What, then, is consecrated time? For Christians, Sundays are consecrated to God; therefore that day is set aside as a "Dia del Senor" (the Lord's Day), as our Sunday liturgical bulletin reads. God was the one who consecrated that day to sacred use, a day for us to rest and to think more about our Creator. One web site I found suggested that any time spent alone, exclusively alone, with God, is consecrated time. Any time that is separated from the common time and dedicated to the service and worship to God may be consecrated time. So when I am sitting alone, reading the Bible or praying, I am consecrating my time to God. While I was in Vanderbilt Divinity School, many students there told me that they wanted to be in the presence of the Divine at all times. One could turn to Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God, where one reads that for Brother Lawrence, "common business," is the medium through which one can experience God (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/innertravelers/brotherlawrence.html). Brother Lawrence probably felt that he was practicing what he would be doing for all eternity. Also, Christians receive the promise that if they give a cup of cold water to one of Christ's "little ones," it is as though they are giving it to Jesus himself. Here too, one is in the presence of the Divine.
I hope that my blogs will focus not only on the events here in Bolivia and my cultural interactions with the people here, but my own moments of consecrated time. In this blog, I am going to write about two recent events that I witnessed and participated in, wherein the time allotted was, in a sense, time set apart for sacred us: the 100-year celebration of the founding of the Maryknoll order and the Transitus of St. Francis, the 802-year anniversary of Francis' death, when he passed from this world to the next, his transitus. In these two events that I was able to participate in, both orders, or families, as we say, set aside time to reflect upon their mission, past, present, and future, that is, their participation in God's work on earth . The time set apart was consecrated, in my view, because the Maryknoll family and the Franciscan family withdrew from the world in order to contemplate their roles as God's people in Latin America, and to seek guidance from one another and from God.
At the symposium of the 100 year anniversary of the Maryknolls, celebrated at the Maryknoll Mission Center in Cochabamba, as well as in other places in the world, I encountered not only the Maryknoll fathers, brothers, sisters, and missioners, but also missioners from other religious orders. Some idigenous people participated as well, talking about the role of the Maryknolls in their lives, and assisting in the closing ceremony, which invoked practices and rites from their own religion before the missioners arrived. Father Mike Gilgannon, a Kansas City diocese priest, who has been in La Paz, Bolivia, for 37 years, was also there to lead discussion. He has been our friend since we moved to Carmen Pampa, and back here to Cochabamba. He has been a primary source for our education about Bolivia, along with Father Ignatio Harding (Iggie), our Franciscan mentor in Cochabamba.
The questions asked in the course of the symposium were two-fold: where have the Maryknoll missioners been, and where are they going? Of course, there were many in attendance who were not part of the Maryknoll order but missioners belonging to another order, like the Franciscans, for example, that the questions extended to us all. An important question for me was, How can we be "church" to the people here? By "we," I mean the entire Latin American Catholic church, since all of its members are actually on mission. One aspect of this is how do we reach those people who are Catholics but who don't participate in church, Mass, religious feast days, and other activities? How do we reach the young people? How can we be relevant to the people here?
Barbara J. Fraser, a former Maryknoll missioner who works now as a photographer and journalist based in Lima, Peru, one of the presenters at the conference, reported on the current status of the Maryknoll order. Its numbers are down, and the age of the priests and brothers is up. Some of her major points focused on the contributions that Maryknoll has made and continues to make to the Catholic Church. For example, as Father Raymond Finch,Maryknoll superior general from 1996-2002, and director of the Maryknoll Mission Center in Cochabamba, states, the Maryknolls support "the value and individual worth of all people and cultures," wherever they are, primarily recognizing the "contribution, the worth and beauty in people who are on the margins and have been hurt by society."
Further, as Maryknoll priest "John Conway, 81, says, citing the motto of a Maryknoll founder, "We come, perhaps, when we're needed and not wanted, because we're unknown. We leave when we are wanted but not needed." Fraser goes on to write in her article that this concept of mission is born out in the continuance of those projects begun by the Maryknoll fathers, brothers, and sisters, long ago, that bear fruit to this day. The local churches, schools, and centers are run by the people themselves, a testament, I would say, to the foresight of both the Maryknolls and the people in the regions served (see http://www.americancatholic.org/news/report.aspx?id=3654).
I heard this motto from a sister who trained missioners in the Society of African Missionaries (SMA's), when I was in Ossining, New York, training with three other groups of missioners, among them the Maryknolls hosting the sessions. This is to say that the Catholic mission movement today goes forth to serve the people on the margins, working for peace and justice, and advancing the protection and sharing of the world's resources with all cultures, but especially the marginalized ones.
The symposium began on Thursday, August 25, and finished on Saturday morning, August 27th. It was energizing to return to the Maryknoll Language Institute, to visit the campus where Joel and I had studied Spanish for the first time. We were glad to reconnect with the Maryknoll fathers and one brother, as well as visit with some teachers and staff who were part of the conference. The beauty of the campus still overpowered me. Here is the Maryknoll Fathers and brothers' house, which is located behind the language institute.
Here is the back of the language institute, where Joel taking some time to write between panel discussions.
After the panels, the talks, and the small group discussions, the Maryknolls awarded gifts of appreciation to the contributors. Among those honored was our friend Father Mike Gilgannon, from La Paz.
Mike has worked in campus ministry for years, while also fulfilling his duties as a priest at different churches through the La Paz region. He is a well-known writer for the National Catholic Reporter, as well as a recognized authority on Bolivian culture and politics.
The month of October found Joel and me spending more time with the Franciscan family. Whereas the "Transitus" of St. Francis was not celebrated per se here in Cochabamba, as it was in the Franciscan monastery in Washington, D.C, we had a three day tridium, in which the Franciscans celebrated Mass for three days prior to the feast day of St. Francis. The Franciscan family was out in force for all four Masses, but particularly for the Mass on the day of St. Francis' death. I had heard that traditionally, a Dominican preaches at the Transitus Mass, to show the solidarity between the two orders. This was the case at the San Francisco Church in Cochabamba. A Dominican priest preached, and Dominicans also sang in the choir.
Our mentor, Brother Ignatio Harding (Father Ignation, "Iggie") processed in with the other Franciscan priests and brothers.
Iggie is on the left
Afterwards, there was a fiesta in the Franciscan Center, with dancing, music, and refreshments. The friars served us drinks and delicious food, as all well-wishers celebrated the life and legacy of our founder, Francis.
I recalled my introduction to the Transitus at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. two years ago. It was the 800-year celebration of Francis' transitus, truly a special anniversary, marked by our candlelight vigil at the church grounds, with hundreds of people present. This Mass at Cochabamba evoked the earlier Transitus in my mind. And as with all Masses, it was consecrated time, the Eucharist, the "source and summit of Catholic life and Mission," in Pope John Paul II's words.
Here in Latin American, birthdays are very important. The word for birthday, cumpleanos, comes from the verb, cumplir, which means to achieve, to fulfill. When one has a birthday, the year has been fulfilled. At this time one looks backwards at the year that has passed and anticipates the year to come. The two celebrations, of the Maryknolls' first hundred years and of the Franciscans' 802 years, were moments of reflection and anticipation. This time was consecrated to God, and as a witness and participant, I was swept up in the spirit that surrounded me.