Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Good afternoon from the student lounge at Maryknoll, where I am typing this digest for you. I attended Mass at the mission center chapel and had lunch with Father Ken and the priests and lay volunteers. Now I am hanging out here and waiting for the evening screening of The Professor and the Madman, or El Profesor y el Loco. The making of the Oxford English Dictionary is an unlikely subject for a feature film. To see such a movie dubbed into Spanish is even less likely. But this screening is free and I have nothing more important to do, so there we go!

There is a small commotion outside. A group of school children are drilling and marching in the basketball court next to the mission center property. They are singing along to some martial music. Are they practicing for Bolivian Independence Day, only six days away?

It was a tiring morning of classes, typical of Wednesdays. I was grateful for the diversion of our weekly conference at 11 a.m. Profesor Osvaldo, who is leading the weekend trip to La Paz, which the majority of the students here are making, gave a very clear and very engaging presentation on the attractions of La Paz and Copacabana at Lago Titicaca.

I have lost the desire to travel to new and exotic locations. My soul flew from Bolivia almost a month ago, and my mind has all but lifted off, as distracted as I feel in prayer and in studies. But it does look like I will make a field trip tomorrow morning with Profesoras Liliana and Vicky to Tarata. I visited the Franciscan retreat center there with the friars of Convento San Francisco the day before Ash Wednesday, but I cannot say that I saw Tarata itself. Tomorrow the opportunity presents itself to see this town and get a flavor of the people and the culture of the community.

The despedida for Brother Scott and me is coming together. It looks like there will be at least 13 people, so we will make it more like a potluck so that there is plenty of food for everybody.

The sky is clear and blue, the sun is shining brightly, and the moon is new and invisible. The next time I see the full moon, I will be in New York City, provided the light pollution does not get in the way. Only a week and a half of August stand between me and my homeland. The month of July has gone by very slowly. I hope these final 11 days, cold and breezy August days, go swiftly with the wind.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Today I would like to yield this cyberspace and share with you the words of Blessed Solanus Casey, the first Capuchin friar born in the United States to be elevated by the Roman Catholic Church to the honor of blessed for his sanctity and virtue. July 30 is the feast day for Blessed Solanus, which is why I wish to share his words of wisdom with you today. God willing, he will one day soon be canonized and become the first man born in the U.S. to be recognized by the Church worldwide as a saint. 

Who is Blessed Solanus? There are many others who can tell the amazing story of Father Solanus better than I can. For starters, visit this portal to the Solanus Casey Center and the Father Solanus Guild. 

Whether he was offering consolation, encouragement, or instruction, Father Solanus’ writings bear the warmth of God’s love and glow with wit. Indeed, his simplicity of expression, unencumbered by formalism, allows the light of God to shine through his words. 

Bro. Leo Wollenweber (d. 2012), a Capuchin friar of the Province of Saint Joseph in the midwest U.S. who was Father Solanus’ secretary in the early 1940s, published some of those words in the book Meet Solanus Casey: Spiritual Counselor and Wonder Worker (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2002). Brother Leo was also vice postulator of the cause for canonization for Father Solanus. The following is a sample of Father Solanus’ words of wisdom. 

Holiness of Life 

Inasmuch as individuals or humanity as a whole turn away from God to seek peace elsewhere, in just so much will they be restless, disappointed, and discouraged. 

We must be faithful to the present moment, or we will frustrate the plan of God for our lives.

Disregard for the claims of justice, under whatever pretext, has always been the manifestation of (to say the very least) shallow thinking—or rather a betrayal of real thinking. 

Be blind as possible to the faults of your neighbors, trying at least to attribute a good intention to their actions. 

God is constantly planning wonders for the patient and the humble. 

This poor sinner Solanus, who more than anyone else gives me the most trouble. I consider it a mercy that we need examine one conscience only! 

Jesus is no crank! He knows we are poor sinners, and He understands when we fail. 

Faith and Confidence in God 

Confidence is the very soul of prayer. 

Shake off excessive worry and show a little confidence in God’s merciful providence. 

Worry is a weakness from which very few of us are entirely free. We must be on guard against this most insidious enemy of our peace of soul. Instead let us foster confidence in God, and thank Him ahead of time for whatever He chooses to send us. 

Church and Sacraments 

God could have founded the Church and left it under the supervision of angels that have no human faults and weaknesses. But who can doubt that as it stands today, consisting of and under poor sinners—successors of ignorant fishermen—the Church is a more outstanding miracle than in any other way? 

Frequent Communion brings peace into a family and into the soul. It also fosters faith in God and heavenly relationships with all God’s dear ones in heaven. 

As manifested in the lives of the saints, if we strive and use the means God has given us, we too can ascend to great sanctity and to an astonishing familiarity with God—even here—as pilgrims to the Beatific Vision. 

Crosses and Sufferings 

We want to be Christians—spouses of Jesus—risen and glorified, of course, but without getting too near the Cross. 

How merciful the good God is, always “fitting the back to the burden”—if not vice-versa, as is often the case. 

The world is full of misunderstanding, but God often uses its mistakes to correct us and to give us the right outlook on life and its eternal destiny. 

My pain was excruciating, and though I tried to thank God for it, my principal prayer was: “God help me!”

We should make a virtue of earthly deprivations, by offering them all to our heavenly Father in union with Jesus, who said: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 

Mary and the Saints 

Mary is the Mother of God, and by His divine wisdom, power, and merciful condescension, the Blessed Mother of redeemed humanity, therefore our Blessed Mother also. 

How pleasant the glorified memory of the saints in heaven must be, who have finally triumphed over the world, the flesh, and the devil. 

Death, Heaven, and Eternity 

Life is the vestibule to eternity. 

Death is the climax of humiliation, when we must finally give up all and turn all over to God. 

Heaven—where love of God and our neighbor is the life and very soul of society and association, where hopeful faith has merged into eternal charity. 

Courage, therefore, and with the soul’s eye fixed on the goal of eternity, struggle on. 

Gratitude and Appreciation 

Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature. 

To know and appreciate is to advance in the one science necessary: sanctity. 

Be sure, if the enemy of our soul is pleased at anything in us, it is ingratitude of whatever kind. Why? Ingratitude leads to so many breaks with God and our neighbor. 

Humanity’s outstanding weakness seems to be a thoughtless want of appreciation for the uncountable blessings by which Almighty God is always surrounding it. 

Rightly ordered charity is that I should never forget that the primary purpose of my creation and existence as a rational creature is to recognize and know, to appreciate and love—with an intelligent, personal, and grateful love—my God, my Creator, my Redeemer, my Sanctifier.

Monday, July 29, 2019

¿Por Qué No?

It was an easygoing day of classes at Maryknoll. Mondays have been good days for the last several weeks. And why not? With a weekend of full rest, the first day of the week is usually all right. It’s Thursday and Friday that are the tough days, when the mind is wrung out. If only I could have two days off for every day of classes, everything would be ducky. Learning would be easy! But it doesn’t work that way. Quack quack. 

We are continuing to plod through the many uses of the subjunctive form of grammar. But we made more digressions into unscripted conversation, Profesoras Liliana, Viviana, and me. This makes the time pass more quickly. We also read an article by Profesor Osvaldo to prepare us for the Wednesday conference. He is taking about ten of the students to El Alto, La Paz, and Copacabana this weekend. The conference is all about this part of Bolivia, which Profesor Osvaldo, himself a paceño, proudly calls home. More to come after the conference later this week. I regret that I will not be seeing Lago Titicaca and Copacabana during my Bolivian journey, but that’s all right. I have been to La Paz, and I have seen many splendid lagoons in the wilderness of Potosí. 

I will be hanging around Maryknoll Wednesday afternoon until it is time for the monthly film screening and discussion that evening. We will be seeing The Professor and the Madman, or in Spanish, El Profesor y el Loco. It’s the one about the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, it’s an ironic choice, seeing a film about the quintessential reference book of the English language … in Spanish! And why not? Brother Scott saw this film one night at Convento San Francisco during convivencia with the brothers (I must have elsewhere that night) and gives his two thumbs up.

Backtracking, briefly: 

On Friday morning I had a video call with Lionel, a member of Maryknoll’s missionary disciple formation team in the United States. He leads workshops in culturally diverse parishes in the largest cities of the U.S. to train lay leaders for domestic and foreign mission activities. He is an asylee from Guatemala who has resided in the U.S. for 30 years. It was a privilege to hear his story and learn about the work he does to form disciples and bring together different cultures. These are two high-priority goals for us at Church of the Good Shepherd. I hope to continue the conversation with Lionel this week and gain wisdom from him that may help me be a better minister to/for/with the people of my parish and community. 

