Midnight Prayer Service
Sister M. Gloria Mar and Sister Theresa Jones gathered with the young women participating in the VIDES Winter Formation Camp at 11:20 pm in our chapel to await the New Year. S. M. Gloria extended the invitation to our whole community and to FMA in the surrounding area. Several members of our community joined them. During this hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, they made an Examen, thanking God for the blessings of 2017, expressing sorrow for their offenses, and stating something which they planned to do in 2018. They also reflected on Mary’s attitude of faith and wonderment as she expected the birth of Jesus, and asked her to accompany them as Jesus is formed within them. Right before midnight, they played the Te Deum, and at midnight, lights were turned on and bells were rung. Their prayer time continued as they each received their VIDES shirt and a Rosary. They also pledged and promised to live in chastity, poverty, and obedience while they would be on mission. Their time of prayer concluded with the singing of the Magnificat.
Midnight Prayer Service
We went to visit the Syrian refugee families in Azraq, near the border of Syria and Saudi Arabia, the same we had visited a month earlier.
The trip, like the previous one, was organized by Fatima, herself a refugee, from Iraq, who raised funds from friends to buy a playground and new clothes to bring to the children of the camp so they could celebrate Eid al-Fitra, which she explained is like Christmas for Muslims and it is very important for the kids to wear new clothing on that day. We went together with our inseparable friends from the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy, Shnoda (Egypt) and Judith (Switzerland), and I invited Ricardo, an Argentinian from the Focolari Catholic Lay movement, since he had told me he wanted to visit a refugee camp before leaving Jordan, but couldn’t find a way to do it.
I’d like to mention that to enter into a UN refugee camp it is very difficult and it can take months of security background check, unless you work for an NGO working with the UN or for the government. Also, the US Government doesn’t allow its personnel to go to the border areas nor visiting refugee camps unless they have been authorized by the US Government, and recommends US citizens to follow the same guidelines. Two days before our trip, Fatima went with the truck to deliver the playground because she said it could have been dangerous for us as foreigners to be seen bringing aid to refugees. This is just to explain the situation on the ground. We didn’t encounter any problems coming and going from that camp and we felt safe.
This camp, which was composed of a big family of about 150 members, was reduced to about 60 members since a portion of the family moved to another area due to work opportunity, and it’s not a formal camp supported by the UN. These people had fled the city of Hama in Syria six years ago due to the war and have been moving their tents around looking for land to cultivate food. At the time of our earlier visit, they were on a piece of land where they grew tomatoes and many of the children worked in the field. Back home in Syria, they lived in a nice house and worked in agriculture as well. Someday soon they hope to go back home to Syria once the war is over.
When we arrived at the camp, the kids were playing with the playground brought by Fatima; she was so happy to see them having fun!
For now, I am still offering my time and love to touch the lives of the young people – one child at a time and living out Salesian loving-kindness and joy. I am just happy to be of service!
Your prayers, love, support, and contribution will have a huge impact in my mission!
-Natalia Liviero, VIDES missioner
My mission in the Holy Land was going to start in September, but, life is amazing, so I ended up in Jerusalem in July for a short week!
It was Sunday, in the afternoon before going to Mass, and I was cleaning up my emails and organizing my contacts when I found an email from Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate in Jordan replying to an email thread where I was copied, last year… when he was Monsignor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Last year, his name wasn’t familiar to me, but this year, I’ve seen him in almost every important celebration in Jordan and have met him briefly once, so I was intrigued and checked the email. It was about his involvement with the Interfaith Conference of Forgiveness to be held in Jerusalem!
I was in the email thread because of a phone conversation I had last year with Father Kelly, the Vice Chargé of the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. He had suggested that I participate in the organization and to attend the conference since he knew of my profound interest in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to him, education on forgiveness regarding such a deep conflict was necessary to heal so many decades of grievances on both sides. At that time, I was busy with lots of projects at work and although I got acquainted with the details of the conference, I couldn’t do much. Also, I wasn’t sure I could take time off from work to attend.
