This month’s blog highlights four Maryknoll Lay Missioners and their work in the Latin American countries of Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
Carolyn Bosse, Lay Missioner to Argentina, wrote in 1996 how learning a local custom made all the difference with her mission:
“As my husband’s and my three year commitment to Jacobacci draws to an end I find myself asking if our presence has made a difference…
We came to do formation of the laity. I believe we did contribute to that unending process. A lot more laity feel more capable and confident. Of course they feel insecure at times. Don’t we all. But they are trying out new roles in the church and taking on more responsibility.
The people have certainly taught me a lot. I was able to observe family catechesis in action. Bible reflections with other laity who put the gospel into practice was helpful and meaningful. The generosity of a lot of people touched and challenged me profoundly.
The people whom I will miss and who expressed sadness that I will be leaving are the people with whom I have shared mate. Mate in Argentina is an herbal tea which is served in a gourd. It is sipped through a metal straw and passed around in a circle. It is often accompanied by fried bread – the famous ‘torta frita.’ It is so symbolic of the Eucharist. It involves spending ‘wasting’ time with someone and breaking bread with them. If Jesus had lived in the Patagonia I believe he would have consecrated mate and torta frita.
Our friend from Sierra Colorada gave us a gourd and a metal straw which are used to drink mate as a going away gift. It will remind me how important it is to spend time with people. [Another friend] from Jacobacci brought us some ‘torta frita’ and a specially cured gourd for our mate.
When we told our friends in Ramos Mexia that we were leaving they whispered among themselves and announced that we were invited to a potluck the following evening. They stayed and talked until the middle of the night. We learned more about the people in that night than we had in the numerous weeks we’d spent with them throughout the year.
Summing it up, I’d say the most important thing I’ve done here is learn to make and drink mate.”
Ted and Maruja Gutmann-Gonzalez were a married Lay Missioner couple who had spent almost twenty years in mission in Chile with their three daughters. Thanks to the Lay Missioner Newsletters collection, we have a great record of a meaningful experience back to 2002-2003 when the Gutmann-Gonzalez family made a transition to a new mission town:
“We moved to our new mission site in the rural community of Vilches, which is two hours further north and an hour up into the mountains after a couple of years looking for a new location which meets the conditions for developing a Spirituality and Ecology Center.
We are very happy about the place we found! For the past seven years, we have been helping to organize an annual ecology retreat for 15-20 people at a retreat center in lower Vilches. During the retreat a couple of years ago, we visited the summer cottage of the Holy Cross Sisters which is further up the valley, explaining our interest in leasing some land to begin our new ministry.
The Sister there said that the Congregation was at that moment deciding what to do with the land which they had developed over the past 40 years…After a lot of conversations…we signed a 5-year lease on the property.”
“We’re back in Chile setting up at our new house, really moving in now – hanging up pictures, organizing cupboards, and making this home – after having been here for only six months since our move at the beginning of the year…
We arrived to find all our animals healthy and well cared for, the farm in good conditions and even a pile of wood chopped and ready for our wood stove….
Maruja has gotten back into the Capacitar natural health workshops, giving courses in Talca and preparing for a program on the coast next month. She has also been preparing for and inviting people to our annual Ecology Retreat at the end of the month here in Vilches.
Ted has been attending the local meetings of the irrigation cooperative to apply for funds to build a new dam to conserve winter snow melt for the irrigation canal. There are a number of issues to be settled as many of the members of the cooperative don’t have their water rights up-to-date, and the new drinking water project in the community is expecting to use some of the same water.”
“Hello to all. It has been a whole year since we last wrote a letter to you…
This second year in our new surroundings in Vilches has been busy with many and varied activities. As we have gotten to know more people and become more involved in the local community, the sense of being at home here has grown in us. We have experienced the full cycle of seasons and know what to expect and can anticipate the changes that each new day brings. We feel at home here in this mountain community and have been able to enter into the rhythm of life we have found.”
Sharon Kerrigan was a Maryknoll Lay Missioner who served from 2001-2003. The Archives has copies of her newsletters, where readers can learn what mission was like for her among the Aymara people of Peru:
“Three months in South America, and I absolutely love it. I hope to paint a picture for you of the beauty here….
In January, I traveled to Peru and spent a week in Pilcuyo, where I will live for three years. Although a brief visit, I did get a taste of the people, their needs and their way of living. Pilcuyo is a rural village, sprinkled with adobes (houses made of a mud-like material). It sits 13,000 feet above sea level. It is flat but surrounded by magnificent mountains. There is no running water, but we have electricity. The people with whom I will live and work are Aymaran, an indigenous group living in the Andes. They live quite simply, working the land for their daily sustenance…”
“Some of you have asked me what a typical day is like for me…
I am working with a group of Aymara women who knit sweaters, gloves and scarves to be sold locally to tourists or to ship overseas. My role is to guide them in the styles that will sell and to ensure quality control. The main objective is to find a market. I am eager for this project to succeed because many of these women are supporting their families, and one sold sweater goes a long way in providing food and clothing…
The local parish here asked me to work with a group of young adults who want to start a Panaderia, a bread bakery, in Chucuito. They are still in the planning stages and need a bit of guidance with pricing, working hours, competition and quality. This should be interesting, as I don’t have a great deal of experience with baking or cooking.
When I am not working, I got to Puno to do my laundry and food shopping. There are no supermarkets or shopping carts here. Carrying my market bag, I visit different outdoor stalls, where the local women sell fruits, vegetables, spices, cheese and everything you can imagine under the sun…
There are days when I am a wee bit homesick, missing my family and friends. There are times when I feel like I am not doing enough and wonder how I can possibly make a difference in the lives of people with whom I work. It truly is one day at a time, one project at a time. Life is so different here. It is more labor intensive and yet much simpler. I realize I have to be careful not to assume that my North American ways are better. There is a balance, and I am constantly trying to find it.”