On Sunday afternoon I took a long walk through the city center to Parque Mariscal Santa Cruz. This is a family-friendly aquatic park (admission 3.50 bolivianos) with barbecuing grounds, a carousel, a trolley ride, a great pool, a miniature aquarium, and paddle-boat rides (prices varied for these). You entered the aquarium through the mouth of a sea monster—pretty cool. I enjoyed looking at the fish making funny faces at us from their tanks and pools. Many of the kiddies relished feeding the fish. When they emptied their little plastic pouches of fish food into the tank, you should have seen how the dozens of fish made a scrum to the tank edge! It was a hoot watching the fish squirm over one another, mouths gaping and puckering. I took my time wandering around the grounds. The sunshine was abundant and the sky was blazing blue in the late afternoon, and the park was teeming with families. I parked myself on a bench by the little lagoon and watched the people pedaling in the water. For a few bolivianos more, you could paddle in a swan boat! It all reminded me of the Boston Public Garden. As the sun began to fall, I said evening prayer, with Cristo de la Concordia extending a benediction from his distant hill, and a little rainbow visible in the mist of a fountain spray shooting up from the paddleboat pool. 

God is good, and all that God has made is very good. And why not? 

Sunday, July 28, 2019


“One of Jesus’ disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples’ ” (Luke 11:1). 

That one-word question, how, has been on my mind the last several days. How do I be a Capuchin brother now; how do I love God and neighbor now (and once again); how do I choose every day what is good, what is true, what is beautiful, radically, with abandon. Everything comes back to how, or the means by which I fulfill the aims I have vowed to live, with God and a cast of hundreds as my witness. It is why I am reading the late Fr. Michael Crosby’s Spirituality of the Beatitudes with great intent. It is his how-to for living the Beatitudes of Matthew’s Gospel. What a gift God gave the Capuchin family through our brother Michael. I don’t want to part with this book! But I want to share it with others, donate it to someone or somewhere where it will be picked up again and do some good for others. 

This morning, how finds focus in the question Jesus received, “teach us to pray.” Yes, I want to know, too, how to pray. Yes, Jesus’ prayer to God that begins “Our Father” is an answer, the answer for many of us who regard his prayer as the ultimate, the classic, of prayer. But even Jesus’ answer to his disciples feels more like a what than the how that I crave. Yes, I accept what Jesus has taught. Now I want to move from description or prescription to method, to practice. This calls for spirituality. This calls for wisdom. This calls for attention, for concentration, and perhaps most of all, for discipline. 

In Bolivia, it has been a challenge to pray well, to pray with attention to what makes for excellent practice. The trials of insomnia made it hard to pray. You can pray or you can sleep, but you cannot do both at the same time. You cannot pray if you are not rested. Without one you do not have the other. Also, the challenge of language immersion has made it hard to pray. With almost all of my vocal prayer being in Spanish, those periods of common prayer with the friars, reciting the Liturgy of the Hours or the rosary, feel more like language-learning exercises than a spiritual practice. When you have to concentrate on pronunciation and comprehension, when you are stuck on the words, then you are thinking more than you are praying. Likewise, if I am listening to a homily or spoken prayers at celebrations of the Eucharist, then my mind, which is trying to understand what is being communicated and gets frustrated because it doesn’t, overrules the soul, and prayer doesn’t happen. Many evenings I ignore the homily entirely and meditate instead on a word or phrase from the Gospel. It is easier to participate fully and consciously in the celebration of Eucharist when we hear the rote prayers and give the rote responses, because they are the same every day. Finally, my experience of a loss of confidence or trust in God’s love a few months ago has made it hard to pray. I won’t go back into those details here; you can browse through previous posts on the blog for that. Slowly, I am re-integrating God and Christ and Holy Spirit into the One-in-Three that God is. 

So on this Sunday I am simply sitting with how and offering the question to God. Just to think the word or utter it silently from my soul transforms me, transports me, maybe brings me closer to the One who can aid me. The question then becomes almost a command, a demand, even: Show me how. Show me the way, dear God, dear Jesus. Then, ultimately, a declaration: I will be how I want to be. Holy Spirit, make it happen! Amen.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Santa Cruz

Good things come to those who wait … don’t they? Well, good enough or not, let’s backtrack to Santa Cruz.

At quarter after two last Friday, July 19, Brother Scott and I were sitting side by side in the terminal at the Cochabamba airport. Less than two hours later, we were on the ground at Aeropuerto Viru Viru, outside the city of Santa Cruz. Padre Jimmy, our Capuchin brother, received us and took us to the parish and friary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a residential zone of the city. 

Prior to arrival I was wondering what our very own brothers in religion had prepared for us. Would our Capuchin brothers have an itinerary for us, or would we be free to do whatever we wanted? The advantage of shadowing the friars was that we would never be at a loss for things to do. The disadvantage would be that the friars speak Spanish, so our accompaniment would be hard work. The advantage to being on our own would be that we could go anywhere and do what we choose. The disadvantage would be that we would miss the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the life of the friars. 

Ultimately, we struck a balance, both touring with our brothers and taking time for ourselves. 

We were met by hot and windy air in Santa Cruz, where the climate remains subtropical through winter. The timing of our trip was fortunate, because we missed the arrival of surazo, the antarctic air that on occasion blows in from the south. No, our weather was just shy of muggy, a little stifling for me after weeks of little to no humidity in Cochabamba. But having descended now to sea level in Santa Cruz, with no mountains in sight, there was no trouble breathing (not that I have had difficulties in Cochabamba). All the variety of climate and geography in one compact country! For this I will miss Bolivia. 

That Friday afternoon, Brother Scott and I greeted with a profusion of gracias our Capuchin hosts: Padre Jimmy, Padre Francisco, and Fray Rafael, a lay brother. All three friars are of Peruvian extraction: they and seven other Capuchins of the Province of Peru have made Bolivia their mission. The Capuchin presence in Bolivia is so humble and small—the first friars arrived only in 2007—that the territory is not even a custody of Peru, but what they call a delegation. In olden times we would have called it a commissariat. Padre Jimmy is the delegate minister for the ten Capuchins in Bolivia. There are almost 70 Capuchins in the Province of Peru, I recall Padre Francisco telling me. In a week, they will hold their provincial chapter at their spirituality center in Lima. I wish them every blessing as they prepare to elect their provincial council and make decisions about their overall mission. 

From the moment we arrived, we felt blessed by the company of these three friars. Regardless of the differences in culture, nationality, race, and language ability, they treated us like fellow Capuchins; they treated us like brothers. And it is right and just that we felt welcomed like Capuchins immediately. We would have, and we have, treated them likewise. On several occasions when I was living at Holy Cross Residence in midtown Manhattan, we hosted Bro. Hugo Mejia of Peru, a former member of the Capuchins’ general council, which governs the global fraternity of 10,000 brothers. I can say truly that we showed Brother Hugo quality hospitality and genuine care. From him I received the same sense of congeniality and fraternal warmth that I felt from Padre Jimmy, Padre Francisco, and Fray Rafael. Whatever else can be said about the Capuchins, let it be said firmly that we know how to welcome people, especially our brothers in religion, who have come long distances to be received as guests in Christ’s name. 

Back to that Friday afternoon: an impromptu preprandial arose after Brother Scott and I put down our bags in the friary. We drank guaraná soda and water and munched on roasted peanuts and fava beans as we chatted. Padre Francisco brought more nuts when we all but consumed what there was. We had meditation and evening prayer in the church. Back in the friary, after we watched the evening news in Spanish, Padre Jimmy brought in pizza and we chatted freely some more over soda, wine, and alcohol-free chicha. Padre Francisco also offered me guiso and rice to make sure the vegetarian was well-fed. 

On Saturday morning, July 20, the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, a miracle of human technology and human spirit, I experienced two minor miracles. First, I rose early enough to join the Capuchins at 6:30 a.m. morning prayer; second, I understood the majority of Padre Jimmy’s homily at 7 a.m. Eucharist. I suppose I slept well enough despite the heat of Santa Cruz; vivid dreams wove in and out of the half-awake moments. After breakfast Padre Jimmy took us to the center of Santa Cruz, driving through the city rings or anillos to get us to the heart of town. 

Where did we go that morning? Padre Jimmy took us to the metropolitan cathedral of San Lorenzo (the deacon and martyr of ancient Rome, not the Capuchin doctor of the church whose feast was Sunday, July 21). This is the second church to stand on the main plaza of the city, having been built in 1915. We climbed the bell tower and heard the chimes at close range at quarter to eleven. Before that ascent, we visited the cathedral museum for free, thanks to the status we enjoy as religious brothers (forgive us, God in heaven, for taking advantage of privilege). A thief would covet the silver sacramental vessels and sacred objects of every liturgical use imaginable. We saw priceless monstrances inlaid with precious stones, like emerald, amethyst, and garnet; we saw processional candle holders; we saw crowns for Mary and Jesus and chalices and tiny spoons of precious metals. We saw brocaded vestments that would smother the hardiest folk under the weight and heat. We saw a chasuble Pope John Paul II wore to celebrate Mass during his apostolic visit in 1988—a second-class relic; we saw papal thrones on which Pope Francis sat during his apostolic visit in 2015—a second-class relic someday? We saw portraits of archbishops gone by and the tomb of the last archbishop of Santa Cruz, Julio Terrazas Sandoval, who was also a cardinal. Have a look here for more images of the cathedral.

