francis is novel, contradictory, and shocking; the Gospel is always novel, because the life of the Gospel in the world engenders contradiction and because the logic of the Gospel clashes with the logic of the world.

The novelty of the Pontificate of Francis – here and now – is explained by the evangelical nature of his Pontificate, by the honest attachment of his papal ministry to the logic of the Gospel against the logic of the world.

This evangelical authenticity has rapidly made Francis a spiritual and moral reference for all humanity. This is evident in his vast influence in just four years as Pope, in the interest he arouses around the world, in different societies and social groups, in the media, in his interactions on social networks, and in every public appearance.

Francis reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth remains in force and – without having participated as a council priest – that the Second Vatican Council – like the Gospel – is about to be premiered, especially in this transition period of Modernity to Post-modernity, a period so in need of the human and merciful behavior of Jesus, of the logic of the Gospel and of the proclamation of the Gospel in a genuine, simple, straightforward, and unambiguous manner, as Jesus did and taught in his time.

As I said earlier, the style of Francis is a shocking style. The style of his Pontificate raises blisters because it purifies, renews, ignites, and burns; it neither marries itself to the status quo nor to an age-old, immovable, petrified tradition, nor – as he himself has denounced – is it corrupted by the need for movement, light, clarity, and renewal in the Gospel of Christ.

In his famous parable, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tells of a clown who found it impossible to convince the inhabitants of a nearby town of a fire in his circus. Due to the clown’s manner and dress, the countrymen thought it was a joke meant to attract them to the circus. The circus burned.

Today, everyone agrees that, with the style of his evangelizing work, Francis overcame the problem posed by Kierkegaard, because Francis comes and convinces. His task is credible because it is consistent. Francis has shown that it is possible to break the old, obsolete, and antiquated molds in which the Gospel has been transmitted with the “smell of sheep,” in order to approach the men of our time, especially those on the geographical, social, institutional, and ideological peripheries. With Francis, it is evident that new wine requires new wine skin, new ways of thinking, and minds and hearts that are sincerely open and willing to embrace the ever-new light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who renews everything, who changes everything, who transforms everything.

The substance and extraordinary richness of this Pontificate are evident in the prolific  works  Francis has produced in such a short time. It suffices to list here only a few milestones of his Petrine ministry:

  • An Encyclical: Lumen Fidei (on the faith).
  • An Encyclical Letter: Laudato Si (on care of the environment).
  • A Papal Bull: Misericordiae Vultus (to summon the Holy Year of Mercy).
  • An Apostolic Letter for the Year of Dedication to Consecrated Life.
  • Two Apostolic Exhortations: Evangelii Gaudium (on the joy of announcing the Gospel) and Amoris Laetitia (on love in the Family).
  • The formation of a Council of Cardinals for the reform of the Roman Curia.
  • An Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
  • Countless apostolic journeys followed by multitudes.
  • A Motu proprio, “On the Jurisdiction of Judicial Authorities of the Vatican City State in Criminal Matters,” published on July 11, 2013.
  • A Motu Proprio, “For the Prevention and Countering of Money Laundering, the Financing of Terrorism, and the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” published on August 8, 2013.
  • Three Consistories.
  • Canonizations.
  • The Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere (the search for the face of God) on the contemplative life of women.

We give thanks to God for giving us Francis as Pope in this time and under these circumstances. As we begin the fifth year of his Pontificate, our hearts and the bells of the Catholic Church rejoice. Why do our hearts rejoice and why do the bells ring? Let us reply with the word of the poet: “For a man who is a blacksmith, he is a soldier and a poet. For a man who carries three stars in his soul: work, energy and dreams – the work that gives strength, the energy that gives audacity, and dreams that give glories.”

We thank God for giving us, in Francis, a renewed model of humanity in Christian life. We rejoice because, in Francis there appears, for our time, a model of divinity in humanity. We congratulate ourselves because Francis shows us – in a simple way – that the life of Christ in us is possible, a challenge that calls and challenges all. Francis reminds us daily of the value of the Gospel, the value of Christian life, and the importance of “always returning to the sources” to illuminate our lives and the life of the world with the values of the Gospel.

Francis has again made the Gospel credible in the life of a man for all men. With his way of being and acting, with his Petrine ministry, the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as Pope Francis, has become, in these four years of his Pontificate and as the great playwright Bertolt Brecht said, one of those “indispensable ones” for all mankind. He is one of those men who validate, who make credible and kind being part of humanity, Christianity, and the Catholic Church.


Lea el artículo en español aquí .

Mario J. Paredes Consulting, Inc.
163 East 106 Street
New York, New York 10029

Article link: (http://mariojparedesen.blogspot.com/2017/03/francis-four-stars-in-his-soul.html)

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Youth for Human Rights and the Common Good


CONGRATULATIONS to our Young Adults from IIMA and VIDES for their efforts to help bring peace.  Thank you for making a difference in your country and inspiring all of us to do the same!

