¨So I have news from Bolivia...¨
¨Well, this is going to be a surprise (maybe)...¨
¨Bolivia has affected me more than you know¨
And many other ways. But I´ll start with this....
I´m going to be staying in Bolivia much longer than I originally thought. Much longer. Everything has affected me much more than I can begin to explain. It has changed me.
So why am I staying in Bolivia longer? Because I have decided that, in December, I will become an aspirant of the religious community here, the Hijas del Divino Salvador (translation in English - the Daughters of the Divine Savior) This is somehting I have prayed and thought about for a long time. It´s not a snap decision. It will be difficult (obviously) but I know this is what I am meant to do.
So more about the Hijas del Divino Salvador. They´re amazing - absolutely full of joy, great with kids, everything great you can imagine. They were founded in El Salvador in 1956, so they´re a fairlynew religious community. They were founded by a Salesian bishop so they´re part of the Salesian family (for all those oblivious to what the Salesians are - they´re a religious order founded by Saint Don Bosco that specifically work with children and youth) There are about 150 Sisters in all. Now here´s the kicker - this community is only in Latin America. They´re in the following countries - El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Panama, Argentina and Bolivia. and I woudl be the only one fluent in English.
Their spirituality is a little different than other Salesian communities. Their community was founded on Christmas Eve in 1956 and because of that, they consider their spirituality a Christmas spirituality. So what does a Christmas spirituality mean? One being that they emphasize Jesus born as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, born poor like the people they servce. Two because they, following their spirituality, live everyday as if it were Christmas - always remembering to be full of joy because Jesus has come. And let me tell you, I haven´t founded one Sister so far who doesn´t live out this spirituality.
Because they´re Salesian, they obviously work with children and youth. When they found new communities in other countries, they always seek out the pooorest of the poor - the town or city with the most need for education. Their ministries are schools (all ages), soup kitchens, day cares, and orphanages like the one I work at. In other countries, the Sisters can teach anything from math to science to religioun and everything in between. Here in Bolivia, when they teach in schools, they only teach religion (no one has really explained why but that´s the way it is) In Bolivia, there are four different communities of the Hijas del Divino Salvador - one in La Paz (El ALto) and three in Cochabamba (Itocta, Pucartia and Barrio Primero de Mayo)
I will entering the aspirancy December 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is important to each of the Sisters here. She is the patroness of Latin America. Typically the aspirancy is two years but the Sisters announced that I will only be spending one year of being an aspirant because I have spent so much time with them over these past few months and because they believe I´m mature enough. (There are two other girls entering with me - Alicia (17 years old) and Karen (18 years old) but they will be spending two years as aspirants)
Because that´s the case, I will be the companion of two other girls over these next four years (one as aspirant, one as postulant, two as novice). Their names are Claudia and Julia and next year will be their second year of aspirancy. Both are from the city of La Paz. Claudia, right now, is 21 years old. She graduated high school the same year I did. Right now, as an aspirant, she is teaching religion in the school here. Julia is, right now, 16 years old and is finishing her third year of high school this week (school year is different). These two, including Patty (Julia´s blood sister) who will be a postulant next year, have become the sisters I never had.
As an aspirant, I will continue my year of service with VIDES (I´m not breaking my contract, Sr. Denise =)) I will continue working in the orphanage until next August. My jobs there will not change. The only difference will be that I will no longer be living in the orphanage (hogar) and that I would be wearing the habit. I will also be teaching religion in the school once a week.
As I explained above, there are four years of formation for me - one year as aspirant, one as postulant, two as novice. After those years, I take my first religious vows. Then it will be six more years until I take my perpetual (forever) vows. During those six years, I will be staying here in Cochabamba - working, taking classes about Salesian spirituality and education methods, and going to collelge to get my degree in education. After those six years, I take my perpetuals. Then, the Mother Superior decides where she would like to send me. I could be staying in Bolivia or moving to a different country. All the Sisters are hoping that soon the Salesian Fathers will invite us to found a community in the United States (they all want to go) If that happens, I will, without a doubt, move to the US since English is my first language and I know the most about the country. But that will only happen if they invite us.
I will be back to the US to visit every year. There are vacations in June and November (or December?). The June vacation is usually three weeks but all the Sisters from other countries (including moi) get a month. The other vacation is only a few days. The Sisters have told me that, if I like, I can combine my vacations and take the Juna vacation for a month and a half. So don´t worry, you will see me again. For all those getting married (which is a lot of you) or just waiting patiently or impatiently for a proposal from you significant other, if you really love me, have the wedding the middle of June (haha, just kidding - you can have the wedding whenever you want but I would love to be there) And Susan, if you decide to have the wedding in June (entirely up to you and Andrew), I beleive I can still be your maid of honor. I believe the only difference would be that I´d be walking aorund in the habit, not a fancy dress.
To all those I made promises to as to plans after finishing my volunteer year - I am deeply sorry. Know that I did intend on following them through. They weren´t made as empty promises. But it looks like all along, God had a different plan for me than I thought.
Sorry to all those friends I have written letters to or spoken to over the phone for not mentioning this before. I wanted to tell you but more than anything, I wanted to tell my parents first. Now that they know about my decision after spending a few days here, I feel better telling you all this.
Despite everything - the change of language, the change of culture, the change of country - here I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I am more than confident in my decision. I have never felt more confident in anything else. I hope you all understand that.
Feel free to email me back - with good luck wishes, thoughts of shock, whatever. I would love to hear from all of you. Pass this on if someone is missing from this list. And please know I am looking forward to seeing all of you in June and telling you everything.
Also, these next four years of formation will be dedicated to the memory of Dr. Emilio Rodriguez, my favorite prof at Mount Saint Mary´s U and great friend, who died last week in his sleep accompanying students on a study abroad trip to Ireland. He helped form who I am - more than he ever knew. May he rest in peace.
Viva Jesus! (Here you say ¨Viva Maria!¨)
With lots of love,