After the cathedral we drove to the city intersection where a public garden had been converted to a permanent stage, where Pope Francis celebrated Mass before nearly one million people. I was pleased that this dais forever blocks the view of an enormous Burger King restaurant. Brother Scott was amused that Pope Francis vested and processed from the Burger King, made an impromptu sacristy that day. And the word became hamburger? After a stop to refill the car with ethanol, Padre Jimmy took us to a new condominium, Atlantis Towers, the tallest residential complex in town, still under construction, and found someone with an elevator key to convey us to the 18th-floor rooftop so we could get an aerial view of the city. Capuchins are into elevation! 

Then, back to the friary for a little lunch with Padre Francisco and Fray Rafael. I made just a little conversation. The touring did not make my body tired, but my mind was a little fatigued. Although I did not need the nap, I lay down for an hour that afternoon after midday prayer and some spiritual reading. It was a quiet afternoon in which Brother Scott and I rested. Gradually, through the warm and windy afternoon, I came to a still point. I wrote a few lines of poetry. I wanted to open my soul to God. 

Late that afternoon, Padre Jimmy was celebrating a baptism in the church with a large extended family. As soon as it was concluded, the friars assembled in the sanctuary for evening prayer. Eucharist was at 7:30 p.m., and although I attended Mass that morning, I returned again that evening to listen to Padre Francisco preach. It was a late evening meal after Mass and early to bed in the hope of gaining the luxury of nine hours of sleep. 

The next day, Sunday, July 21, was greeted with brisk winds from the north. I rose on time for 6:30 a.m. morning prayer. Afterward I ate the same breakfast of instant oatmeal, a banana, banana cake, and tea. Then I showered and freshened up and spent some time in meditation and poetry writing before the 10 a.m. Mass, the principal celebration of Eucharist at Our Lady of Guadalupe. I reflected on the Gospel narrative of sisters Mary and Martha of Bethany. I felt distant from Martha, because I feel no compulsion to work, and I fell at the feet of Jesus with Mary. Dear God, I prayed, let me feel the perfect joy of your love in your word and your bread from heaven once again. This time, let your love change me. Or maybe I was not so distant from Martha. I have worked; I have done my chores. I acknowledge some but not all of the chores of la vida cotidiana. Too much work is make-work, useless work. And I tell Martha there is no use to all that work, and I bring her with me to the feet of Jesus, with Mary waiting. And perfect joy appears or Mary of Magdala or all the women who have loved Jesus with a pure but broken heart. 

While I stayed at Our Lady of Guadalupe for the 10 a.m. Mass, Brother Scott went to the 8:30 a.m. Mass at the Chapel of Christ Risen, a satellite of the parish. It pleased me that there is a chapel dedicated to the risen Christ somewhere in Bolivia, somewhere in Latin America, where most churches close the book of the Gospels after Good Friday. 

After Eucharist, we said goodbye to Padre Jimmy, who was in the middle of giving a weekend retreat to catechists of the parish, and drove on with Padre Francisco to the semi-rural town of Minero, built on the backs of sugar cane cutters. There, Padre Ivica, a Bosnian by birth whose family took refuge in Croatia during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, drove us to the campo of Pueblo Nuevo, one of more than twenty base communities affiliated with the Parish of San Isidro Labrador. We saw mud huts no larger than your bedroom for families of eight. We saw dogs and roosters roaming the rough (and I mean rough) dirt roads. Your backbone will slip if you keep driving these roads, as our Capuchin brothers must do to reach these communities for liturgical services once or twice a month. If it rains, all bets are off; the roads become impassable. There is electricity on some blocks, but only some. The workers are internal migrants from Cochabamba and Oruro and other places from the west of Bolivia. Brother Scott and I agreed: we had found the poor heart and soul of Bolivia, and it is poor indeed; but somehow it seemed proud, too. This poverty felt different from the poverty I saw in rural Honduras at this time five years ago. That poverty felt sticky, sickly, a little sinister. This poverty felt provisional, clean, even sufferable. Maybe I have bought in too much the optimism of the Evo Morales regime: the country is standing up on its own feet and preparing to make great strides. Maybe it is, and maybe my hope is justified. There will be responsible development; there will be a democratic socialism to safeguard the promised prosperity for the common people. I hope, but the Gospel also teaches me to be realistic, not to be an idolater, and not to put my trust in princes. I will put my trust in the Christ who has moved our Capuchin brothers of Peru to pitch tent with their Bolivian sisters and brothers on this warm and fertile soil. 

Prior to this excursion we first had a banquet of a lunch with the fraternity: Padre Ivica, Padre Rolando, and Fray Ronal. The fourth friar, Padre Antonio, was on vacation in Peru. We also toured the grounds of the Parish of San Isidro Labrador, including the church, whose construction was financed by Unagro, the sugar refinery that turns tons of cane into alcohol as well as table sugar. We met two lay women who serve as Franciscan volunteers in the parish and saw the house under construction for the entire community of lay Franciscan volunteers. 

After our afternoon of much activity, Brother Scott and I came to rest in the terminal of Aeropuerto Viru Viru, then the cabin of the airplane that took us back to Cochabamba. Adios, Santa Cruz. Adios, hermanos. We were treated well and very well by the Capuchins, who made as much time as they could out of their Martha-like schedules to feed us and show us their lives, their homes, and their ministries. Like Mary, they put us at the feet of Jesus in their world. My gratitude goes to God for Padre Ivica, Padre Rolando, and Fray Ronal of Minero; and Padre Jimmy, Padre Francisco, and Fray Rafael of Santa Cruz. If, like their Peruvian brother Hugo Mejia, they travel to the United States, they have a home with us. I will make it my personal mission to extend to them the same hospitality they have extended to their brothers in America. 

That is plenty for today. Have a restful weekend, good readers. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Cuenta Atrás

Another week down, with two weeks of classes to go. At a moment this mid-morning when I was getting agitated about my tied tongue and balky brain, Brother Scott consoled me by telling me that I can now count the number of classes left with my two hands. He is right, and in fact, I could count the number of classes left on two maimed hands, if need be. Tuesday, Aug. 6 is Bolivian Independence Day, a national holiday. So on that day I will be out on the streets around Templo San Francisco listening to the bands playing patriotic songs and other hymns to the state. Thus it is two weeks and nine class days to go. Let the countdown begin! 

Another consoling thought: there will be a going-away party. Our Mennonite volunteer friends are organizing a despedida for Brother Scott and me. Grateful doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of appreciation I have for them. We’ll be having the get-together a few days before Brother Scott goes back to the United States. We’re doing this on his schedule because he leaves several days before I do. Knowing the Mennonite volunteers as I do, I know this will be a fine-spirited celebration of friendship and fellowship across cultures. 

A flyer has appeared on the bulletin board at Maryknoll inviting students to go to La Paz and Copacabana at Lago Titicaca. Profesor Osvaldo is making arrangements with the mission center for students. Nine names have appeared on the list, but neither my name nor Brother Scott’s is among them. For one thing, I have already been to La Paz, though not to Lago Titicaca or Copacabana. For another, it is the weekend of Aug. 2-4, and I would prefer to hang back with my Capuchin brother, who will leave Bolivia the Monday immediately after. 

With no more extended travel plans on the horizon before departing Bolivia, I look forward to the next two weekends as opportunities to rest and to explore a little more the beauty and refinement in the heart of Cochabamba. You may have read my dispatch on Convento Museo Santa Teresa. There are still other churchy monuments I have not yet seen. There are other green spaces and other noble-looking plazas where I have yet to relax. There are other cafés and restaurants where I have yet to eat! All of this awaits. Time is counting down.

Thursday, July 25, 2019


If I were a woman with a calling to cloistered contemplative life, I might be a Carmelite sister. (Or I would be a Benedictine. It’s a close call.) In the early days of my religious fervor, when I was an undergraduate at Cornell University, I discovered the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The mystical writings of these Spanish Carmelite spiritual geniuses made me want to take up an interior journey, into my own soul and into the heart of God. They planted seeds that much later took root and produced the fruit of my present-day religious vocation. 

Today I visited Santa Teresa, the Carmelite convent and museum that occupies an entire city block bounded by Calle Baptista, Calle Ecuador, Calle España, and Calle Mayor Rocha. In 2012 it was designated a national monument for its historical, cultural, and architectural significance. A five-year restoration program, funded in large part by the U.S. embassy in Bolivia, was completed in 2018, and the results have been amazing. They call the convent La Joya de Bolivia (“The Jewel of Bolivia”); indeed, it is like a hidden gem, and it is has been hiding from me up until now. But after the celebration of Our Lady of Carmel last Tuesday, it was time for me to appreciate this great jewel up close. 

