2023 March Lenten Retreat Recap
March 6-14, 2023
God Lives Here, Too!
A reflection from Maria Gonzalez Edwards (March Lenten Retreat attendee).
When I thought about the upcoming Lenten season, I thought about what I understood it meant to be a good Catholic: "giving something up," "being of service," and "Rice Bowls." After all, isn't Lent about fasting, prayer, and almsgiving? However, something felt different for me this year. In prayer, I asked God to help me feel His presence more strongly. I yearned to step away from the comfortable into the uncomfortable, to step out there on faith. So I went on a Lenten Retreat to the church of La Sagrada Familia in Sabana Yegua, Dominican Republic, with the Office for World Mission.
Pope Francis said, "art of accompaniment … teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other." When I think of a mission trip, I think of "a project-based action." Still, when I arrived at La Sagrada Familia community, I quickly learned to be present, listen, share about myself, engage with those I met in a caring and respectful way, and accept their genuine hospitality, care, and respect for me, "the project."
Initially, I was unprepared for the differences in the way we lived. I took things for granted, such as clean running water, clean places to live, schools that provide nutritious meals, an education that prepares students for family-sustaining jobs, and clean and safe places for children to play. The circumstances there were very different. Part of my transformation included an understanding that I wasn't there, nor am I on this earth, to impose what I think they "should" be doing. Jesus did not impose His will, but rather, He loved unconditionally.
In this community, I felt God's love in living color through eating, listening, talking, laughing, and praying together. I was impacted over and over again by the many ministries and experiences provided by the church:
· The nutrition centers where preschoolers count on receiving two meals a day while receiving their lessons.
· The parish started a bakery, and it is now a co-op, providing workers with a trade that helps them provide for their families.
· A reservoir built with generous donations secured through the funding support of twinning parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. This reservoir provides desperately needed clean water to Barrera.
· The medical clinic and pharmacy that provide care for the community for little to no cost.
· Visiting the sick and homebound with Apolonia, where we received love and kindness.
I repeatedly saw God in the people I met. God lives in the small, simplistic moments, such as watching the children's happiness when Fr. Javier stuck a small piece of paper on their forehead and witnessing Dolores' great love of God and her passion for saving the earth through the recycling program. God also lives through all the women who embraced me and Antoinette freely offering hugs and smiles. Honoring and accepting others with kindness is powerful enough to create a bond between God's children, even from different parts of the world. God lives there, too!