Monday, August 12, 2019

Buen Pastor

“In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me” (Psalms 23:2).

Another very short post after the conclusion of a gentle, graceful day coming back into myself here in the United States, in New York City, in my own Capuchin community. 

Morning prayer in the friar chapel at Saint Michael Friary in East New York, Brooklyn; Mass with Father Alexis, the priest with Instituto del Verbo Encarnado; and conversation over pick-up breakfast. Spent the day catching up with family, friends, friars, and colleagues over e-mail and phone (how nice to use my cell phone again!). Brothers Terry, Gerard, and Richard took me out to a Szechuan restaurant in Howard Beach, and we enjoyed ourselves very much. Returned less than two hours ago to Good Shepherd with a ride from Brother Terry. Father Royson, the guardian here, received me fraternally, and now I am settled in, typing from my room at the corner of Isham Street and Cooper Street, with Isham Park just out my window and the foot of Inwood Hill Park only one block north.

The Good Shepherd has guided me along right paths. The Good Shepherd has restored my soul. 

Here I am. I have arrived. The Bolivian journey is over.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Nueva York

Touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 7:25 p.m. this evening. Processing through customs was rapid. Brother Terry, one of the Capuchins who lives in Brooklyn, took me to Saint Michael Friary to stay for the night. Raided the refrigerator. Over delicious leftover asparagus and orzo I practiced Spanish with Brother Terry and another guest here, Father Alexis, who belongs to Instituto del Verbo Encarnado, a missionary order. And I was relaxed enough that the words were there. It worked! Full stomach, full heart. And I am back in the United States. I am ridiculously happy.

Saturday, August 10, 2019


Ninety-nine percent of my belongings are packed away now, ready for the 4,000-mile journey ahead. Cochabamba to La Paz to Bogotá to New York. Only about eight hours and a few more tasks to fulfill before going to the airport to begin the day-long transit back to New York. Twenty-two hours? That’s nothing anymore. When you’ve had as many sleepless nights as I have had here, the diversions of an airport terminal actually look pretty good now. And it breaks down pretty evenly: 11 hours in the air, 11 hours of layover at the La Paz and Bogotá airports. Provided my aches and pains don’t suddenly get worse in the high altitude of La Paz, the travel should be a welcome diversion. 

I went to the post office this morning with Brother Leo to see what was waiting in Casilla 68. You know you’ve been someplace too long when the junk mail catches up with you. But catch up with me it did—and Boston University, my alma mater, is the culprit! Specifically, it was the university development office, with a postcard trying to lure me to alumni weekend—as if touting the biggest weekend ever appeals to everyone—and a bulletin on its fundraising campaigns. Sorry, folks—you’re tapping the wrong tree. Fortunately, I also received the magazine of Boston University School of Theology. That is not junk. The rest of it was real personal mail. I believe that everything everyone said they sent me is in my possession now. And all of it is going back to the States with me. Thank you for sharing yourself with me through your correspondences.

Brother Leo will also bring me to the airport this evening. He has done absolutely everything I have ever asked him. I vote that we make our Franciscan cousin an honorary Capuchin. 

As for my health, I am moving forward gingerly. I have been so cautious about eating, although the runs stopped on Wednesday. I will have a little lunch and a little dinner before I go to the airport. One does not live on liquids and soda crackers alone. I’ll tidy up Room 4, my inner sanctuary for six months, a little more, including the bathroom and bed. 

Am I ready to go? As sure as I’m born. But it won’t feel real until I board the flight from La Paz to Bogotá and leave the country. 

Am I ready to go? I took a walk through the cloister garden this morning. I stopped over at the fountain in the center. For a few days, the pool has been empty. The brothers have drained it and moved the fish into a tub receiving aeration. I take this as a sign. When I arrived here the cloister garden was full, lush, even overgrown. Everything was vivid. Lots of flowers. Trees bearing fruit. And the fountain was flowing. It was summer. Now it is winter, and the garden has been pruned back considerably, the flowers are gone except on the trellises, the trees and bushes are much shorter and bare of fruit. The grass is still green, but patches of brown have outed themselves. Everything is dry, so dry. Finally, the fountain had to go dry. Rather much like the condition of my spirit at this late hour. Things change. They grow for a while, then they retreat until the cycle turns again. 