With evening prayer on the night of Oct. 13, 1760, the feast of Saint Teresa, four Carmelite sisters from Sucre established a monastery in Cochabamba. Following the reform of the Carmelite order by Saint Teresa, there would be exactly 21 sisters dwelling in this foundation, which included both a convent and a church. (The present-day church is the third to be built on the site.) Our guide brought Profesora Viviana and me through many but not all of the restored areas of the convent. 

The convent cloister is admirable for its architectural simplicity, but its stark minimalism tells you much more. It speaks of its inhabitants, the sisters who sought literally to espouse themselves to Jesus Christ. They thought of nothing else but to give themselves over totally to Jesus; and it was the solitude of the monastery that helped them achieve this spiritual aim. It struck me how thoroughly quiet the cloister is. Despite the noisy city whirling around it outside, the cloister preserves silence and stillness. Maybe the two-meter-thick walls surrounding the convent have something to do with that. In the calm air of the cloister, you can breathe in the Spirit of God. 

A sisters’ cell was as simple and bare as the cloister itself. It had the minimum of necessities: a bed, a jug and basin, a candle stand and reading desk, and an hourglass to help you keep track of your periods of rest and recitation of prayers. 

We passed through the sala capitular, or chapter room, where the sisters received their postulants, who changed their civilian clothes for the brown tunic, white head covering (toque), and black veil of the Carmelites. In this room the prior of the community was elected. The sisters would also gather in this room to share fellowship while their hands were busy with manual labor. The choir room, with exactly 21 stalls, was where the sisters would offer their spiritual labor, chanting the divine office together. 

Several labors, of course, had their proper place outside the chapter room and choir. For instance, we passed through a chamber where the sisters made candles from beeswax, and later paraffin. They also baked goods, made sweets, wove fabrics and embroidered them, and kept a vegetable garden. The sisters, who number about ten today, still do all these things. The sisters were also their own nurses and apothecaries. They reserved a large cell for the infirmary; and one closet in a cloister corridor revealed a botica or drugstore replete with bottles, flasks, and vials of powders and grains, liquids and tonics. All manner of druggists’ tools were there. From the look of it, you might think it was the medicine chest in the potions classroom at Hogwarts! 

You also got the vibrations of Harry Potter’s universe in the cell that served as the library. Locked in the cabinets were books bound in cowhide with titles written in Latin in very Gothic-looking script.

Saint Teresa of Avila was devoted to the infant Jesus and played tambourine, castanets, and drums to celebrate the Nativity. Therefore, one room of the convent is dedicated to the Holy Child. The sala de Belén, or Bethlehem room, features miniatures recreating the birth of Jesus. But these Nativity scenes go far above and beyond a stable, animals, and angel to include the history of salvation, beginning with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. The details in these models are exquisite, being wrought in the baroque style characteristic of Spanish Catholic piety. 

Equally ornate is the calvario, a chapel dedicated to Jesus Christ’s passion. Ten great paintings render in life size the condemnation and crucifixion: all the agony of Jesus’ radical self-sacrifice. At the front of the chapel is an enormous altarpiece (retablo) carved in wood and layered in gold paint, much in the same style as the altarpiece here at Templo San Francisco. 

Throughout the tour I was impressed with the quality of the restoration. So many original elements of the convent have been successfully preserved: stones and steps, paintings and wallpaper, ornamentation, wooden doors and roof timbers. The Carmelites built their monastery to last, using the best materials: lime, stone, and a wood called maguey. Where portions of the roof had to be repaired, they did it faithful to the original construction methods of cane, mud, and slate layers. 

We saw the room where the deceased sisters would be wrapped in a shroud and lie in a catafalque while the prior would keep vigil and pray for the departed. The sisters used to have their own burial ground until the city required all the dead to be interred in the municipal cemetery. 

There were other chambers and spaces we were not privy to on this tour, like the vegetable garden, the kitchen, or the winery. On the last weekend of the month, you can see those spaces on an evening tour. We did not visit the church itself, either, but if I wish, I can attend Mass at Santa Teresa on Sunday at 8 a.m. 

I have dropped some news and photo links along the way. Would you like a closer look at the convent from the inside? I leave it to you to visit the Facebook page for the Carmelite convent or follow this link from my Google search for fine photos of the convent. What I cannot do for you is put you on the rooftop of the cloister, from where you could survey the convent in all its immensity, all of Cochabamba around you, and Cristo de la Concordia in the eastern distance. 

Would that everyone could taste the air of a sacred space like this. They might want to embark on a journey with God into the soul, too. If I had more time, I would remain in the cloister of Santa Teresa until nightfall to contemplate God through the Carmelites’ gift of solitude. But I will content myself with the Franciscan cloister I have been blessed to admire for the last five and a half months.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Where is that post about Santa Cruz? Hovering somewhere between last Saturday and this Saturday, I suppose.

It is a cold and wet day in Cochabamba. How rare! Those cloudy skies, visible rumors of rainfall, stopped hinting this morning and let out a real rain. With the shower, the temperature dropped several degrees. Profesor Osvaldo called it. He knew the rain was coming because it had snowed in La Paz and Oruro. Now, many things in my room feel cool and almost damp to the touch, at an hour when everything is usually warm and dry. 

This change in weather is welcomed by the thirsty earth. But rain usually depresses me, and I do not need much help feeling depressed and tired. If it had not been for these weeks of glorious sunshine and blue skies, my melancholy mood would have been severe. The gift of rain is an inestimable blessing, yes, but it affects me in a saddening way, all the more for being a rare occurrence here. 

Still I am in search of motivation or stimulation. That is more a figure of speech than a literal thing, so coca is not the answer. Thomas Sonntag, a friend of Maryknoll and a very good speaker of Spanish for beginning learners, gave his presentation on coca in Bolivia. His presentation was clear and easy to understand, but in spite of that I found myself bored and distracted. I have avoided all coca consumption, be it the leaf chewing or the drinking of mate de coca. I am overcoming insomnia, so the last thing I need is an ingestion of stimulants. Fortunately, almost never have I been offered coca leaves or a coca drink, so I have not had to refuse the quintessential form of Bolivian hospitality.

Now, if you are looking for the top secrets about this storied plant, I regret to say that I have few to share. And honestly, I don’t understand all the hype or the taboos. Here is what I do know about coca. I do know that it grows easily (with four harvests a year in some areas) and in many places in South America, including Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, with Colombia standing out for often notorious reasons. Its use is considered sacred by the indigenous peoples of the Andes; it is used in some religious rituals. The leaf does in fact contain certain vitamins, minerals, and proteins and can be ground into a flour. As a stimulant, it gives you a boost and beds your appetite. Its flavor is an acquired taste. There is a world of difference between coca itself, consumed by the leaf or in a mate infusion, and cocaine, the controlled substance derived in part from the chemical in the plant. While a coca product like mate is legal in Bolivia, it may not be imported or sold in the United States or the European Union. Coca-Cola, which used to use fresh coca leaves in its product, thus contained traces of cocaine, but today uses only cocaine-free coca leaf extract as a flavoring agent. The Bolivian government has attempted to control strictly the production and distribution of coca leaves in order to maintain only those traditional and legal uses. It has gone so far as to destroy coca crops known to be used for the manufacture of cocaine. Its success has been somewhat limited. The industrialization of coca production has been lucrative for those in the economic elite, but it does not pay much for the campesinos who raise their small coca plots. Overall, on the global level, Bolivia aspires to and has to an extent a leading voice in the politics of coca and cocaine. 

Well, there you have it! All that I know about coca according to those on the ground in Bolivia, who ought to know. And there you don’t have it, that is, that post on Santa Cruz. It’s somewhere between the Saturdays. Looks like you will hear about the Carmelite convent, Santa Teresa, first.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


“…stretching out his hand toward his disciples….” (Matthew 12:50).

How does one stay motivated after more than five months of language and cultural immersion? I woke up this morning with reluctance. I did not want to get out of bed for class. It’s not the first or last time I have felt this way. If no one else around me feels this way, still I feel that it is time to close the book on Bolivia. The book is fairly written. But I have three weeks of immersion to go, so I ask God to find ways to surprise me or startle me into awareness, concentration, and enthusiasm. I stretch out a hand to Jesus, my master, and I hope he will recognize me and extend a hand toward me. Does he know me as his disciple? Or will he send me way to gnash my teeth? I suppose I want the truth from God, but regardless of the truth, regardless of the judgment, I need that hand to reach out for me. I do not want to look back on this endgame with timesickness in my heart. So I pray that the love of God will bring my body, spirit, and soul back together. At least, refresh a tired mind. When it is time to do this work, let me do this work. And God bless my teachers for hanging in there with me. Profesoras Liliana and Viviana earn their pay and more than that for working patiently with me. 