On that Sunday, after seeing the Bishop’s email, I contacted Fr. Kelly and Dr. Enright, the founder of the International Forgiveness Institute in Wisconsin, and asked them if they needed volunteers for the conference, to which they said yes, very enthusiastically. After the evening Mass, during a farewell reception to the Vice Nunzio of Jordan at the Italian Embassy, guess who was there…? Bishop Shomali!
When I mentioned to him about the story of the email, he said “Oh, you should go, I’ll be presenting on a topic. Ask the sisters to host you at their house in Jerusalem, it’s around the corner from Notre Dame!” I asked the Superior of the house where I live if I could take that week off to go to the conference, and she said I had to text the Director of the Middle East Province, who was in Rome, for authorization. The Director said she had no objection if there was a room available for me at their house in Jerusalem. Next morning, while I was attending a conference about refugees in Jordan, I got the confirmation for the room, and in the afternoon, I was traveling to Jerusalem!
The Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness was held at the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame in the Jerusalem Center for two days, on Wednesday and Thursday. On Tuesday, the day before the conference, I spent almost my entire day at Notre Dame helping to finalize the press release, getting the final design for the volunteers’ t-shirts and getting them ordered, and receiving the instructions for our tasks during the days of the conference.
At the end of Day 1 of the conference, we joined Fr. Kelly for dinner, who so generously hosted us for meals during the volunteering days. I was introduced to Fr. Kelly in 2013 by email and it was great to finally meet him in person! He is very smart, profound in his reflections, and has an extraordinary sense of humor! He is from Ireland as well as Edel (my volunteer friend), and, once again, I can confirm that Irish people are so wonderful and fun to be around!
Volunteering at such an important conference and with the responsibility to handle the technical aspect of the presentations for over 300 people helped me get out of my comfort zone. It was also a great opportunity to listen to religious leaders of the main three Abrahamic religions agreeing that God is a God of mercy and forgiveness. God always forgives us, it is us who are not ready to be forgiven by Him, at times.
You can watch the conference and hear everyone’s perspectives on forgiveness and what is being done globally by clicking on this link: https://internationalforgiveness.com/jerusalem-conference.htm.
Jerusalem, unexpectedly, also put me in touch with the Filipino community! On Tuesday, I decided to go to 6:30 pm Mass at Notre Dame thinking Fr. Kelly was going to be the celebrant, but, instead, the Mass was celebrated at the auditorium by Cardinal Tagle!
About 450 people attended Mass, the majority were Filipinos living in Israel. Filipinos, mostly women, usually emigrate to other countries to work as caregivers, leaving their kids behind to be raised by their fathers and grandparents, while the mothers take care of other women’s children. Cardinal Tagle delivered a very warm message to all these women.
I wouldn’t have liked to end this post on a sad note after participating in such a wonderful conference on forgiveness, but, the day after the conference, on Friday, there was an attack on Temple Mount where 3 Palestinians killed 2 Israeli soldiers, and the Palestinians were eventually found and killed. The sisters’ house is a few blocks away from the Old City and we could hear the helicopters and police after Mass was over at 7:30 am and they told us to avoid the Old City area…
May God bring peace to the Middle East and grant us peace in our hearts!
-Natalia Liviero, VIDES missioner
My twenty days in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania was a time of waiting and watching. Back in Kenya the general elections were being held and the whole country was holding its breath. I had traveled to Tanzania in case of any unrest after the elections (update: there is a re-vote for the president in October). I stayed with the Salesian Sisters in Temeke, one of the slums of Dar. The sisters run a nursery school, primary school, technical school, Sunday oratory and young people come to play sports all the time. The mission is very much alive! It is common to see 20 year old walking around, holding the hands of 4 year old (which is such an adorable sight).
Since my duration there was unpredictable, I didn’t have an official role. So, I tried to help out where I could. This included: marking homework and exams, helping the technical students with their English, assisting the other volunteers with their crafts and playing games. Honestly, I would say the majority of my time in Temeke was just hanging out and having fun. I loved it!
