The experiences that mark us remain in the memory recorded as a tattoo on the skin (cf. Cant 8, 6). This text collects, in a narrative way, several photographs of a long trip through Colombia, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
When I started writing it, the pandemic had not yet broken out, much less the war in Ukraine. All these events have also become part of this itinerary. Travel is not just external. We ended up traveling, with the help of others, to the depths of our beingin which the Dominican Remi Cheno would call “an exercise in indoor scuba diving”.
album of encounters
In the photo gallery of my mobile, different meetings with people, communities, parishes, schools, social centers, landscapes, etc. I have, however, erased many hours on planes and long queues at immigration, the eternal car journeys through impassable roads or the stress of traveling in the time of COVID-19.
If you like, I share my photo album, which reveals images of good priests -I dare say excellent- that are not usually news, but that deserve to be framed in our collective memory. I take this opportunity to simply outline, following the images, some intuitions to live today a priestly spirituality which, without a doubt, will together with laity and religiouspart of the same body of Christ, which is the head (cf. Col 1, 18).
In Quito with Felicia
One Sunday afternoon we had a break to discover the center of Quito enveloped in a storm that heralded a later intense rain. Two brothers from the Sacred Hearts took us to see the center of the city. In particular, I was struck by the Convent of San Diego de Alcalá. This convent was the old retreat of the Franciscan order, next to the cemetery, away from the madding crowd.
In addition to the solidity of the walls and stones of the 17th century, our guide, Felicia, a lean and enthusiastic woman from the village, showed us in plain language, sprinkled with some technicalities that she mischievously threw out to support her oratory, the history of the artistic place. We get wrapped up in her way of telling. She herself he looked like a character taken from the catalog of this monumental building.
Legend of Father Almeida
Properties like this include the riches of the inhabitants who built legends that span the centuries. One of them is the Father Almeidaa young Franciscan who escaped from the convent at night using an original mechanism. He leaned on the shoulders of a life-size Christ to escape from the enclosure through a tall window and indulge in drink. The familiarity that the priest showed with the imposing carving of the Lord who, on one occasion, questioned him is striking:
-When this will be the last time you do thisFather Almeida?
The Franciscan, believing that what he heard was product of your imagination or the effects of alcoholanswered:
-Until I feel like it again have another drink.
Next, the singular Franciscan went to drink at his usual canteen. Returning to the convent, zigzagging, he contemplated a funeralin which he discovered that he was the same the fact that was inside the coffin. This impacted him so much -emphasizes Felicia- that, from that moment, radically changed his life. He became a faithful religious, entrusted with different positions of responsibility in the order. It is said that the Christ, satisfied, outlined a smile that he still retains. I attest to this smile, similar to that of the Christ of Javier, in Navarra.
Legends or stories aside, there is an important fact: familiarity with the Lord –perhaps a bit excessive, that of father Almeida, leaning on his shoulder to climb the wall– produces the change or the conversion in complicated cases, but also in the normal and ordinary life of each one of us; of course, in that of any priest.
This legend also tells us about how things have changed. Now, Pope Francis invites us to be a Church “going forth”. To go out, obviously, with purposes other than those of Diego de Almeida. To go out to share with people. In the city of Quito itself, a few kilometers from this convent, stands on top of a hill, already bordering a protected natural area, the Chapel of the Lord of Justice. A simple construction, wrapped in a population of great faith and few resources.
Bricklayer before cure
Juan Carlos Velez, a priest well past 40, accompanies several chapels in outlying places. The car breaks down on the steep slopes. There any neighbor lends itself willingly to take him back home. The Chapel of the Lord of Justice is under construction. The rain seeps through the roof, so they are repairing and building a meeting room adjacent to the temple. Juan Carlos, who he was a gardener and mason before becoming a priest, accompanies them on the scaffolding or laying bricks like one more. “Do something with your hands, building together with people, helps to create community”, affirms the priest.
From time to time, the enthusiasm of the parishioners leads them to coat it and smear it with the cement mixture. It is part of the frat party. He is convinced that “unless the Lord builds the house, the masons toil in vain” (cf. Ps 126). There they are all building: women and men, adults and children. It was raining the afternoon I saw them on the roof. Nothing seemed to stop the work done with their own hands, where laity and priest form a single life team. (…)
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From alcohol to scaffolding, photographs “on the way out”
Revealed with “sound of sirens”
Charlie and others lay on target
A selfie with “deaconesses” in Jauja
Portrait of the Good Shepherd at coffee time
Unfolding the album
The photos of Jan and Toni Vadell