I have not written about Santa Cruz yet: another casualty of low motivation. Maybe tomorrow?

Meanwhile, I have a rising curiosity about life back in the United States and how it will be back in New York City and Church of the Good Shepherd. (I have been browsing the bulletins available through the parish website.) A week from now, will it be a raging curiosity? 

Today, I watched the movie Our Brand Is Crisis, based on the Bolivian elections of 2002. Political campaign strategists from the United States brought their marketing tactics into the election and tilted the outcome in a manner favorable to prevailing neoliberal interests. Think privatization of natural resources and indenturing the nation to the International Monetary Fund. And here I was worried about the United States intervening in this year’s presidential elections. Silly me: we’ve already been there and done that! I also had an interview with Silvana Martinez to give my assessment of the language program. Note to my Capuchin brothers: keep coming to Maryknoll in Cochabamba to study Spanish. Is there a better language immersion program for religious with a missionary vocation?

Tomorrow at Maryknoll: the weekly conference will be all about the coca leaf, as strong a symbol of Bolivia as any there is. Our guest presenters will take us through the myths and realities and help us separate fact and fiction. I hope we do not run out of time for discussion. In the evening, there will be a colloquium on how the Church in Latin America does (and does not) engage with LGBT persons. Like the colloquium on sexual abuse in the Church in Latin America, I imagine that much of what the presenters say will go over my head. But then so have many of the homilies I have heard on most evenings at Templo San Francisco, so maybe a change of venue and a change of conversation will do me good! 

Then, on Thursday: a field trip with the students and teachers to the Carmelite monastery of Santa Teresa in the heart of Cochabamba. I have seen many of the historic churches in the vicinity of Templo San Francisco, but this jewel of Spanish baroque Catholic piety has eluded me until now. More motivation to get my dispatch on Santa Cruz done before I write to you about the Carmelite convent! Jesus, guide my hand, and unblock the writer who wants to be your disciple.

Monday, July 22, 2019


“ ‘You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples’ ” (Mark 16:6-7).

Today, Christian communities the world over celebrate the feast of Mary of Magdala. This is one of my very favorite feast days, because Mary of Magdala was the first to proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. She announced the good news to Jesus’ disciples, who also came to know and believe that Jesus had conquered death and irrevocably changed the destiny of the human race and all creation. 

On this day seven years ago, with confidence in the risen Christ, I received the habit of the Capuchin order at San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez, Calif., with 23 other men. Investiture marked the formal beginning of my religious life as a Capuchin Franciscan friar, although I had already lived for a year with the friars during my postulancy in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Victoria, Kan. I would make my first profession of vows nearly a year later, on July 20, 2013, and my perpetual profession of vows on Oct. 1, 2016. But on that feast of Mary of Magdala seven years ago, I felt like I had made a covenant with God in Christ’s name through the Holy Spirit, in the presence of the brothers. 

To this day, it is my Capuchin brothers who remain special witnesses to that covenant. And that covenant is to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ with abandon in this world, and to consent to be brought by grace forward into the reign of God breaking into and confounding this world. I hope my brothers will continue to support me and help me fulfill that covenant as I understand it. They know as well as anyone what it means to leave everything behind to follow Jesus. With their help and God’s, I will indeed render all things back to God one day. May it please God to keep our Capuchin fraternities strong in a spirit of brotherly love. 

But to live the Gospel is to be open to help from every source of grace. The Capuchins are but one of many lifelines. There is the communion of saints, living here today and living in the realm of eternity. I depend on the exemplary witness and way of life of Mary of Magdala to strengthen me and show me how to proclaim the good news of resurrection life in this world today. I ask God through Mary for the extraordinary grace of knowing the presence of the risen Christ in my own life. And I give thanks to God for the many Magdala-like figures in my life, the vulnerable but strong women who have befriended me and show me, in their own way, how God is changing everything through Jesus Christ. These sisters in the Spirit, these friends of God and prophets in their own right, are my dearest friends in this world. 

Today began the second half of the current term of classes at Maryknoll. Profesoras Liliana and Viviana are my final teaching team. They will carry me through the final three weeks to the end of my studies here. I am delighted to be benefiting once more from their creativity, good cheer, and spirit of playfulness in the classroom. We are continuing to study El Salvador and the subjunctive. We are going to work in a lot of extemporaneous conversation so that I can learn to express my opinion on controversial topics and controverted viewpoints. For the thousandth time: O God, open my lips! Bid the Spirit give me the words to speak.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Good evening from Cochabamba. Brother Scott and I touched down safely and on time at the airport. It was a very pleasant visit with our Capuchin brothers in Santa Cruz. I look forward to sharing some details in a post this week, sooner than later. 

Back to classes for the final three weeks to come. For now, a gentle, quiet night ahead … at least now that Carmelo has quit his yapping! To everyone in the United States, I hope you will bear up well under the high heat of summer. Take care of each other!

Thursday, July 18, 2019


Thanks to Señora Anita in the Maryknoll mission center administrative office, I have received my electronic ticket for the round-trip journey to Santa Cruz and back. Departure is tomorrow afternoon, 3:05 p.m. It’s a 50-minute trip going there. I will return Sunday evening, landing at Cochabamba, God and the weather willing, at quarter to seven. 

Most likely there will be no time to make a post tomorrow afternoon, and as per usual, I am leaving the laptop computer at the convent. I will be back online Sunday night, but only for the few moments it will take to tell you that I have returned to Cochabamba. I hope to tell you about Santa Cruz early next week, if there is anything newsworthy to share! Until I write you again, may God be with you in all things, both the joyful and the sorrowful and everything in between. And may you recognize the hour of God’s visitation.


“In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26). 

Dear God, 

Your Spirit is the helper. Your Spirit comes to our aid. Your Spirit gives us the words to speak at the hour when we need them. 

Well, the words are hard to come by, and the prayers do not come often. 

Your servant is angry and anxious. You know why. He does not have the gift of other tongues. Ears are closed; the mind is closed; lips are shut. The learning is not happening. There is no enlightenment. This journey is faltering. The time is slowing to the tempo of purgatory. What can be done? 

It is up to you, dear God, to decide what to do. Judge for yourself what to make of your deaf and dumb servant. 

Wherever your Spirit is, it does not feel at home within your poor servant. Maybe the Spirit has been evicted. If this has been done, then please forgive this sin, grave as it is. 

You can bring into being what is not. You take what is and you make more of it. You can make anyone live. You can make anyone be whatever you want of them. This power is yours. This power has always been yours alone. 

You can take the Spirit away, and you can bring the Spirit back. For the Spirit is your presence among us and within us. 

From eternity to eternity, you are. We are, insofar as we remain in you. 

Once again, in repentance for another fallen day, your servant asks you to make him live in you. Put out the anger; calm the anxiety. Redeem what can be redeemed, and put out of existence the wrong that cannot be changed. 

Therefore, search, search, search the heart of the one who begs you now. If his intentions are true, then sound your Yes and make the Spirit speak for him. If his intentions are false, then sound your No and make the Spirit reprove him. Spare him in your mercy. In spite of every betrayal, send him your love, and make him strong enough to survive it. 

All this and more, everything that has been left unsaid, grant in the name of the Son through the Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


I just heard Diana, the convent cook, sneeze twice. It’s quite the startling thing. She sneezes like a giant; she sneezes like a champion sneezer. She is one of those people who, when she sneezes, heaves her whole body and life force into the act. The sound is loud, a high-pitched half-laugh-half-screech that seems painful to perform. My own Dad sneezes the same way, as if his life depended on it. No wonder the custom of blessing someone who sneezes caught on universally. When people like Diana sneeze, it does seem as if the soul is about to eject itself from the body! Salud.

I mention this because I have been sneezing myself. The air in Cochabamba has been so still and so dry for so long since winter started. The air hangs heavy with the pollution of the city. My teachers claim that Cochabamba is the third-most-polluted city in all of South America. All of South America? That’s a tall claim, considering there are other major cities to contend with, including La Paz in Bolivia itself. But today I think the city could bear the unwanted title. As the morning passed, my sinuses were congesting, and my ears were closing up. Halfway through classes I closed the windows to Room 103, because I would rather deal with the echo and resonance issues in our classroom than put up with sneezing fits. (Not to mention that some pile driver on the property adjacent to Maryknoll was happily slamming the earth over and over again.) 