Some of the ways I played:
- Skipping with the tiny kids all over the compound
- Quizzing the 7th graders on their math and science
- Discussing the educational/ political system of Tanzania with the technical school students
- Playing basketball and winning in ‘Horse’ (pretty proud of myself)
- Drawing in the sand
- Joining the dressmaking students in a dance competition
- Singing and playing guitar
- Going to the beach
- Laughing and telling stories
- and much more
It turns out that I could have stayed in Kenya during the elections; it would have been safe, but, in God’s divine wisdom, I was given a chance to go to Tanzania. Although my time there was short, the young people of Temeke left a tangible mark on my heart. During this time, I grew to love Tanzania and its welcoming, friendly people. I look forward to a time I can return.
-Megan Swanson, VIDES missioner
In the Antilles
On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic within the last ten years, crashed into the Antilles threatening the Caribbean populations, with winds at 300 kilometers, gigantic waves and torrential rains. The areas involved were Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, East Caribbean Islands and the USA.
Sister Basilia Ramírez, Provincial of the Antilles “St. Joseph Province “(ANT), shared the emergency situation that the various nations of the province experienced: “A brief greeting from the Antilles, whose nations, as a whole, were struck by Hurricane Irma. The hurricane crossed to Puerto Rico, where it caused great damage: fallen trees, debris, landslides and above all deprivation of services such as electricity, water and difficulties in telephone communication.
Hurricane Irma continued on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. It rained a lot throughout the country, and had some very strong winds. There were serious agricultural losses and many other consequences caused by the hurricane. The devastation also hit the northern part of Haiti, and arrived in Cuba. The situation remains very difficult. We have faith in prayer and a commitment in these crucial moments.”
As you know, on September 7, 2017, at 11:50 PM, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake with its epicenter at Pijijiapan, in the State of Chiapas, struck Mexico. The intensity of the earthquake was greater than that of the 1985 earthquake, which devastated Mexico City in 1985, causing thousands of victims.
The FMA, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, are present in two provinces in Mexico: Our Lady of Guadalupe (MME) in 27 communities; and Monterrey Mater Ecclesiae (MMO) in 21 communities.
The Provincials, Sr. Leonor Salazar and Sr. Ma. Guadalupe Torres, shared the situation:
“Chiapas, Edo. De México, Gro, Hgo., Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz were the states in which the earthquake was felt with great strength and where the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and the Salesians of Don Bosco are present.
Solidarity among ourselves led us to call on the various communities to know their situation. Thanks be to God, there was no loss of human life, but there is material damage at Matagallinas, Oaxaca, Villaflores Chiapas, and in the School at Puebla: cracks in some buildings and damaged fences. This led us to call on those responsible for security to make spot checks in the following days in order to review the infrastructure and to assure us that there are no dangers. Some of the buildings of our works were damaged, but the sisters and our families are safe. We continue to entrust ourselves to the protection of the Most Holy Virgin of Guadalupe Help of Christians.
We want to thank everyone for their prayers and solidarity, especially Mother Yvonne Reungoat who with great care and filial affection called to encourage us and to invite us to solidarity among ourselves and with the people. We share the suffering of our sisters and brothers who have lost their life or their homes.”
The joy for the liberation of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil has quickly spread across the globe. Thousands of people have expressed gratitude to God for this gift. In the midst of a world full of tension, Fr. Tom is an image of serenity and peace.
It happened on March 4, 2016, that our Salesian Indian missionary was kidnapped. After 18 months of anguished waiting, on September 12, 2017, he was finally released. We thank God for this great grace.
Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime spoke of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil’s long months of imprisonment: “Many times we have asked the Lord that His will be done and that you never lack inner strength. We can see this has been so…There is no doubt that Mary also accompanied you every day like a mother,” and the Salesian missionary nodded with conviction.
The Rector Major also gave thanks “to the thousands and thousands who have prayed with such faith during these eighteen months of our brother Tom’s Gethsemane.”
Fr. Uzhunnalil’s release is a reason for continuing to respond in the future “with greater fidelity and authenticity to His summons and to the charism that He has entrusted to us and to whom Fr. Tom has delivered his life: the announcement of Jesus and of His Gospel, the predilection for children and young people from all over the world, and among them: the poorest and abandoned.”
