Meet Sarahi

Sarahi PerezVIDES 2018 Formation Camp

About Me:
My name is Sarahi Perez and I am from Illinois. I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Religious studies.  At different stages during my college career, I volunteered at a hospice home, I tutored and mentored grade school children, I led bible study groups, and helped lead retreats. During my junior year of college I was hired as a marketing intern for a non-profit organization called The Resurrection Project and I helped with their social media, monthly newsletter, and website.

Later on I worked with a larger non-profit called, The Big Shoulders Fund, as a summer fellow helping inner city Catholic schools to have enough resources and stay open. I also worked as a marketing intern for Our Lady of Tepeyac Elementary School toward the end of my senior year.

However, the best experience I’ve had was after I graduated college and was hired as a summer teacher for a catechetical program. I enjoyed teaching children about salvation history, the rosary, and having the opportunity to watch them grow with each activity we did. The Totus Tuus program helped me realize how much children long for Jesus and how meeting someone who is passionate and on fire about their faith can change their perspective about religion. This program connected me to a small young-adult retreat team and for a couple of months I helped organize and lead retreats for several Catholic schools and parishes within the Diocese of Joliet. Lastly, before becoming a VIDES missioner, I also worked for Our Lady of Victory convent as a receptionist and helped with tasks in the human resources department.

In the future I hope to continue my studies and finish my Master’s degree in
Sociology and Divinity. From all the work I have done I have mostly enjoyed the work with children. Being able to help youth and empower them with knowledge and truth has been the most rewarding work.

About Mission:
My mission site is Guatemala and I will be working in el colegio Nuestra Señora del
Rosario in San Pedro Carchá. From what I know so far I will be teaching English, assisting the sisters with psychological cases of children, giving value formation classes, and possibly teaching catechism on Sundays.

About Formation Camp:
The formation camp was extremely helpful. I truly enjoyed the accompaniment
training guide and all the wisdom sharing. I think the faith journey sharing was also a great exercise that helped the group grow and connect better. All of the videos we watched were great, but I mostly enjoyed the story of St. John Bosco because it brought to life a lot of things we read and learned about. I also really liked the Lectio Divina we did together on the story of Joseph and all the meditations guided by Sister Theresa.

1801 Sarahi lector looking upAbout Service Project:
Although we were only allowed to go one day, the service we did at St. Peter St.Joseph’s Home for Children was incredible. I did not think volunteering a few hours of our day, playing games, and singing songs with the boys would make such a difference in my life. I was able to see the suffering and trials in a lot of these boys’ eyes, as well as the loneliness and desire for authentic care and love. Most of the boys were around my younger brothers age and it really made me reflect about how much they need someone to just listen to them, or tell them how much they are loved and have a purpose. I thought a lot about something Mother Teresa said once – “Do small things with great love.” Simply being there for these boys with a big smile and open heart made a small impact. The way they responded to the story of Joseph also helped me see in a vivid way how our Scripture is truly the living word of God.

NOTE: Sarahi left for her mission in Guatemala on January 24, 2018.  Please keep her in your prayers.

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The Best Christmas Gift

On December 24th I received the best Christmas gift of my life. We went to the midnight Mass at the Nativity Church of Bethlehem with four of the sisters and Anna, a young volunteer from Italy. It was cold and raining heavily, but we were dressed for the weather, and we could get in the church fast. To attend, you need to order in advance free tickets issued by the Franciscans, who are the custodians of the holy sites in the Holy Land.

Natalie Liviero at Nativity Church in Bethlehem

We arrived by 9 p.m. and spread out inside of the grotto, where each of us found a special place for prayer. Anna and I sat at the grotto that was the manger where Jesus was born. Priests celebrated Mass at midnight  here.

Mass at manger - Copy (2)
It was so special to be there that it took me one hour to pray one rosary. I thought about all the people I know and don’t know and prayed for everyone, naming the ones I know one by one. I prayed a rosary for all my family and my friends and their families.

I prayed for all who are sick or are going through a special situation in life.

I prayed for peace in our hearts and in particular for peace in the hearts of the Israelis, Palestinians, and extremists in all religions so there could be peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East.

I prayed for all the Christians in the Middle East who are persecuted and for the priests and nuns who so lovingly and courageously work in this part of the world.

