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By Sr Mary Ignatius C. Aquino OSB
Remembering God’s goodness
as a foreign missionary in Tanzania, East Africa for seven and a half years and in Los Toldos, Buenos Aires, Argentina, for two years has been a source of transformation for me. Every time I remember the generosity and kindness of the Sisters, friends and all those I’ve served in formation and retreat ministries, I am deeply touched, overwhelmed by their ability to be so loving and challenged to show that kind of goodness myself.
Like our Blessed Mother who treasured and pondered everything in her heart (Luke 2:19), my whole being is filled with awe and wonder for what I’ve seen, tasted, touched and felt in Africa and South America.
Labor of love
It happens once in a lifetime to travel to African countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Namibia. Those safaris from Dar es Salaam to Arusha and then to Uwemba, followed by Peramiho, were real exposures to the life and culture of the people from the north and south of Tanzania. The intensive Kiswahili course at the Danish Center in Arusha was an opportunity to watch a cultural show by the Masai and to go on a safari to Meru National Park. My trips to Nairobi, Kenya, were to attend religious professions and to renew my passport at the Philippine Embassy. The Pan-African Formators’ Meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, was another surprise, traveling through desert country, though a portion of it is rich in natural resources such as semi-precious stones like topaz, amethyst, emerald and quartz. Swakopmund, which is close to the Atlantic Ocean, is like a ‘little Europe’ with its cool winter breeze and classy boutiques. It was a rare privilege to climb one of the sand dunes and enjoy the feeling of being on top of it overlooking Walvis Bay which was filled with thousands of flamingos.
Visiting the families of our formandae – young women preparing for religious life – deeply touched my idealistic nature. The Tanzanians, like us Filipinos, are very hospitable and generous. Every home we visited gave us a very warm welcome, served us the best food and even gave us their fattened chickens as pabaon. Seven years of formation work was indeed a labor of love. To see the gradual transformation of the formandae after their novitiate is amazing and unbelievable. They have become solid monastics as Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing.
‘La lengua de Dios’
‘Español es la lengua de Dios’ - ‘Spanish is the language of God’. This comment by an 84-year-old Argentinian Sister who integrated with us inspired me during my three-month intensive Spanish course in Buenos Aires immediately after my arrival on 25 November 2002. This was a preparation for my retreat ministry in Los Toldos, a two-hour drive from the federal capital. Indeed, I found myself facilitating retreats in Spanish with different groups from all ages and walks of life during weekends. The psycho-spiritual approach was new to the Argentinians who found it to be more effective due to their concrete and experiential encounter with God.
My whole experience as a formator and retreat facilitator brought me closer to my true self as I accompanied the formandae and retreatants in their journey towards God. Everyday was an occasion for celebration, a moment of grace, as we broke bread together and shared our personal and communal experiences in our search. The bonds of love and friendship sustained us and gave us the courage to go on during times of struggle. All these good memories drew us away from depression, doubt and anxiety that turned us around to face some of the joys and blessings that were there mixed in with all the pain.
Surprisingly, I was invited to Sorocaba, Brazil for six weeks to help the two formators prepare for an international formators’ meeting in Germany. This gave me the chance to visit our communities in São Paolo, Cunha and Rio de Janeiro. My morning walks to Botafogo and the nearby beaches like Copacabana, my trips to Corcovado, Pão de Açucar – Sugar Loaf Mountain that overlooks Rio – and Paqueta Island took me to the heights of my travels. I thought Iguazu Falls, partly in Brazil, where they’re known as Cataratas do Iguaçu, and partly in Argentina, where they’re called Cataratas del Iguazú and Niagara Falls were the best of nature that I’d seen but when I saw the whole of Rio de Janeiro, lo and behold . . . it was beyond compare.
As I recall these treasured memories, deep within me, I see my life filled with daily miracles fashioning my heart into a vessel of gratitude. I gratefully and lovingly remember few friends and co-sisters who stood with me at the foot of the cross and shared with me the victory of the resurrection. Our fidelity to one another in living our consecration to the full will be a light that will show others the way towards God.
I am in transition, in disenchantment, which is a natural part of endings and new beginnings. The old must be cleared away before the new can grow. One painful experience of disenchantment was when I came to terms with the fact that my religious community is made up of individuals who are just as human as everyone else. What a rude awakening it was when I realized that there were personality clashes, differing views of theology and philosophies of life, power struggles and emotional weaknesses that sometimes forced us apart rather than drew us together. Eventually, I saw that I, too, had many shortcomings that contributed to the flawed condition of the whole. I must simply be patient with the time it takes to recover and to adjust during this re-entry period to the Manila Priory. It is the time to trust my inner wisdom to be wiser and healthier in what I believe to be true about life – that in all things God may be glorified!