There is a time and a season for everything under heaven. 

With these words ends the last post to be written from Bolivia. This book is almost closed. I will post to confirm that I am safely in New York. Whether I post one final entry after that to wrap up this blog about my immersion experience, I don’t know. It may not be fitting to have a summary statement for a form of writing that is episodic by nature. A blog is a blog, after all.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ceremonia de Graduación

I am splitting today’s entry into two so that I can give special attention to the despedida ceremony that took place during the midmorning café in the main salon at Maryknoll.

Four of us finished our studies today: Padre Antonio, the archdiocesan priest from New York; Maryknoll seminarians Joshua and Charles; and me. Each departing student shares a few words with the entire Maryknoll community. Then each student receives a certificate of completion of courses, a sermon reflection on Pentecost, a small wooden cross and a prayer card blessed by Padre Alejandro, the mission center director, and a Maryknoll polo shirt. Of course, you also get embraces and applause for your work. 

Padre Antonio spoke first; I was next. Here are the remarks I delivered. 

Me gustaría expresarme con los sentimientos los más sinceros hacia todos en la comunidad de Maryknoll. Es duro hacerlo en español. Yo no tengo ni la elocuencia ni la precisión como en inglés. Entonces he escrito un poema para compartir mi historia. 

Llegué aquí como hermano desconocido
Respondiendo a la llamada del Dios escondido.
El don de lenguas ardientemente quería
Más que el profundizaje del don de profecía.
Sobretodo el amor me encontró y me sumergió
En aguas tan hondo—dime, ¿Quién surgió?
Mi espíritu ha sentido seco y enfermo;
He buscado un renacimiento en el yermo.
Yo he ido a los fines de Bolivia
Para encender un fuego en mi alma tibia.
Me has enseñado, esperando conmigo
Partiendo el pan de lo más fine del trigo. 
Me has llevado a la cima del mundo
Y de vuelta al suelo sagrado fecundo.
¿Qué ha significado todo esto? ¿Lo qué sigue?
Con el amor, cuanto más da, más consigue.
Pero cómo amar casi he olvidado
Rechazando la vida que Dios me ha dado.
No podia dormir por la pasión que me habia consumido.
Todo lo que tenia dar estaba casi perdido.
Pero he vivido para darme cuenta
De que el sacrificio del amor el mismo aumenta.
Entregado a Dios, en Cristo escondido,
Salgo de aquí hacia un futuro desconocido.

Espero que este poema me haya revelado. No ha sido fácil revelarme en español para ustedes. No me reconozco tan bien como ayer. Es mejor decir que yo me reconoce menos. ¿Quién soy? La respuesta es menos cierta que en el pasado. ¿Quién soy? ¿Quién es Dios? ¿Qué quiere Dios que haga? ¿A dónde quiere Dios enviarme? No sé las respuestas de estas preguntas. Dios me ha puesto en un lugar de desconocimiento. Vine a este lugar desconocido, y ahora volveré a los Estados Unidos para enfrentar un futuro desconocido. ¿Estoy agradecido? En verdad, estoy lleno de curiosidad. ¿Qué está haciendo Dios? No sé. Sin embargo, Dios les ha hecho a ustedes conspiradores en esta actividad misteriosa. Lo que Dios ha hecho, lo sucedió. En vez de decir “gracias,” diré “Amen.” No entiendo todo lo que ocurrió. A pesar de todo, diré “Amen.” Hágase tu voluntad. Hágase tu voluntad. Amen. Amen. 

The community applauded, and a couple of teachers asked for a copy of the poem I had written.