Today, 16 March 2017, from 1PM – 3PM, in Room XXIII, at Palais des Nations, our  young speakers will present their human rights work at the United Nations – Geneva, Switzerland.



Zareh Bedros
23 years old | Syrian Arab Republic

Currently completing his degree in Medicine, Mr. Bedros has been volunteering for the promotion of children’s rights since 2008. Despite the conflict, he made the choice to remain in Aleppo with his family, working to continue and finish his studies. He is responsible for the initiative “Samaan Sruji” for children in 6th grade. Due to the difficult situation currently happening in Syria, his participation in the project represents a great opportunity to witness the potential of youth in promoting human rights in the context of a major humanitarian crisis.

“Peace starts in the individual before it becomes the general culture.”

thumbnail_2MercadoGuillermo Andrés Gutiérrez Mercado
27 years old | Uruguay

Since 2014, Mr. Gutierrez has served as coordinator in a school administration team for primary and secondary education, focusing on how to systematically introduce Human Rights and Education in the school curricula as well as in youth detention facilities. Since 2015, he has been a part of an educative project which helps detainees (most younger than 30 years old) reflect on and understand their rights inside and outside the detention facilities, as well as the values of equality, respect for diversity and non-discrimination, solidarity, justice, and education.

“The most important thing is to be engaged in an active citizenship, committed to the most needy sectors of society.”

thumbnail_3Bazabana copyPrence Bazabana
30 years old | Republic of Congo

Mr. Bazabana is a computer skills teacher and the founder and coordinator of the local volunteers group “VIDES Pointe-Noire”. Together with other volunteers, he works locally in the Republic of Congo in order to guarantee the right to education for the most vulnerable children. He organizes mission camps in remote villages to provide practical assistance for children’s health and education and to raise awareness in the community about children’s rights. He feels it is important to listen to young people and, through his service, motivate them to become human rights promoters in their own communities.

“What helps me most is patience, a sense of openness, and a great desire to help and offer my time and experience in the service of my country.”

thumbnail_4BelarminoMarian Belarmino
20 years old | Philippines

Ms. Belarmino has participated in various advocacy activities in the Philippines. She was a youth leader of a mobile education project, aiming to promote children’s rights and human rights education among vulnerable children in remote and marginalized areas. She advocated for environmental sustainability and for the promotion of positive discipline rather than corporal punishment in schools and domestic settings. She also assisted the project of adult literacy education and human rights advocacy among the Aetas (Indigenous peoples of Pamganga in the Philippines).

“A small help can make a huge difference to my country, and to the world. That is the beauty of volunteering and committing for the common good.”

thumbnail_5FarbarPeter Farbár
25 years old | Slovakia

Mr. Farbár is currently studying for a degree in special needs education. He lives in Kosice (Slovakia) where he is particularly committed to the promotion of human rights for Roma children through peer support, club activities, English classes, and drama/theatre performances. He worked in Lunik IX – a Roma ghetto – where he spent eleven months in 2015, and thirteen months in 2012-2013. Together with other volunteers, he strives to find concrete ways to realize the full development of children at risk, especially those belonging to marginalized Roma communities. He works to eradicate discrimination and integrate Roma children into society while continuing to value their own cultural identity.

“We must help children and youth to bring something special to the world, something for a better world.”


FB Event Invite BIG GIVE 2017 Save the Date

Be missioners with our missioners! Join our campaign: donate $10.00 at 10 o’clock May 4th and invite others to do the same.  Before you know it your small donation will make a difference in the lives of the young.  #VIDES10at10

Celebrate the BIG GIVE 2017 and support us at VIDES+USA (https://www.thebiggivesa.org/organizations/vides-usa).

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Scenic and Breathtaking Journey

Catherine Rwanda BelyseMwiriwe (good evening) family, friends, and fellow missionaries,