For his part, Fr. Tom did nothing but repeat words of thanks, first of all to God and our most blessed Mother.
One of his first requests was to pray in the chapel with the Salesian community in the Vatican. He also wanted to celebrate Mass immediately after, but due to necessary medical examinations he was forced to postpone the fulfillment of his wish. Nevertheless, before the arrival of the medical staff, he asked to be confessed, since this had obviously not been possible throughout his time in prison.
The next day, after expressing his closeness and affection for Fr. Tom and his family, the Rector Major handed him his Salesian cross, and spoke of the full value of this gesture.
“I want to offer you my Salesian cross, which I always bring with me, so that you can bring it with you. And with this sign, it is a bit as if all Salesians, from today, were with you now and forever.”
Read the Rector Major’s letter on Fr. Tom’s release: http://www.sdb.org/en/rector-major/90-letters-minor-rm/1439-rector-major-liberazione-del-padre-tom-uzhunnalil-13-09-2017.
-Agenzia Info Salesiana (ANS)
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the current administration would be ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that protects from deportation 800,000 immigrant youth who were brought to this country as children. VIDES stands with DACA.
Here is a response by one of our VIDES+USA members:
This one is personal. I was volunteering in Honduras with VIDES+USA when DACA was announced in 2012. The parents, siblings, uncles, and cousins of many of my new Honduran friends had risked so much to build new lives for themselves and their families in the United States.
Over the next year, I spent numerous early Saturday mornings at Catholic Charities Diocese of Fort Worth, helping DACA applicants gather their documentation. This January, I left my first volunteer tax shift of the year to head to the Fort Worth Women’s March, to walk for the 800,000+ law abiding young people and their families who now had new reasons to fear for their futures. On my way out the door, a young man walked in, sat down with Maria Ines Orozco, and said “I’m a dreamer. What is going to happen next?”
Why do we place more value on the technicalities of the law than compassion and humanity? How are those born within our borders more “American” than those who were brought here as children and know no other home? Why is it my job vs. your job; us vs. them? Why am I entitled to live in the light, while so many must navigate the shadows?
“Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me.” (Mark 9:37)
A very touching experience was a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Azraq, near the Syrian border with my Caritas volunteer friends, Judith, Shnoda, and Fatima, to bring clothes, bread, toys and sweets for the kids, and to spend time with the families and their children. The trip was organized by Fatima, who is a fun girl and an amazing human being from Iraq. She is a refugee who has been living in Jordan for the last five years, patiently, and with a very positive attitude, waiting for her visa to go to the US to start her new life while her parents and friends are still in Iraq, and her brothers and sisters are spread out between Jordan and other countries. When I first met her, and learned she was a refugee and was doing volunteer work, I was so amazed that I couldn’t help, but praise her for her humanity!
At first, when Fatima invited me to the trip, I was hesitant because I had read about ISIS infiltrating refugee camps in Syria, and the US Embassy warnings to US citizens about avoiding the cities of Azraq and Mafraq, and, not knowing the geography, I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. But, when I mentioned to the Sisters about the trip, they thought it was a beautiful idea and that gave me comfort to join them.
The camp is composed of a big family of about 150 members, and is not a formal camp supported by the UN. These people had fled the city of Hama in Syria six years ago due to the war and have been moving their tents around the Azraq area looking for land to cultivate food. They are now on a piece of land where they grow tomatoes and many of the children work on the field. They also have sheep, chickens, and a few skinny dogs.
They received us very warmly, letting us in the main tent, making us sit on cushions on the floor, and serving us tea, as it’s the Arab custom. We then looked around and they explained to us some features of the camp, like the tent with the main kitchen, the little bathroom tents, and the school tent, big enough for about 20 kids, where they receive informal education given by the leader of the camp.
When we finished the tour, they called in the children and adults who were working on the tomato field and we gave them the ‘goodies’ – they were so happy!