Charles spoke feelingly and with abundant thanksgiving for his experiences in language immersion. Joshua, my old classmate, topped all of us with a song dedicated to every teacher and administrator in the language program. He told me later how nervous he was to perform, but I answer, “Well done, compañero.” 

Padre Alejandro took a few moments to synthesize for the community the meaning of our language immersion for our respective ministerial calls. In my case he called attention to my ongoing work in urban parochial ministry and my desire both to help integrate a culturally diverse parish and be a witness to the cry of the poor in the voice of undocumented immigrants of the United States. 

Señora Kitty concluded with what is her most common refrain. She told each of us that Maryknoll is a community, a family, and that we always belong to it. As I was listening to her speaking, I looked across the salon through the bay windows to the patio outside, where I have spent many a ten-minute recess between classes. I swear I could see a dragonfly darting.

El Sol

This morning after 8 o’clock, the sunshine poured into the bedroom and washed over the bed on which I lay. The rays blanketed me and everything around me with warmth and goodness. I have always been thankful for this moment of blessing, the minute when the angle of the sun, ascending in the east, is in line with my rear window. Usually, I would not get to experience this except on Sundays, when I could sleep in. But this week all bets were off with personal health issues. So I gave myself permission to rise late and arrive at Maryknoll late.

Back to the sun. It is a morning moment like this that I want to remember in midst of the challenging times in Bolivia. It is the same sun that warms all creatures everywhere around the world, each in its turn. It is the same sun whose energy is the source for all power here. It is the same sun that sustains all life on this planet. It lies so far away in unimaginably far skies, but it is close enough to touch us with life. Thanks be to God. 

It is the same sun whose power and light, along with the earth in its fertility, has been revered by peoples of numerous religions. And so we honored the same sun and one earth this morning with a k’oa ritual. Profesora Sara led the ritual for us, walking us through the elements of the ritual. I have written about this Andean practice before, so I won’t break down all the details this time. Rather, let me say that, after spending almost the whole week indoors, it was good to feel the sun on my face and to stroke the soft grass under my feet. (The k’oa is a ritual burnt offering, so we gathered on a knoll in between the mission center and the Maryknoll priests’ house.) It was also an opportunity, in silent prayer, in this offertory, to ask God to grant me the blessing of renewed health and a safe journey back to the United States. In short order we built the mesa; on top of the kindling and a heavy paper sheet, some earth, then varieties of hard sugar confections to symbolize our desires and our prayers, some llama meat, and coca leaves. The fire was lit, and then we continued with the ch’alla. We poured cerveza and chicha at the four corners of the mesa. Profesora Sara reminded me not to turn my back on the sun when making your offering! That is real faith in the power of ritual, friends. Another custom is to take a drink from the chicha cup after you pour libations into the earth. Last time, five months ago, I abstained from drinking chicha, but this time I was looking for healing from all places, so I took a sip to be in communion with Pachamama and with one another. 

I went to Mass one final time at the Maryknoll chapel after that. While taking my turn to drink from the communion cup, it felt like a continuation of the k’oa for me. Before the dismissal, the Korean priests, Antonio, Esteban, and Pablo, all laid hands in turn to send me God’s blessing for the journey and to give thanks for my presence here. 

As I conclude this post, the sun is heating the front window of my bedroom. For the next hour it will give my room a good glow. The day has come full circle. The journey has almost come full circle.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Por Favor

From prayer to prayer of abjection, we go. 

Dear God, help me. Ease the pain. Turn weakness into strength. Make your healing happen. It is hard to call on you when I feel weak. But I will call on you anyway. Heal the aches and pains. Calm the body, which is tense. Make the body you made well. I need your help. On top of all human assistance, I need your help. Dear God, help me now. 

How my head ached this morning! It still aches. My body feels stiff, almost sore. I don’t drink alcohol, but maybe this is what a hangover feels like. It must be the hunger and lack of sleep. Maybe the antibiotic is making me feel weak and achy, as well. 

