To the Periphery

WITNESS—December of last year, my husband was teaching his last class on Introduction to Christianity through the Archdiocese of Missouri, Kansas City-St Joseph to a group of Spanish-speaking folks from the city of  Liberty in Missouri. When the class finished and we were getting ready to leave, three people stayed and approached my husband and said: “Maestro, we don’t want this to end. We want more of this. What can we do?”

I was completely astonished by that. It was that thirst for more which strikes all of us at one point in our lives; that makes us experience a sense of lack for something. They were not satisfied with all what they learned in those three years of classes; they were not satisfied with only knowing all about Christianity; they simply wanted more, and they didn’t know what it was. All that they knew was that they experienced something that they didn’t want it to end.  At the same time I was going through the same feeling of “wanting more in my life” and thinking, “if I live the diaconia responsibility with an intense, perfect service to the movement—which I love so deeply—then my desire for more will be satisfied.”  At that moment I was in front of faces that that made me more aware of my own need, of the same sense of dissatisfaction.  I was in front of a Face!

On the way home, and after being silent for quite some time, a silence full of a Voice that was not mine came. I asked my husband, “well, what do you think?” He responded as if he was talking to himself after being touched by something exceptional. And said, “Isn’t that what Pope Bergoglio says when he asks us to go to the periphery?” The words of the Pope were like an echo:”Vayan a la periferia! Salir de nosotros mismos para ir a la periferia al encuentro de los más alejados, los olvidados y quienes necesitan comprensión, consuelo y ayuda” [Pope Francis].

We knew at that point we couldn’t just turn away from them. It was the last day of class that marked the beginning of something beautiful, and definitely beyond our expectations! Who would have imaging that CL would flourish in a place like Liberty? Only a miracle could make it possible.

That was a crucial period in the lives of my husband and myself. Our children had moved away and suddenly we were facing the unknown “empty nest syndrome”. Our culture is different and this did not resonate with us, and we were not prepared for it.  And yet, we found ourselves in front of a community entirely given to us; generated by an Other.  I found myself in front of faces that were the sign of Christ’s love for me. It was a real gift!

 We met for School of Community for the first time on February 18th at Don Ricardo’s house. They were only 6 at that first meeting. They didn’t understand what exactly we were proposing and yet they said “yes” without hesitation. They were so open and ready to follow. They were not skeptical. For the next month we were 8 and as we continued meeting, more joined us. They invited friends and family; they were so eager to share what they have found.

 After three months of meeting regularly for School of Community we asked the question, “Why are you here? What is it that attracts you and makes you want to come?”  The question was followed by a profound silence; and we asked them to share what has been their experience so far. One by one started coming out of themselves, sharing what they had in their hearts. Gaby began: “To me, this is about how to live my faith”.

 “To me”, said Rosario, “it is so beautiful to hear how to live the faith in this way that makes me want it for myself. I want to live my faith in this way, but I don’t know how?”

 “It’s that friendship and companion that I experienced. I had to undergo some medical exams for a possible cancer, and I would have never imagined that someone, whom I barely met a few months ago, was going to take a day off from work to accompany me. Who am I for her?”, said Graciela.

 Then, a man across the table said “I am Catholic but I have been away from the Church for many years now. I never knew it is possible to live this way. No one has told me this before!”

 And there was another man, who was so quiet, and we turned to him and asked “and you?” And with tears in his eyes he said “I am so grateful that my wife pushed me to be here tonight. I wasn’t very happy because I had to take the day off from work. But, as I am listening I realized…I had never heard anyone speak of Christ in this way”. And he cried.

 I wasn’t the same person after that night. I thought I had seen everything already, and yet, here I was completely transformed by their simplicity, by their genuine desire for more; by their openness and their unconditional “yes”. They were not claiming anything for themselves; they simply trusted and followed. That was when I clearly understood that my needs for more, my needs to serve Christ, were only going to be satisfy by following what Christ was doing for me. He was revealing to me the way in which things were happening; my needs were only going to be satisfied by adhering to what the Mystery was unfolding before me.

 As October neared, we started telling them about the Pilgrimage. From the moment we started talking, they were ready. They never expressed any doubts, or distrust; not even second thoughts of going to a place they haven’t been before, with people that they never met. They just followed.  They planned everything with such a joy that it was contagious: who was going to bring burritos and where they were going to meet. I was moved by their real sense of community!  And finally October 15th, we arrived in Atchison, KS in a caravan of 6 cars and 35 people of all ages. Their joy was my joy.

 We did the fourth mystery in Spanish and one of the songs; and they were loud as loud they could be. That sense of belonging was so loud in them that it penetrated all those who were near. They brought the best newness to the Pilgrimage and I was grateful and overwhelmed by the outpouring of His goodness that made me want to scream like the song “El esta aquí”.