Ihangane (sorry) that week five entry is late. It has been so busy that I couldn’t access the computer for the last four or five days. Last week was a challenging week because the girls had their exams and were more tired than usual – a hard week for us all.
This past weekend, I was asked to visit our Sisters’ community in Gisenyi with one of the Sisters. Gisenyi is almost like a coastal town in Rwanda. It is by Lake Kivu which is the largest lake in Rwanda and separates Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The lake is viewed as a beach and a lot of local families travel to Gisenyi for the holidays. When I learnt that I was going to Gisenyi, I was so excited, as I really needed a break after a long week. I had to inform the girls that I would be away for the weekend and the girls did not take it well. I promised them I would come back and with a few treats. They were still a little upset, but they knew I didn’t break my promises.
The Sister and myself had a long journey to make on Saturday afternoon. We needed to catch a moto/scooter into the biggest market in Kigali and then catch a local bus for three hours. The moto/scooter ride was fun and of course I requested the driver to go slowly to which he did. Thank you. The bus journey took us through the city and up and down and around the valleys. It was a scenic and breathtaking journey. We passed many villages and small towns along the way. When we were high up in the valleys, we could see below little houses in the valleys, and it was something I had never seen before. There were several stops along the way; what entertained me was when the bus would stop and people would collect packages from either friends or vendors. I think most of the packages were either food items or textiles. Also, when we passed some villages, the local children would wave at me. It was so welcoming of them. (Oh yes, I was clearly the only non-African on the bus, but everyone on the bus was so friendly.) I was able to speak to others in a little bit of Kinyarwanda, basic French, and of course English.
Catherine Rwanda Lake Kivu
When we arrived in Gisenyi, which was on Saturday evening, I was able to relax and rest at the convent after meeting the Sisters and having dinner with them. The Sisters there are lovely and very welcoming-they made me feel at home. The Sisters have a technical school there that teach courses in hospitality, culinary, and tailoring. I have a handmade handbag (local style) from one of the students. The next morning we attended Mass at 7am. The parish was big! I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t take communion simply because I didn’t know where to go. I prayed though of course. Some children came up to me to say hi and they were all touching my hands with such curiosity. It was so adorable of them.
After Mass and breakfast, I had planned to visit Lake Kivu, but I was asked to work instead. I had the chance to meet the boarding students there as I needed to take photos of them for the school. I also had to interview the students for their portfolios. Many of the students I interviewed did not speak English or French, so, I had an older student interpret for me, thank goodness for her. I really felt the communication barrier during the interviews, but, the smiles and positive energies of the students made the process a memorable one. Some students asked me to play volleyball with them before asking me if I was going to be residing at their school as a missionary – and I had to explain that I was based in Kigali. They were a little disappointed, but, I was really touched with how welcoming they were.
After a busy day, the Sister and I made the journey back to Kigali, and we got back home late Sunday evening. I was looking forward to showering and going to sleep. I missed my bed and my mosquito net very much indeed. This morning (Monday), the girls saw me in the dormitory, and they greeted me with so much love. I had missed them more than I realized. I knew I was excited to see them this morning, but, it felt like I was away for much longer than a weekend. Today in class I learnt from one of the caretakers, that the girls that live at school with me were very upset on the weekend because they were missing the Sister and myself. One of the caretakers told me that she could really see how much the children love me. I was so overwhelmed as I missed the girls so much too. With that in mind, I went into the city by myself (and for the first time) after school by moto, and I went to the supermarket to buy some lollies, biscuits, and potato chips for the girls, caretakers, Sisters, and myself. Everyone enjoyed the treats. Hooray!
Catherine Rwanda Smiling Children
One word that I should share with everyone is mzungu. Mzungu is a word used in East Africa which means light coloured person more or less. When you are a foreigner in Rwanda, and people don’t know your name, they call you mzungu. It’s not a negative word in context, it just means that people know you’re a foreigner, and they don’t know your name. Once people know your name, when others call you mzungu, people will tell them your name, and you will be known by your first name. Voila!

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Adventure is the Name of the Game

Jumping for Joy Sand DuneThis past week, while the girls went on midterm break, I had the opportunity to head up north to the desert with Alwine and Rainer. I was excited to see even more of Kenya (although it is disputed if it is actually Kenya past Marsabit) and experience a new culture.

We set off last Monday with a rough idea of what would unfold. But this wasn’t an ordinary trip–it was divinely appointed. God perfectly planned our trip, without worrying us about the details. The night we arrived in Karare, the sisters there told us that the private driver would be heading to North Horr the next day and we should go with him. So we had only a quick stop over in the semi-arid desert before heading back to the ‘road’ to head up to North Horr. Alwine and I had a fun little game called “adventure.” Whenever something was uncomfortable: we said adventure. New and exciting: adventure. Total surprise: adventure. Basically, anything is an adventure when you’re putting your vacation in God’s hands.

Much of the first day and a half in the desert was adventure, without the fun. It was hot and windy and sunny and dusty. At first, there wasn’t much to do. We spent the first day sitting around, trying to figure out how to keep our hair from blowing everywhere. By Wednesday night, we were able to go to the swimming pool after Mass. As I swam around, feeling refreshed by the cool water and watching the stars pop out of the vast desert sky, a great peace entered me.

Kenyan Desert AdventureFrom that moment on, my time in the desert was wonderful. Sure there were more unpleasant ‘adventures’ (like a scorpion in my room), but I felt so relaxed. Much of this was due to the company. Sr. Anisia and Sr. Jackie are wonderful–they laugh easily, love deeply and know how to make others feel welcome. I also made friends with Philipo (artist) and Dan (dj, driver, and everything else) who work for the fathers there. We played music, hung out, discussed culture and just had fun together. The Gabra tribe that lives there is still very vibrant. Their dress, homes, music, and customs are largely pre-westernization. Although they were shy of us wazungu (foreigners), they were very friendly.

This will not be a trip I am likely to forget soon! Based on the joy and peace I experienced up there, I know God had it planned for me. We ended up staying 5 days in North Horr, something that made Alwine and I smile as we simultaneously said, “adventure.”

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