So I ask you, dear God, for mercy. I ask Jesus for mercy. I ask the Spirit for mercy. I depend on your love and mercy. So please make me well. Help me get up off this bed of pain. The journey is almost over. Help me rise and let me be on my way. 

Sometimes you have to know when to give it up, when to surrender. Today is a day where I reached a physical limit beyond which I just could not cross. I went to Maryknoll. I tried to be present to do the exit interview with Señora Kitty. But it was clear that I was too weak, I could not think, and my head kept throbbing. Señora Kitty told me that it was all right. I did not have to take the exam interview now. I could do the interview later over Skype with one of the teachers. The only important thing now was to rest, rest, rest, in any way possible. (I got a nap, at last, this afternoon.) After a conversation with Profesora Viviana, I agreed that I cannot go forward like this, and we can postpone the interview. Sometimes you have to know when to give it a rest. 

It is funny that I would have considered having the assessment interview on the day when I felt my worst ever in Bolivia. I was reminded, gently, that the well-being of the person is always more important. It is no good to push yourself beyond the limit when there is nothing left beyond that limit point. 

Where this leaves everything on Friday is unclear. I would like to go to Maryknoll. I would like to share the words of parting that I wrote for the occasion. I would like to be present at the midday celebration of Mass in the chapel. It is only one more day. But, dear God, it was so hard to get up and do anything this morning. So I say again, please help me through these final days until I am back safely in the United States. Please grant me that favor. I hope for a sound body for travel. Help me make it through this night and Friday night and the travel weekend. 

These things I ask in your holy name. These things I ask in your Son’s holy name. These things I ask in the name of the Holy Spirit. 

I know the simplest prayer is “Thank you.” But a more honest though inarticulate prayer is the word “please.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


Not a return to form, but at least a return to classes. I began a review of lessons I’ve learned before. We’re simply having conversations, natural conversations, and that’s all. No exercises by the book unless I am really stuck on some grammatical point I have learned but not absorbed. This is in preparation for the exit interview. This will be the final assessment by which the teachers can measure my progress in Spanish from February to the present. The weekly cultural conference was postponed to Friday, so today it was all review, all repaso. It will be all repaso tomorrow, too. I am skipping the field trip the other students are taking to Quillacollo to the shrine of Our Lady of Urkupiña, which I visited back in May. I have written at length about my pilgrimage to Quillacollo, so I won’t repeat it here. I am finding that I am growing less inclined to do the same thing twice, or maybe that is just how I have decided to do things in Bolivia. But I digress.

The interview, which will take place in the fourth period tomorrow, will be conducted by a teacher other Profesoras Liliana and Viviana, my current tandem. What will be, will be. I am not now a nervous tester, but I am a reluctant tester. Results and a discussion of the same will come at some hour on Friday. Whatever the results, I will receive them with good cheer. I’ll share the results with the friars on our provincial council, and more than that, I’ll seek their expert opinion regarding the suitability of my language skills for ministry. 

In the meantime, I have been doing a little extra credit, preparing my despedida from Maryknoll with some appropriate remarks and a few verses. Perhaps I will make a post in Spanish this Friday. 

I’ve been refueling on Powerade, and beginning this evening I will be attacking whatever bad bacteria are left inside with an antibiotic. I had a vegetable omelet this afternoon, and hopefully it will agree with my body. So, yes, I am getting back on my feet. I feel tired, not having slept since Sunday night. It’s like the greatest hits (to the body) are all coming back now: diarrhea, insomnia. No more, sir: I have had enough. This kind of makes it official: my soul, mind, and spirit have left Bolivia, and now my body is telling me it’s through. 

During this bout of unwellness, these songs have stuck with me. Here’s what I have been listening to lately. They sound the way I feel. Sometimes they pick me up, too.