This morning a man from El Salvador, José Vásquez, who has been living in Cochabamba for a decade, gave us a 50-minute presentation on Central America and the Caribbean. He had an unenviable task, cramming in data about climate, geography, culture, language, religion, history, and cuisine of the many nations and isles. It was too much to take in. José had no time left over for questions and dialogue. In fact, he went over time, as have the majority of the presenters I have met throughout these several months at Maryknoll. Worst of all, as José hurried his presentation along to cover all the material, he spoke way too quickly for our newest students, who are at a more elementary level of comprehension, to understand him. Brother Scott and I are in agreement: less is definitely more at these weekly conferences. I am ready to recommend that the conferences be extended to two class periods on Wednesdays. One 50-minute period simply is not sufficient to let the presenter discourse slowly and carefully, and to allow the students an opportunity to talk back and enter into conversation. 

The trip to Santa Cruz is becoming more a reality. Brother Scott asked Anita in the mission center administrative office to find a Friday afternoon flight from Cochabamba with a return flight from Santa Cruz departing early Sunday evening. She is taking care of the booking for us. Happily, I will not need to dress warmly for Santa Cruz; unlike places like La Paz, Oruro, and Uyuni of the Altiplano, Santa Cruz is in the tropical lowlands of eastern Bolivia. Profesor Óscar joked that without mountains, Santa Cruz is not truly Bolivia! Maybe, but I will be glad to wear lighter clothes for a couple of days in a subtropical zone. Also, because it is winter, there are scarcely mosquitoes to be found; thus no need for repellent. No fear of malaria or West Nile virus, or the arenavirus that has claimed three lives in La Paz and caused many illnesses. Finally, I hope the air in Santa Cruz is fresher than the air is these days in Cochabamba! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


It has been a day in the company of Franciscan women.

This morning at seven, I attended Mass at Templo Santa Clara, where a community of Poor Clare sisters resides under the spiritual assistance of the Franciscan friars. Padre Kasper celebrated Eucharist for the sisters and the several people of God who came to the sisters’ simple but ample chapel. It was a quick worship service—no homily, just the liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist. The sisters supplied the music ministry and proclaimed the Scripture readings. 

At seven-thirty I hopscotched from Templo Santa Clara to the corner of Calle 25 de Mayo and Avenida Heroinas to catch the bus to Maryknoll. I found Brother Scott on the bus, and we motored to Maryknoll, where I had 20 minutes to gulp down tea, bread, and a banana. At noon, as soon as classes were over, we jetted immediately from Maryknoll, caught the bus, and in no time reached Plaza Colón, and we walked briskly the couple of blocks to get to the Monastery of Jesus Crucified and the other community of Franciscan women, the Capuchin Poor Clare sisters. 

We were early—the sisters were singing the office of midday prayer—so Brother Scott and I rested ourselves in the sitting room outside the cloister for several moments. When the singing stopped we got up to look around, wandering into other meeting rooms for visitors and finally stepping into the cloister garden, a magical landscape of many shades of green, with aviaries of African parakeets and tropical parrots, fountains and pools, a hermitage chapel, and plenty of palm trees. Hermana Victoria found us browsing the grounds, and she welcomed us gently and happily to the refectory, where lunch awaited. 

Any apprehension I had prior to the visit was dispelled by warm smiles, hot quinoa soup, and a hearty main course of beef and chicken (eggs for the vegetarian brother), rice, and a sweet potato known as camote. The clarisas also offered their very own wine, bottled and distributed on their behalf for their communities in Cochabamba and Oruro. (They also market communion wine and even an egg liquor. Read this newspaper article about their cottage industries.) It felt easy to be in the sisters’ company because they are comfortable with each other and joyful in their way of life. It also felt easy to communicate with them. So, in spite of my usual reserve at meals and despite my inhibitions in speaking Spanish outside the controlled environment of a classroom, I offered a few questions to make conversation and interjected now and then while the sisters and Brother Scott were weaving a thread of discussion. 

Before we knew it, more than an hour had gone by, but the best was yet to come. The sisters presented a colossal torta, a mocha cake large enough to serve 50 people! The confection was in honor of Our Lady of Carmel, the patroness of Bolivia, for the feast day. And it was the work of their own hands, as they do all the baking for the galletas (cookies) and other goodies they sell. This torta was an unbelievable sight, which is why the sisters took selfies of themselves and us with the magnificent dessert to prove its existence. And of course it was our pleasure to have more than one serving!

The geniality continued for some while, as the sisters proudly showed us a photo album commemorating the diamond jubilee of their eldest sister, Hermana Josefina, who marked 60 years of religious life in August 2017. One of the sisters then presented us their guest book, and Brother Scott and I left them loving and prayerful messages in the best written Spanish we could muster. 

We made many goodbyes with refrains of gracias repeated over and over. With one more quick walk through the lovely garden, Hermana Victoria showed us to the monastery exit, and once more we were returned to the ordinary world. 

While I still feel that a life of monastic enclosure would be greatly confining, for me, anyway, I must admit I was enchanted by the world of piety and beauty the Capuchin Poor Clares have tended for themselves. Brother Scott and I were impressed by the sisters’ easygoing hospitality and real care for one another. They have received as guests our fellow Capuchin brothers who studied Spanish at Maryknoll, and not only did they remember their names but they also remembered when they lived in Cochabamba. For sure, both of us will bear their blessing with us through the rest of our journey in Bolivia. 

I know you would like to see some pictures of the Capuchin Poor Clare sisters. Well, wouldn’t you? Click on this link to a friar’s blog for photos of the Capuchin clarisas of Cochabamba and Oruro. 

Finally, a postscript to Sunday’s post. Shortly after I wrote that we had resigned ourselves to not seeing our Capuchin brothers in Santa Cruz, Brother Scott received a message from one of them. We are indeed most welcome to visit the friars, and we are invited to stay with them this weekend! We are gratified to see the window of opportunity open when we thought it had closed for good. We hope to finalize the arrangements for travel shortly.

Monday, July 15, 2019


Another week of classes has begun, with four weeks to go. With Profesores Vicky and Óscar, I am continuing to learn about the culture of Guatemala, as well as usage of the present subjunctive tense, handy for giving commands or expressing desires. We also learned phrases useful for expressing differences of opinion.

It is an understatement to say I have differences of opinion with the United States government concerning its current immigration policy and enforcement practices. For the last 11 years and three administrations, I have advocated for an immigration policy rooted in the truth that migration is a human right; a policy that puts the welfare of migrating persons above the sovereignty of nations and the sanctity of territorial borders. Of course, there is no nation in the world that as of today has such an immigration policy. This is regrettable. 

The United States could be an exemplar of freedom and liberty, of justice and mercy, if it moved toward a more humane policy of immigration and naturalization. For starters, the nation could acknowledge and accept that the majority of persons seeking entry into this country come from Latin America for reasons of extreme poverty and unemployment causing starvation, and unspeakable violence from gang activity and drug trafficking. The countries from which they have fled have failed to protect their citizens or provide for their welfare. These persons should be welcomed as asylees and/or granted visas to work, along with an eventual path to citizenship or permanent legal status. Yet the U.S. government has long refused to grant visas to residents of those countries in proportion to the demand to enter. And now the government is doubling down and making it much harder for persons in imminent danger to prove their case for asylum. This makes no sense. These people are fleeing a house on fire; their lives are in danger now. They can’t “get in line” and wait 10 or 20 years to be issued a visa that they are unlikely to get. The policy of the U.S. government is to allow as few people as possible to enter the country and begin a path toward legal status. The policy of the U.S. government effectively “makes” undocumented immigrants by depriving all but a few deemed worthy enough to be a part of American society, by merit of education and marketable talents, the privilege to live and work here; and then it criminalizes them for having the temerity to enter or remain in the country without the privilege of said documents. Again, Latin America is a house on fire—women, children, and men have to leave now or die. Do you think they are going to worry about having the right papers to present to officials when at last they enter a safe country? 

For a decade I have worked with the New Sanctuary Movement to prevent unjust deportations and oppose the government’s cruel and inhumane system of immigrant detention. Times have only gotten tougher under the present administration, but the same policies have been in play for years, and so has the apparatus of enforcement. 

Sorry to go on an editorial tangent today. I imagine that many of you, dear readers, have been focused on current events, namely the federal government’s announcement of immigration enforcement raids in major U.S. cities, including New York, where I live and work. I encourage all of you to volunteer with the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC. They need people of faith and good will to accompany immigrants in the process of deportation to their mandatory court hearings or check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The coalition helps undocumented persons apply for asylum at a weekly legal clinic with the help of NYU Law School faculty and other attorneys. It teaches undocumented immigrants their rights and shows immigrant families and communities how to protect themselves. It also works to conscientize the public about the root causes of migration and exposes the inhumanity of the present immigration policy. I believe the God of the Exodus is present in the work of this organization. In the words of the legendary James Brown, I hope that you “get up, get into it, get involved.” 

My own conscientization continues. Last Friday, Padre Alejandro and I had a good dialogue on migration from Central America to the United States. Coming up: this Wednesday, the Maryknoll community will focus its weekly conference on life in Central America. This Friday, I will continue my dialogue with Joann, a student from Haiti who has experience in integrating peoples of different cultures into one stronger community.