Although my Arabic was somewhat limited at the beginning, I could have some conversations with the people, and especially with the mothers and their children. I held one adorable baby, and then the other mothers were bringing me their babies as well for me to hold! One of the babies was extending his arms to me and I couldn’t resist but to hold him as well. His mother was very nice and she was insisting that I have coffee at her tent, but I didn’t want to separate from my friends so I had to kindly refuse, something tough in the Arab culture… they always offer you food and drinks (coffee or tea) and it’s very rude to say no, even though you already had plenty of food and drinks! We took pictures and everybody wanted to be in the picture with us!
Jordan has a very diverse and unique landscape, it’s so beautiful! On the trip to Azraq, we stopped at the Azraq Wetland Reserve, a place where there used to be wetlands, but due to the over pumping of water for human consumption, since 1993 the water has been very scarce and the fauna of the place is extinct, except for gazelles and some birds.
On the way back, we saw a castle by the road and we stopped to check it out. It was the World Heritage Site of Cuseir Amra, built in the 8th century as a hunting lodge for members of the Ummayad dynasty family. It was closed but we spoke to the guardian and he let us in! He even gave us a tour of the castle! The price? A selfie with us! We took pictures of an amazing sunset on the desert…
-Natalia Liviero, VIDES missioner
To me, authentic friendship is one of the greatest joys in life. I honestly believe I know some of the most hilarious, genuine, caring and wonderful people in the world! When I moved to Kenya four months ago, I didn’t know a soul here. But, in God’s great Providence, He quickly provided beautiful friends to enrich my life. In a short time, they have taught me so much about friendship.
So, in no particular order, here are some lessons they have taught me:
1.) Let people care for you
I am usually the mom in the friend group and I feel it is my duty to love my friends by helping and advising them. Much to my surprise, my friends here have ‘out-mommed’ me! They frequently check to make sure I’m eating, try to make me wear sweaters when it’s ‘cold’ and freak out with every little sniffle I make. At first, I felt like I was being treated like a child. ‘I can take care of myself,’ was my automatic mental response.
As time passed, I’ve realized that they ask because they care. They know I can take care of myself, but they want to show concern for the essential things in life. I become a better friend when I allow them to love me in the way they know best. Honestly, I still struggle to accept this, but knowing this is how they express their love means so much.
2.) Want friends? Be humble.
I have found that hilarious things happen to me, especially here. For instance, I have accidentally confused names of people with names for food more than once. Instead of feeling like a complete idiot, I share this story and join in the laughter. I’m not perfect, so I can’t take myself too seriously. Even if you’re not a #mzunguinkenya, you can still grow in friendship by learning to laugh at your blunders.
3.) Sharing is Caring
Obviously, sharing material goods is a way of showing you care but, I’ve learned that so much of friendship is sharing what you can do. Teaching one another is a way to bond and have fun! Here, I have taught people how to: swim, play guitar and piano, how to type efficiently, speak a little Spanish, and more. In return, I’ve been taught how to: cook Kenyan food, dance, speak Kiswahili/ sheng, etc. I’ve discovered here that so many friendships start with saying: “I’ll teach you!” It’s such an adventure to step out of your comfort zone with the accompaniment of a friend.
4.) It’s okay to get a little messy
A couple weeks ago, I was really sick. For some unknown reason, my midsection decided to wage war on me. I felt terrible (and probably looked even worse). I told 2 people I was sick…then the rest of the day I had a total of 9 visitors in my room. They came with advice, sympathy and lemon water. When they heard I was sick, each one took their turn to comfort me. I was shocked! In the US, when sickness is mentioned, people treat you like a leper (except my mom, who is ever faithful!). Here, my friends figuratively stepped into my mess to love me. They didn’t leave me to ‘get better soon’ but they came to check in and take care of me. Their love for me transcended their desire to protect themselves and it meant so much to me.