Gnarls Barkley, Crazy

The Rolling Stones, Get Off My Cloud and No Expectations 

Having intestinal troubles three times in three months is a nuisance. Is it the cooking at the convent? Have I swallowed too much sink water while brushing my teeth, or shower water when bathing? I don’t know. I suppose a little caution these final days in Bolivia wouldn’t hurt. 

Off now to rest, to have a video call with family, and to hope for a renewal of vigor tomorrow. Four days until New York, dear friends and readers. Keep me in your prayers, and I will keep you in mine.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


The last 24 hours have been a blur while I have been battling bad bacteria for at least the third time in the last three months. This will be the last time, I swear it! It has to be the last time, with only five days to go in Bolivia. 

The hours crawled by. I could not sleep, but at least I found restful positions in which I could lie. I felt my body temperature rising in response to the bad bacteria inside my intestines. I trust my body has been fighting the good fight. Being somewhat dehydrated, my mouth and throat dried out and I caught a sore throat, though that seems to be on the wane. I drank some liquid, but I did not eat because I had no appetite. Up to now I have eaten nothing since breakfast yesterday, but I will try some food later on. Anyway, I muddled through, hour after hour. The music from the Bolivian Independence Day parades, yesterday and today, has continued steadily, muffled in the distance. My earplugs worked well to keep out the ruckus—joyful, but still a ruckus. Hour after hour crept by slowly. From last afternoon to this one it was like a 24-hour night for me. 

Am I getting better? I do not know. I have nothing to expel. I feel a little hungry now. But I will not eat a full meal, lest I overdo it. Easy does it for the rest of this day. As for tomorrow, when classes resume, it’s a roll of the dice. Do I go to class, arrive late, or stay at the convent? It’s a game-day decision. Thank goodness for the national holiday; I did not miss classes today. 

In addition to Bolivian Independence Day, this is the feast of the Transfiguration, one of the most important Christian celebrations of the year for me. I have written poetry about it. The Transfiguration is like a compass for me; it gives direction to my discipleship. When I am in doubt about where to go and what to do, I can remember the Transfiguration. Christ is risen, and his Transfiguration is a foreshadowing of this ultimate reality. Since I was laid low a day ago, I have not really prayed—too tired to do anything. But oh, how I would like to pray. How I would like just to remain in the presence of the risen Christ, the transfigured Christ, the exalted Christ. Active as I have been over the years, there is nothing I would prefer more than to drop my busyness and enter the presence of God for all time, for all eternity. But I need to be honest to God and honest with myself. When I say I want to drop everything and enter the presence of God, do I really rather want to enter the presence of myself? Instead of holy solitude with the Holy One, is it an ungracious isolation where I deify myself? 

Let it not be that way. God will never leave me alone. God would never have it that way. The Transfiguration of Jesus took place in the company of Peter, James, and John. Even as my soul, mind, and spirit have flown from Bolivia (and the body is soon to follow) for some impossible sanctuary of isolation, God will chase my wayward parts and reintegrate them in the company of others. The communion of saints is the holy solitude and exalted community destined for me.

Monday, August 5, 2019


I have not been feeling well at all today. A couple of bowel malfunctions and the chills have come over me. Not the way I expected to begin the final week of this Bolivian journey. I do not want to look at or smell food right now. I returned to Convento San Francisco an hour early from classes at Maryknoll. And despite all the pomp and circumstance of Bolivian Independence Day celebrations happening directly outside the convent, I lay me down to rest, bundling up under the covers and closing the shutters. I have not slept, but I do feel good about having rested comfortably in bed for the last several hours. I have sipped some liquids and that is all. Maybe the fever has gone away. I do not know. I do feel a little achy, but the aches would have been worse if I did not lie down. I took a little acetaminophen, and that helped. 

My regret is that I missed the farewell lunch for Brother Scott and me with the Franciscans. No tres leches cake for me, that is for sure. And I need to lay down again shortly, because that is the most comfortable position for me. So I probably will not go off to the airport with Brother Leo and my Capuchin compañero. Again, I regret this very much, but sickness never cooperates with our busyness or our plans, does it?