I prayed for all the refugees, for everyone I met in Jordan, for Caritas and the Restaurant of Mercy and their teams, for all the Israelis and Palestinians I know and that I recently met, and for VIDES+USA, the Salesian Sisters in San Antonio, Texas, and the ones in the provincial house of the Middle East, all who so warmly welcome me into their homes, and for the entire Salesian Family.

I was very fortunate to be in Bethlehem and in the Holy Land at this time of the year, and I truly appreciate all who have supported me during my mission in the Middle East in one way or another, who were also included in my rosary prayer.

3 religions FMA Cremison chapel at Christmas

This altar at the chapel of the Salesian Sisters House in Cremisan portrays the three religions of the Holy Land: Judaism with the menorah, Islam with the moon, and Christianity with the Star of Bethlehem. It says: “And it will be peace.”

Natalia Liviero, a VIDES+USA volunteer currently serving in the Middle East


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Anticipation Trepidation Appreciation

1801 United Nations Reflection
Theresa Nguyen at UN4:45 AM – When the alarm suddenly shook me out of sleep I knew it was time. Today our internship group would pick up our United Nations badges. Upon eating breakfast and wearing our Sunday best, we were out the door by 6:25 AM to catch the number eight Bus OMS to Palais des Nations. Our group got off the Appia stop and walked towards the UN building, prepared to go through security. Luckily there was not one person in sight – just us. It was a miracle!

I was holding my badge in front of me – a most precious identity. The Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice (IIMA) Human Rights Office, which is a part of ECOSOC (The United Nations ECOnomic and SOCial Council), had entrusted me with the great task to help represent its organization as an intern. For the last two years I worked with the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, Figlie di Maria Ausiliatrice (FMA), who founded the institute and its lay missionary organization, Voluntariato Internazionale Donna Eduazione Sviluppo (VIDES), to promote and defend the rights of women and children through education. Now, here I am, again, hundreds of miles away from home continuing to share their mission commitment. This time I am at the heart of their mission to help bring witness to why we are at the UN, which is to promote a world where young people may realize their full potential.

Why me? What would I be able to share?

This time was different. I did not have any experience working with human rights issues. Not to mention, I did not speak French, Spanish, or Italian, which is essential for this internship.

As we walked from room to room within the United Nations, I began to imagine the long hours and effort each country must have put into each of these rooms as they discussed. In a few days, I would have the chance to attend the 37th Regular Session for the Human Rights Council. So many nations. So many ideas. So many faces.

Inside the place where change happened, I felt even smaller. I had come to Geneva with uncertainty and without much faith in my abilities to be a voice for change, yet, here was a great opportunity to grow and learn. The UN is impressive, but what was even more impressive was seeing how the IIMA organization had so much trust in its young people to allow them to be the very face of their institute. They were educating their young people to advocate for their own rights. I may have felt small, but through humility and God’s grace, I achieved many things I did not think were possible. How certainly blessed I am!

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Bringing in the New Year

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.1801 new Yr r Srvc holdng pldg

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Revisiting Syrian Refugee Camp

Natalia Liviero Refugee Camp4We 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.

Natalia Liviero Refugee Camp PhotographerI’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.

Natalia Liviero Refugee Camp3This 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!

Natalia Liviero Refugee Camp5For 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

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Unexpected Week in…

1705 Natalia Liviero The Holy Land 2010My 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!

1705 Natalia Liviero Italian Embassy Goodbye Msgr Roberto

At the Italian Embassy to say goodbye to Msgr. Roberto (middle) to his right Sayyedna Tawal and to his left Bishop Shomali. Sister Rita and Sister Jacinta, the Fucularini, a group of Italians with the Franciscans, and many more guests.

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!

1705 Natalia Liviero Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness

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!

1705 Natalia Liviero Fr. KellyVolunteering 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:

1705 Natalia Liviero Cardinal Tagle (3)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

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The Power of Play

1709 MSwanson JacksonMy 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!

1709 MSwanson Dar TanzaniaSome 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

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FMA Missions Hit by Hurricane and Earthquake

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.”

Translated from: 

In México

Earthquake Mexico terremoto-in-messicoAs 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.”


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Thy Will be Done…

Fr.Tom2The 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:

-Agenzia Info Salesiana (ANS)

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Dreamers, We Stand with You

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?

-Ashley Mackey

She also shared United States Conference of Catholic Bishops‘s post.

“Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me.” (Mark 9:37)

Ashley Mackey DACA

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