Postscript: To the Swedish bots out there, I say, knock it off! I know I did not suddenly pick up 100 daily readers in Scandinavia.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


You can’t always get what you want … or who you want. Brother Scott and I appeared at Templo San Rafael this morning at nine on the tip that the Capuchin friar from Santa Cruz would be there to celebrate the Mass with the Poor Clares, our Capuchin Franciscan sisters. He was not there; it was a priest unknown to us. I am disappointed; did that Capuchin leave Cochabamba last night or early this morning? It looks like our last and best chance to get in touch with our Capuchin brothers in Bolivia has slipped away. It is not for lack of trying. Brother Scott has tried valiantly to make contact with the fraternity in Santa Cruz, sending multiple messages, to no avail. All the traffic lights are red. What can you do?

Get to know our Capuchin sisters better, obviously. The clarisas dwell in strict enclosure in a little monastery on the corner of Calle San Martín and Calle Ecuador. Brother Scott and I worshiped with seven sisters at Eucharist this morning. We were, of course, separated from the sisters, as were all the laypersons who filled the large chapel. The clarisas were seated within the sanctuary in front of the communion rail, and the rest of us were seated in the pews. I never got a good look at them, because they were facing the altar like all of us. But we heard a good deal from them, as they were the lectors proclaiming the Scripture readings, and the music ministers, leading us in song while playing guitar, organ, and percussion. 

At the conclusion of Mass, the sisters went promptly into Eucharistic adoration, with the priest-celebrant exposing the Blessed Sacrament and the sisters singing and strumming and drumming a song of praise. I was taken by surprise by this sudden turn. Normally, you don’t follow Eucharist, the highest form of worship of the Church, with an act of adoration. When you have participated fully, actively, and consciously in the celebration of Eucharist and received communion, you have experienced Christ, the presence of God, and there is no greater act of devotion you can make, sacramentally. I won’t say you shouldn’t or can’t do Eucharistic adoration right after Mass. But I would hold with those who consider that to be a liturgically suspect practice because it contradicts the meaning of the Mass. It undermines the Church’s contemporary theology of the Eucharist, which identifies it as “the summit and source of the Christian life.” 

On the other hand, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that adoration is the vocation of these Capuchin sisters. In their social and cultural context, adoration makes perfect sense. They are contemplatives who have been called out of society for the special mission of being a “prayerful presence.” They never cease to offer prayers to God in the name of Christ for all of us. A year ago, the sisters marked 150 years of this prayerful presence in Cochabamba. Don’t be fooled into thinking they have an easy life, making communion bread and wine and selling cakes and religious articles. Have you tried practicing the presence of God for just an hour a day? Have you noticed how hopelessly distracted you are? And have you noticed how difficult it is to perform even one little work of love well, to show someone charity with a clean and cheerful heart? The Capuchin Poor Clares’ lifestyle embodies, in a dramatic way, the total commitment to a God-centered life that Jesus asks of his disciples. Their complete surrender to Jesus Christ makes visible the challenge that confronts each of us who seeks to follow God’s will. 

Perhaps this is what has kept me away from the Monastery of Jesus Crucified, where the Capuchin sisters live. I respect their vocation, but I fear it. It’s intimidating to see them, shrouded head to foot in a habit, mantle, and veil that covers all but their faces. From appearances, these Poor Clares live a more strict observance of the Rule of Saint Clare than the sisters I met in New Jersey, seven years ago, when I was a postulant. Yet they are probably as vivacious as the ladies I met back then. Moreover, I am a Capuchin Franciscan like them; so why, over these five months, have I been reluctant to meet them? The language barrier is one good reason. Another could be my feminist inclinations. As much as I understand the vocation to contemplation in an environment of strict enclosure, and although I know that these women have willingly accepted this vocation, something in me resists the image of women living in confinement, separated from society, totally dependent on others, rarely seen, rarely heard. I can conceive of a relaxed form of cloistered life, like the Poor Clares of New Jersey, but strict enclosure does not make sense to me. Sorry, clarisas—your vocation mystifies me! 

But I will have a chance to overcome my hang-ups. Thanks to Brother Scott, who stayed after Mass for the period of Eucharistic adoration and spoke to the sisters, the two of us have an invitation to lunch with the holy women on Tuesday. July 16 is the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, one of many titles the Catholic Church gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this guise the Blessed Mother is the patron saint of Bolivia, making this feast a pretty big deal. So we feel honored to be guests of our Capuchin sisters on this day of pride for Bolivians and Catholics. No doubt I’ll be awkward and feel uncomfortable, but I will try to recall the positive impression the Poor Clare sisters of New Jersey made on me all those years ago. If nothing else, the intensity of the encounter will challenge me to empathy for the women. After all, there are others who have seen this bearded brother clad in brown from head to foot. Did I attract them or frighten them away? I bet many were scared off. No doubt, the apprehension I feel about these cloistered Franciscan sisters is similar to what many others have felt about me. The only way for us to get through such apprehensions is with love.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


One thing I will miss about Bolivia after I leave are the colorful green spaces. I respect the people for the pride they take in their gardens. Public gardens, private gardens, cloister gardens, promenades and plazas—I have been blessed in all the ways the people cultivate the beauty of our Sister Mother Earth. And while care for creation at the structural level of Bolivian society may not be as developed as I would have hoped, surely the instinct that leads the people to tend their gardens with loving care will, in days soon to come, move them to renounce mindless practices of consumption and waste and adopt a collective practice of deep sustainability. Time is short!

This afternoon, Brother Scott and I took a leisurely walk from Convento San Francisco to Cochabamba’s botanical garden in the Recoleta district. It’s free and open to the public. By United States standards, it is a modest botanical garden. At several city blocks, it does not have nearly the scale of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, or the botanical gardens of my alma mater, Cornell University. But Brother Scott and I found a modest majesty walking down the airy lanes, the tall palm trees like cathedral columns, the hot sun breaking through them and warming our faces. The landscaping of the interior, with charming little pools, narrow walkways, cool shade trees, and very green grass, reminded me of the Boston Public Garden. How I would like to return to its pleasant pastures! A walk through Central Park would do me good, too. Brother Scott and I sat for a good long while just talking about life—our lives past and present, small talk and occasional big talk. It did our souls good. 

The botanical garden is named for Martín Cardenas, a botanist who was the foremost scholar of the flora of Bolivia. This little green sanctuary is dedicated in his memory to the study and preservation of the varieties of plant life from this region of Bolivia. You can check out some photos of the garden here

In other news: the Franciscan friars here tell us that one of the Capuchin friars from Santa Cruz is in town! He is literally next door, attending conferences at the Franciscan ministry center next to the convent and also at El Hospicio, the Franciscans’ social service center in Plaza Colón. Well, this comes a quite a surprise to Brother Scott and me! The two of us have long wanted to arrange a visit to our Capuchin brethren in the llanos of Bolivia. Unfortunately, the contact Brother Scott has for the Bolivian Capuchins never answered his repeated messages expressing interest in a fraternal visit. So we definitely want to flag down this friar. We stopped by the Franciscan center when we returned from the botanical garden, but no one was home. Our next best, and last, attempt to make contact will be tomorrow morning, as we hear that the Capuchin friar is celebrating Mass at Templo San Rafael, chapel of the Capuchin Poor Clare sisters, a few blocks away from Templo San Francisco. We plan on attending that 9 o’clock service, intending to make ourselves known and hoping there is still a chance we can arrange a visit to Santa Cruz in the next three weeks. Time is short!

Friday, July 12, 2019


“ ‘You will be given at that moment what you are to say’ ” (Matthew 10:19). 

All is quiet out here on the blog. Readership is down lately, which makes sense, given the time of the season in the United States. About a hundred Swedish bots produced a fake spike in page views the other day. Why, Sweden? The good news is that Russia’s bots have been quiet recently. 

All is quiet in my own life, too. The most severe disturbance these days comes from frustration with classes. My mind would not cooperate today, as I was at a loss for words while going through grammatical exercises with Profesores Vicky and Óscar. This was one of those days where I did not want to be at school struggling solo for four hours. Days like this make time slow down, and not in a positive way. No moments to savor today—only unremitting mental labor. I am glad this day is done.

Despite the difficulties I had today and yesterday, I have decided it is better to remain on a morning schedule of classes. If I switch now to the afternoon, there will be no other students around at Maryknoll to keep me company. The only thing worse than taking solo classes is to take solo classes in an empty school. So I will continue the slog through the final four long weeks. 