The bands have started up again, and they will be making martial music all evening and all night. It should be a pretty interesting night for me, given how I feel. But I may be too fatigued to notice or care. Yes, it’s wall-to-wall people all along Avenida Heroinas, but for all I care they could be on Mars. I probably won’t be helped or hindered by the throng outside Calle 25 de Mayo. If I lie awake, I will lie awake. If I sleep, then I will sleep. 

Okay, back to bed now. Pray for me, friends. I aim to return to the United States healthy and in good spirits!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Comida Fina

It is Sunday, and on this day usually I devote this cyberspace to some spiritual reflection, based on the Gospels and my experiences in Bolivia. But this is my last weekend in Cochabamba, so instead I will look to the lighter side and give you a restaurant review!

To celebrate Brother Scott’s completion of classes, and to rejoice in the time we have shared living together, we went to dinner at La Cantonata. This is the Italian restaurant we enjoyed very much six weeks ago when we treated our Jesuit compañero Brett on the eve of his departure from Bolivia. We came with high expectations for an excellent meal, and all our gustatorial hopes were fulfilled. For me it was sautéed mushrooms followed by ricotta-filled gnocchi; for Brother Scott it was antipasto followed by tortellini. Our homemade pasta was succulent, very filling, and very good. For an encore I had a coffee cake torta, and Brother Scott had a crepe-like apple pancake that was still flaming when brought to the table! Our hearts were warmed by the genial service and the pleasant atmosphere. Brother Scott and I relished the conviviality of the hour and the opportunity for two Capuchin brothers just to be together. I offered a prayer of blessing for the meal, and to my amazement, I improvised it in Spanish. I was proud of myself. Midway through the meal, who should walk in the restaurant but Profesora Liliana and her husband? We introduced ourselves to Profesora Liliana’s partner and marveled at what a small world it is. We came hungry, and we left with full stomachs and full spirits. ¡Bellísimo! To all the Italian restaurants I have known and loved in the Little Italys of New York City’s Lower East Side and Boston’s North End: it is time to raise your game. 

This morning, for Sunday worship, Brother Scott and I returned one more time to Templo San Rafael, the chapel of the Capuchin Poor Clare sisters. Accompanying us were Silvana, the public relations director at Maryknoll, and her mother Daisy. The celebrant, Padre Agustín, was a priest from India; Silvana recognized him because he, too, has studied Spanish at Maryknoll. At the end of the Mass we introduced ourselves to him, and we also said a hasty farewell to the Capuchin clarisas. Next Sunday is the feast of Saint Clare of Assisi; I regret that we will not be here to celebrate this joyous solemnity with our sisters in religion. Following worship, Brother Scott and I went with Señorita Silvana and Señora Daisy to Rincón Potosino, one of the finest eateries for salteñas in Cochabamba. I am a vegetarian, so I cannot enjoy these savory baked meat pastries. But salteñas are practically a national symbol of Bolivia, so I gladly sat and kept company with my compañeras as Brother Scott and I shared with Señora Daisy and Señorita Silvana how we became Capuchin friars. 

I am about halfway finished with the coplas I am writing for my farewell remarks this Friday at Maryknoll. I will now return to the poets’ corner and look for small coins of inspiration.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Más Fotos

I am not a photographer. Even if I had a smartphone, I would probably not use it to take pictures. I have relied on words to show you Bolivia and to convey what language study and cultural immersion feels like. But on occasion a picture is really helpful to tell you a story. So I have depended on websites and friends to share images of Bolivia with you. 

Once or twice during this chronicle I have referred the reader who wants to read images as well as words to the Facebook page for Centro Misionero Maryknoll en América Latina. I am posting the link one more time so you can see what goes on at the mission center. Now and then your correspondent appears in the timeline of photos. You can see, proof positive, that I really have been living and studying in Cochabamba!

