Invitation to Mission in Chile . Reflections No 4,5

24th August 2017 - by Nathalie Marytsch

Iquique 1

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Gerry Young and Aisling Griffin share here their reflections on the invitation to mission programme while the group continues its 10 day journey in Chile.

After a night of heavy rain, we caught the 7 am flight from Santiago to the northern city of Iquique, not far from the Peru and Bolivia borders. We were met at the airport by Oisín, a lay missionary, and Patricio and were driven to Alto Hospicio, a poor suburb overlooking the city, to the Columban House. Fathers Miguel and Tom welcomed us warmly, with a breakfast (more like a lunch), together with Lorna and Gilda, two lay missionaries who together with Oisín, make up the Columban team here.

The Columban House is modest, both on the ouside and inside and is on a busy dusty Street. It was great to meet and share with everyone of these warm and interesting Columbans, an order that by now, I’ve grown to associate with loads of charisma and a wealth of knowledge about the communities they serve.

We could all have chatted for much longer, if not for our programmed visit to the comedor (a free drop-in lunch) for the poor, homeless and needy, organised by Sr. Dora and her nuns from the Order of the Immaculate Conception. There were 80 homeless or marginalised families invited from all of the local parishes with an enthusiastic and a big number of volunteer helpers wearing CARITAS t-shirts. Tables were laid under several marquees in a long line outdoors, on a public street, with a central podium where there was a group of children entertaining the assembling guests to a lively rythmic drumming show. We mingled with the helpers and when lunch was cooked, we joined in serving plates of roast chicken, rice and salad, to the now many guests. We blended well with the local volunteers as even some of the guests approached us to chat or to ask directions to the barber, who was another volunteer offering free haricuts. This lunch was a truly great example of Christian Action in practice!

We were also taken for two walks, one before lunch by Fr Miguel around the local área to see the newly built Church of the Sacred Heart and the on-going construction at the rear, and the other walk after lunch, with Oisín, to the run-down shanty town where Oisín runs another comedor (a free drop-in meal for the needy and their children). The área where Oisín Works suffers much crime and it’s many abodes are either self- constructed by their owners under the government scheme to develop the área, or badly assembled huts for the destitute. Another jaw dropping, eye-opener for us!

As evening fell, the group prepared to go their separate ways – some to be picked up by their new hosts for the night, some to evening mass with Fr Tom, and me to overcome the difficulties of typing this piece on an unfamiliar AppleMac.

My Sunday started with the Saturday vigil mass at Nuestra Señora del Carmen, where I met my lovely host family for the weekend. Fr Tom introduced us to the congregation, who were very happy to welcome us from somewhere so far away. Afterwards, I joined my hosts at a dinner with the parish community to celebrate and thank each other for the hard work that had gone into the celebrations for a local feast day. It was an evening full of laughter, sharing and enjoying a good barbecue- made even better by the fact they had all worked together and supported each other like a family.

The next morning was spent with our hosts from the local parish community, who generously opened their homes and lives to us. We all had very different experiences with different families, masses and breakfasts, but all of us felt incredibly touched and welcomed by our hosts. They all gave so generously of themselves and their homes, which is something we rarely experience in our everyday lives, but can all learn from and take back to our homes in the UK. It was a humbling experience and taught us more about how we can see the love of God in each other.

The afternoon was spent visiting Humberstone and La Tirana. Humberstone, an abandoned mining town, was incredibly dry and hot, a testament to the resilience of those who worked there extracting minerals from the desert. La Tirana is a place of local and regional devotion and pilgrimage to the Virgen Mary, with an annual festival on the 16th July. Visiting the stunning church was an opportunity to learn more about the traditions of the church in Chile, and how it has been influenced by indigenous culture and history.

A big thank you also has to go to my host Patricio, who spent his days off driving us to different places with such incredible patience and cut me some aloe vera to put on my very sunburnt face!