5.) Celebrate Little Victories
I’m learning Kiswahili polepole (slowly). Honestly, I feel like I should know much more by now, but I can practically only speak greetings and how I’m feeling. But, you know, every time I throw out a ‘nakuja’ (I’m coming) or a ‘nashisinjaa sana’ (I’m really hungry), I am heartily congratulated. I know my proficiency in Kiswahili is very little, but my friends are proud of my efforts. They make me feel like I just recited an intricate poem with each baby phrases. It reminds me that life happens in little moments, not big events. Celebrate the ordinary, everyday joys with those you love.
Hope this list challenges the way you are a friend to others. I’ve been pushed in so many ways since being in Kenya and I’m so grateful for the chance to learn more about friendship too!
-Megan Swanson, VIDES missioner
It has been a whirlwind here in Jordan! I’ve been doing lots of things since I’ve arrived and have met so many wonderful people!
First of all, I have to say I’m so happy to be fluent in Italian, because Arabic is so difficult! I have an intermediate level of Arabic from FIU, my university in Miami, but I studied it in 2010 and have hardly used Arabic in all these years! The official language of the Salesian Sisters where I live in Amman, Jordan, is Italian and they also speak Arabic in the Middle Eastern houses. Sister Jacinta is from India with whom I speak in English and Italian, but everybody else speaks Arabic: Sister Rita is from Lebanon, Sister Rasha is from Syria, Nataly is from Jordan but knows English, and our chef Gioia (which means “joy” in Italian) is Armenian from Lebanon.
My journey to leave everything behind in the US was such a herculean effort! I still have to deal with some paperwork and expenses back there but this experience is worth a million so I’m dealing with all that while trying to keep a positive attitude! Thank goodness for my family and friends who are helping me to deal with all that from Miami!
I left Miami and arrived in Amman after a quick stop in Washington D.C. to fulfill another dream! I had a four-hour oral assessment at the State Department for a non-appointed consular position in Latin America, a position to which I had applied about a year ago, and I passed it! I started the hiring paper work on that same day but while in Amman, I decided that it wasn’t what I wanted so I withdrew my candidacy. But the feeling of passing the entire and long process was very rewarding!
So… I arrived in Amman very exhausted! And the sisters were so nice to me! Especially Sor Jacinta, who told me to sleep and rest until I got recovered from the long trip and jet-lag. They also had bottled water for me for the first three days so I didn’t get sick!
The first days were quiet so I went to Mass every day and helped in church with candles, flowers, and altar preparation, before and after rosary prayer and the Mass. VIDES is a Catholic organization but you don’t have to be Catholic to volunteer with them. But, if you are, like I am, then it is fulfilling to go to Mass every day, and especially to Sunday Mass, which is required, and I very much look forward to it, since I used to go to Sunday Mass back home. The only challenge is that the Mass and rosary are in Arabic!
May was also the month of the Virgin Mary so there was daily rosary prayer at the church, and there was a very important celebration for the 100 years of Our Lady of Fatima the day after I arrived in Amman and Sor Rita invited me to go with her. It was so touching to observe the devotion of the Christians of Jordan to the Virgin Mary, particularly, living in a country with a Muslim majority.
I attended another important Mass with the sisters, followed by a reception celebrating the Fourth Anniversary of Pope Francis, at the Our Lady Nazarene Church, which is the base for the Patriarchal vicariate of Jordan. At the end of the mass, the Nuncio for Jordan and Iraq, who is the Ambassador of the Vatican, read the work of Pope Francis in these four years where the Pope stressed how important it is for all of us to contribute to peace in the Middle East. The Nuncio, Alberto Ortega, is from Spain, but is now based in Baghdad. He is a very cordial and humble person. I greeted him at the reception and Sor Rita encouraged me to ask him for a private appointment to speak with him! I met him two days later at the Vatican Embassy where he welcomed me very warmly and where we had a candid conversation about the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and about my life vocation.
Please join me as we pray for him and for all the Christians who so bravely live and work in the Middle East amid the current hostilities from ISIS and other Islamic extremists.
Though I do not know fully what is in store for me, I am offering my time and talents to touch the lives of the young people and of those in need – one person at a time while living out Salesian loving-kindness and joy. I am just happy to be of service – living out a dream of peace in the Middle East!
-Natalia Liviero, VIDES missioner