Dar Vida

“ ‘It is not that which gives you life’ ” (Luke 12:15). 

It is strange to admit this, but right now I wonder what this Bolivian journey has been all about. What has happened, and what is next? 

I am thinking of Jesus’ parable of the foolish rich man and his dream of bigger barns in the Gospel of Luke. I am thinking of Jesus’ stern words of God: “This very night your life will be taken from you” (Luke 12:20). What I could give while living in Cochabamba has been limited by my language skills and lack of social capital, but more than that it has been limited by my love or lack of it. I have a greed for my own place, my own time, my own way. I have a greed for having it my own way and changing the way when it no longer suits me, even though I elected it. Basically, I want to be my own dictator. I want to rule myself, and in so wanting I become a tyrant to everyone else. That is not right. But Jesus interrupts these machinations to tell me, as he tells the avaricious brother seeking property, “It is not that which gives you life.” Most of the time, all I do is seek to save or safeguard this life. Protecting life is not the same as creating life or sharing life. It is not the same as giving life. And all God does is give. All I ever do is take; that is, take by force more than I receive in peace. Certainly, I take more than I give. But I know I can give, for I have done it before. But to give more constantly, more fully, in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, I hesitate to do or I ignore entirely. Not the right place, not the right time, or so I say. This is not the way of Jesus Christ. It is my wayward way. 

What has this Bolivian journey been all about, and what is next? Learning a language was not the end, but a means to an end. But many times I feel that I have forgotten what the end is. Or if I knew it, I chose not to pay mind to it. I am a religious brother with the Capuchin Franciscans by the grace of God for the sake of Christ and the kin(g)dom of heaven. That is the end. Is that all there is? What it is to be a brother in Jesus and Francis is less clear to me now than it was before I came to Bolivia. How I am to live a life of discipleship as a consecrated brother is also less clear to me today. Finally, both my love and God’s love, my desire and God’s desire, are a mystery more obscure to me today than it was six months ago. What is God’s love that it gives me life? And how (and why) should I give that life over to God’s love? I am not asking to be clever or to test Jesus. I am seeking.

It is almost eleven o’clock, late morning on a sunny Saturday, another beautiful day in Bolivia. Why is it that I have come here? I have been dipped into love, but now I feel dried up and dried out. It does not make sense to me. I do not know what has happened, but something happened here in Bolivia. God is doing things. God is giving me life. And God wants all of it back, transformed—transubstantiated. How strange it is.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Nuevo Ritmo

I begin where we left off yesterday, with thanks to everyone who came out to the despedida. Brother Scott and I were bowled over by the fine food and kind words and good feeling shared so generously. To the teachers, fellow students, and Maryknoll friends I say que Dios les bendiga abundantemente. Special thanks to Elisabeth and Winifred, our Mennonite friends who last night made their home a home for all of us living far away from home. Indeed, I will miss sharing meals with them at their apartment! May God do good things through them as they continue their adventures in discipleship in Cochabamba.

Today was Brother Scott’s final day of classes, so in keeping with custom, he gave several words of thanks and farewell during the mid-morning café. He received a Maryknoll shirt and his diploma, marking the completion of three months of study. Next Friday it is my turn to give a commencement speech of sorts. I believe Joshua and Charles, my Maryknoll seminarian friends, will be finishing their studies next Friday, too, so they will have some parting words as well. After you, hermanos: you are more than welcome to speak first! 

I avoided the usual Friday funk with a break in the rhythm of classes. For starters, Señora Kitty took the first two periods, during which time we talked about events of the past week. Then we viewed part of Our Brand Is Crisis together. I had viewed the film with Profesora Liliana previously, but we watched in English. Today I watched it dubbed in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Señora Kitty had not seen the film before, so as we watched I gave her commentary. And those two hours flew by quickly … hooray for real conversation! I continued the film and commentary with Profesora Viviana for the third hour before going to the office of public relations director Silvana Martinez for the fourth hour. There, we continued the conversation with Señor Lionel of Maryknoll’s missionary disciple formation program in the U.S. I was impressed with the work he is doing with parishes across the country to form women and men for domestic and foreign mission and to create a culture of encounter that builds solidarity among different ethnic groups in Catholic communities. I hope to continue a correspondence with him after I return to New York City. All in good time. 