Sometimes God says No—um, make that often. I can only conclude, from the wisdom of the abovementioned Gospel, that now is not the time of trial that I think it is, in my frustration. Not even close, or I would have a needful eloquence. The Spirit is not speaking through me now, and most of the time the Spirit is not speaking through me. This, I accept with resignation. Maybe I am not asking for the aid of the Spirit as often as I suppose. You cannot claim to lack what you have not sought. Perhaps I have asked this before, but if I have not, then I will ask it now: do I really want to learn Spanish and appreciate Latin American culture? For all the good that has been presented to me through immersion, the truth is that learning Spanish is not something I wanted to do with all my heart. I have wanted to do it for the obvious needs of the Church, but I have not wanted to do it with genuine love for the undertaking. This, I confess.

Nothing more to say today—my hour has not yet come. Going to do my homework: a few sentences using the preterite perfect subjunctive (don’t ask), and a video on Mayan civilization. Tomorrow, Brother Scott and I intend to walk to Cochabamba’s botanical garden to see what blooms nicely in winter here. The dry season continues, and it corresponds perfectly to the spiritual dry season I am experiencing now. Not even much of a wind to stir things up. They say it gets gusty in August. Will I remain here long enough to catch the wind?

Thursday, July 11, 2019


Another sleepy Thursday afternoon. I napped almost the whole afternoon! Not to worry—I do not feel ill. Of this I am confident, that sleep will be hard to come by this night. Medication or no medication, it will be half a night of rest. But I will lay me down this night with the consolation that I got about two hours this afternoon. Five hours overnight will tide me over until Friday night.

Not the material of exciting blogs, I grant you. No, I did not resolve Bolivia’s incipient constitutional crisis today. No, I did not help Venezuela’s warring rival governments reach an accord. No, I did not get the U.S. Congress to enact a humane immigration policy and close our immoral, illegal detention centers wherever they are. Today, I am but a student, a sleepy friar doing his best to acquire another language when he lacks the charism and youthfulness to do it. 

The field trips the Maryknoll language program arranges are a means to that end. Today’s excursion was to Universidad Mayor de San Simón, the Cochabamba campus of the public university of Bolivia. Our mission was simply to intercept college students and have conversations with them. That’s all. All it required of Brother Scott, Joshua, and me was to violate the instinct, reinforced through years of conditioning by family and society, to avoid talking to strangers! Well, it required a little more than that: we had also to coax these unsuspecting students to overcome their own inhibition forbidding talking to strangers … especially Americans wearing funny brown robes. 

Also working against us was the time of the season. The campus was mostly empty. Classes do not begin for a couple of weeks. Students are on winter recess. New students, or postulantes, were more common on the campus, as they were preparing for entrance exams and meeting other prerequisites for matriculation. 

In spite of these militating factors, Profesor Óscar and I succeeded in interrupting a few students who were communing with their smartphones. Maria Luz told me about her studies in social work. It’s a six-year program, and she has finished four semesters so far. Omar has finished his studies in music, including voice, guitar, and piano; I think he told me he is concluding a thesis now. Lastly, I met a young man and woman, whose names escape me now, who are postulantes intending to study physical education, specifically team sports. (I suppose they mean how to teach physical fitness through team sports, but that is conjecture.) I had plenty of questions for these young people, but they were reluctant to ask me questions. Bolivians are a reserved people. Profesór Óscar gently prodded them to ask me about my life! I concluded each conversation with the utmost courtesy, using the politest expressions I knew. This is indeed a nation of introverts, or so it seems to me. I have had the same experience of reserve every day for the 150 days I have lived at Convento San Francisco. It takes a gregarious extravert to break through the social and cultural barriers to establish a connection with the everyday people of Bolivia. To which I say, it ain’t me, babe.

On the walk from the university campus back to the vicinity of Convento San Francisco, mere blocks away, Profesor Óscar and I discussed the differences between college life in the United States and Bolivia. I noted that all the students at this university were locals; all of them grew up in Cochabamba. But in the United States it is a rite of passage to leave home and hometown to study at a college or university. Absent from the Cochabamba campus were student dormitories—there is no department of residential life. Students commute from home, wherever home is. (Fun fact: Omar was living at San Luis, the diocesan seminary of Cochabamba.) On the other hand, student residences and student dining are big business for American colleges and universities, rivaled, of course, by student athletics. The institutions practically depend on the students living on campus for their bread and butter. Becoming landlord is what keeps many a college financially solvent. We discussed some other differences, such as how a student applies to schools, but the main factor we focused on was the economics of student life. 

Okay, I am late for my early dinner! Making a beeline for the refectory table before paying respects, at Eucharist, before the welcome-table of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


This morning at Maryknoll: Padre Alejandro’s presentation on mission outside one’s own country.

The mission center director took us through a definition of mission founded in the “following of Jesus Christ.” This definition has biblical warrant, as the earliest followers of Jesus branded their movement “The Way.” According to Padre Alejandro, the first Christian communities understood that faith in Jesus implied an openness to the world and to all of humanity. Walking us through the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Padre Alejandro described the different ways in which those first Christian communities recalled Jesus’ charge to announce the Good News to all peoples. We do not, of course, have the exact words that Jesus gave to his followers, as each Gospel relates his commission in a distinctive manner. The meaning of his sending forth, the modes in which his mission has been realized, and the content of the commission have been objects of reflection and practice throughout the history of the Church. 

For example, the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew prioritizes the formation of new disciples, as the first followers of Jesus go forth to all peoples, to baptize and to teach all that Jesus had handed on to them. The Gospel of Mark in its coda calls on Jesus’ followers to go out to all the world, announcing the Good News to all of creation. The Gospel of Luke charges the disciples to preach to all the nations a conversion of heart for the forgiveness of sins. As witnesses to the Resurrection and to all that God has done through Jesus Christ, they are to be sent forth as God had sent Jesus. The Gospel of John also picks up on the parallel between God’s commission to Jesus and Christ’s commission to his followers. As Jesus received the Holy Spirit from God, so do the followers of Christ receive the Holy Spirit. 

We spent some time analyzing the meaning of the words of commission found in these Gospels. All four texts relate a displacement, as the disciples must go forth from their place to meet all peoples, even to the ends of the earth; and not only all nations, but all of creation. To be a disciple means hitting the road to proclaim and enact what Jesus himself proclaimed and enacted. To be a missioner implies going out to the margins where life is threatened to proclaim that another world is possible—and then to realize it. 

To make disciples is to give birth in others an experience of encounter with Jesus and to form in them a new way of life. Making disciples is the primary activity of evangelization. It is more than merely increasing the number of church members; it is about preparing the way of discipleship. It requires a mystic attitude that shows others the presence of the holy in our lives and our story. More than catechesis and preparation for the sacraments, making disciples is about having a personal and communal encounter with God and with other followers of Jesus. 

The Good News of Jesus is that the reign of God is near. Padre Alejandro says we are called to attend to the construction of that reign. Mission should always be about practices of faith that demonstrate the values of God’s reign alive in the Church and in society. The struggle for justice, peace, economic inclusion, social equality, care of creation, and the defense of everyone’s rights, is the work of those who have committed to proclaiming the Good News. 

We do not answer the summons to discipleship alone. Jesus was sent from the heart of his experience of community with God. Discipleship in this world is an experience of communion that images the intimacy of the divine persons of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. The communion of the holy One-in-Three is a communion in diversity, and a dynamism of power and knowledge. Through our communion with God in Christ we have access to this holy power and knowledge so as to create new social relations, new ways of being between women and men, and new forms of relationship with nature. 

The gift of the Holy Spirit enables missionary disciples to be witnesses to the power of God at work changing the world. It is not solely our own decision or our own insight that enables us to be Christians; it is the encounter with the Holy One who gives us a new way of life. 

The activity of baptizing others is meaningful insofar as it brings about the formation of disciples. But the baptism of which Padre Alejandro spoke was of disciples’ own immersion in the real life of other peoples, a submersion into their reality and finding Jesus in that encounter. Evangelization is about fidelity to Jesus’ mission of bringing about the reign of God in every time and place. That means surrendering to God’s will in all things, of being actually submersed in God, living a God-filled existence. 

As the conference concluded, we were left to ponder what it means to be missioners in another land, especially in the context of Latin America. Already we have come to know more about the people of Latin America, their languages, cultures, and lifestyles; their joys and sorrows and sufferings; their political, social, and religious structures; and the “signs of the times” that the Spirit brings to our awareness. As I prepare to return to the United States, I wonder if I can search out and appreciate the plurality of the culture present in upper Manhattan, where I live and minister, as easily as I can notice and discern Bolivian culture from an immersion environment. 

I thank Padre Alejandro for sharing with us his perspective on being a disciple who witnesses and “builds” the reign of God in other lands. His clarification of terms associated with mission and evangelization bring me back to my time of formation as a disciple at Boston University School of Theology. When he meets with me on Friday morning, I would like to talk to him about domestic mission, or “reverse mission,” as I will be returning to my homeland to be a Christian witness striving to prepare the way for the reign of God in New York City.