Here comes my last full weekend in Bolivia. Tomorrow, I expect to do a deep cleaning of my room so as to leave it in better condition than when I moved here. In the evening, Brother Scott and I are going to have one more excellent meal at La Cantonata on me, with thanks to the benefactors whose generosity has allowed us to have this immersion experience. We will probably worship at Templo San Rafael on Sunday morning so we can say goodbye to the Capuchin Poor Clare sisters. Apart from those happenings, who knows what the weekend will bring? With fewer than ten days left here, now is a good time to break with established rhythms. Let the work God has begun in us be brought to fullness with the help of grace and good luck and a twist to the beat!

Thursday, August 1, 2019


Do not let the title of today’s post fool you. I am not leaving Bolivia today, and neither is Brother Scott. But we are having a little party tonight courtesy of the Mennonite lay volunteers who have become our friends since we studied together at Maryknoll. The despedida gets rolling at around 7 o’clock with tacos and potluck contributions from all. We are having the farewell tonight because a few of the Maryknoll language school friends we invited are going to La Paz tomorrow. We are having the farewell this week because Brother Scott is departing on Monday. I have joked that this despedida will be like a living funeral for me, because I’ll still be around through next Saturday! But it doesn’t matter much—the timing, that is. We are simply behaving like Bolivians, who are more than happy to put on a party whenever the time is right.

We did have that excursion to the town of Tarata today. It was Profesoras Liliana, Vicky, and Viviana with Brother Scott and me and Padre Marcin, a Polish priest who has been brushing up on his already-very-good Spanish these last six weeks in preparation for his ministry in La Paz. I wish I could have enjoyed it more—it was a brief visit of one hour! That’s because it’s about an hour and 15 minutes one way in either direction between Cochabamba and Tarata. It felt a bit like driving for hours to the Grand Canyon, only to stop for 15 minutes to behold it. Oh well. What we did see, we appreciated very much. Walking through the main plaza of town and threading narrow brick roads made me feel like I was on the set of some movie where they were filming a revisionist Western set in the late 19th century. The high sun, the dusty streets, and the adobe facades of 150-year-old buildings with crumbling whitewash and boarded-up windows put me in a different time and place, if only for a moment.

We had enough time to pay respects at two churches. The first was the church of the Parish of Saint Peter the Apostle, founded 1605. By now the spirituality of Spanish colonial Catholicism, as demonstrated by the statues and figures within the church, has become quite familiar to me: all Good Friday, hardly a trace of Easter Sunday. Oh well. The peoples of Latin America have been a crucified people, and that goes for both the indigenous peoples and the criollos whose post-revolution dreams of liberty, prosperity, and strength degenerated into nightmares as stronger imperial forces conquered the conquistadores and liberadores. A brick path led us from the center of town to the Shrine of San Severino. This is the church maintained by our Franciscan brothers, whose adjoining convent and retreat center I visited early in March the day before Ash Wednesday. I didn’t see the church when I visited in March, so my Franciscan tour was completed today. San Severino, the patron of Tarata, is not a Franciscan saint but an ancient Roman martyr from the third century, a soldier who apparently renounced his loyalty to Caesar for the sake of Christ. He was reportedly beheaded for his disobedience to Caesar. The Franciscans who have long ministered in Tarata obtained relics of the martyr and keep them safe in their convent. San Severino, patron of the military, is also patron of the rains, and a great festival attends his feast day, which is observed in November in Tarata. Check out this Facebook group for details. 

Okay, nothing more to report here. On to the despedida; on to tomorrow!