ARGENTINA, Rocío Galo •
After their first year of studying in Asunción, Paraguay, three novices from the Schoenstatt Fathers – that belong to a group of eighteen novices, departed to Resistencia, Chaco, Argentina, to carry out their first pastoral practicum in social work at the Children’s and Julio Perrando hospitals.—
From Resistencia, Chaco, the Family welcomed Federico Ibañez Rojas (F), from Paraguay, Johannes Korn (J), from Germany, and Christopher Boardman (C), from the United States, for five months. From March to August, Federico and Johannes carried out their tasks in the Children’s Hospital Food Service, while Christopher worked in the oncology unit of that medical center and also Perrando Hospital.
In a warm and extensive interview, the future priests told the Communication Team from the Founding Shrine Diocese of Resistencia-Chaco about their experiences in the health centers, their attachment to their companions, people with health problems and the Schoenstatt Family of Resistencia.
What did you feel when you were told that you would come to Resistencia, Chaco?
J: It was not a great surprise because we had talked about the cities we might get. What I did know was that it was not very big and that the Schoenstatt Family in Chaco was small. So I was surprised when I arrived, and we discovered the family was not so small. I really wanted to come here; it was one of my favorite choices, and I had the desire to get to know them, more in that spirit of founding with the desire for the Shrine in the province.
F: For me, it was a surprise from God. I had been in Resistencia in 2015, when a seminarian of the Schoenstatt Fathers (Cristian Rodríguez) invited me to come to this city. I was in the Young Men’s Group participating in a high school mission. I remember that we arrived, we had dinner with a family, then we went directly to Colonia Popular, where the mission was carried out, and I did not know anything about the city. It was my first experience as a foreigner to the Young Men’s Group, and for me, it was impressive because I saw great potential, and I desired great things among the boys. I left the missions and we returned to Asunción. At that moment, I said: how I would like to return and stay longer, that is how I can get to know and contribute to this place. I never thought that I would join the Schoenstatt Fathers or much less think that I would return to Resistencia. When I returned, I thought, “God’s plans are so impressive.”
C: When I heard that I was going to Resistencia, it was one of the options I had chosen, but I also wanted to go to Mar del Plata. I did not know the city, and I liked the name very much. I had heard that the Schoenstatt Family in Resistencia was conquering a Shrine, and that it was small community. I was excited about getting to know the city.
What was your experience like during the five months that you were volunteers in the Pediatric and Perrando hospitals?
F: There are day-to-day situations that surprise you, and they are the ones worth remembering. I was marked by the openness of the hospital employees that only knew our names and nationalities. It was also one of the strongest experiences to enter those areas, and where people opened their hearts to us completely. You begin to share, on the third day, that you were inside of their house sharing what they live day to day, what they believe, and how their family is composed. For me, it was incredible because I did nothing to deserve people opening themselves to me without any objection.
J: I agree with Federico, people spoke to us very easily, and they told you about their lives, which is very interesting. They are day-to-day gifts. Just yesterday, I saw a 9-year-old girl, who was with other people. I was doing other things and couldn’t go to visit her. Then I met her father in the hall, and he told me his daughter was waiting for me. These small situations are very gratifying.
C: I thought I didn’t want to go to a Pediatric hospital because I didn’t have any experience in hospitals and that it would be a very upsetting experience. During the first months (between March and June), I worked in oncology with Fr. Gustavo Urbano, a priest who is also an oncologist, and I also visited the burn and surgical wards. It was a beautiful experience, and there were moments of accompanying children that were in great pain. It was very hard to experience this reality. I have seen children who improved greatly, I have accompanied their families during these times, and it was beautiful. Upon ending the visits, we tried to pray so they could feel sheltered by God. In July and August, I did my practicum at Perrando Hospital; I was in the areas of oncology, the medical clinic and surgery. I was surprised that people were so open and kind to me, because I was accustomed to feeling people keep me at a distance because I am a foreigner.
Do you feel that you left something pending in the Diocese of Resistencia?
F: Personally, I believe that we will always have the desire of having done more. First because the character of the practicum was social work, thus contact with the Schoenstatt Family was not very close, since we were here for another task. I would have liked to participate in more Movement activities like the development of the construction of the Shrine. But despite this, I believe that God will unite us at some other time like he did when I came to mission here years ago. I trust that God will take care of that which you wanted to do and someone else will come to do it.
J: At the beginning, many were timid to speak to us and invite us to the groups, and during the last months we got much closer with the Family. I was left with the desire to hear about their life stories and their experiences in Schoenstatt. Many times, when you go to a place to help, they do not realize that many times we receive more than what we give. The gift of hearing their story was great. We received much, but we desired more.
C: It was a short time in which not a lot could be done. I felt that after five months, I began to know the people, my work companions, I began to find my place and to see how to live my mission over here, but it ended. I believe I needed strengthening in my attachments with the Schoenstatt Family, to share and to help more alongside them. During this time, I would have liked to have worked more with the Family, but it was also important to have the experience in the hospitals, and that did not leave much time for the Schoenstatters.
In Chaco we are on the road to conquer our daughter Shrine. What advice can you give us so we can accomplish our desire?
J: I always had the impression that the Chaco Family is very strong and possess great potential, but it could use more. There are many groups and people who are attached, but they are not very aware of the need to attach them to the land. They could have some activity with the groups, for example, to paint a wall. In general however, I see it as very positive, I see they are on the right road with this project.
F: Every time that Schoenstatters meet we generate life, and in the measure that we desire things, we receive those things, that is, the more we desire, the greater will be the measure that God gives us things. So I believe that many are aware of the stage of conquering the land, but it is important that the whole family desire it intensely. One must take advantage of those encounters, as Johannes said, and during those times, those who have the strong desire, can infect and generate that life in others, so that it will be a reality that God gives us. Because after all, it is He and Mary who will say when that shrine will become a reality.
C: I have the experience of having conquered the Schoenstatt Shrine in Austin, Texas, USA. I see very well how they are preparing to buy the land where the Shrine will be. I do not know the Family from Chaco well, but I believe that they have to continue to conquer the attachment where Mary will be established. They have Mass on the land on Tuesdays, sometimes not many people come, but if that is not a good time, they must look for other activities so there will be a greater awareness of this conquest. As a next stage, look into having a wayside shrine there so the family will have a place to pray and to offer capital of grace. In Austin, we built a wayside shrine almost at the same site where the Shrine is located today. We celebrated Mass and many prayers there, for example, we prayed very early in the morning in groups. They are very beautiful and incredible experiences that happen in the heart, and it was at that time I sealed my Covenant of Love. It is a “madness” how we are instruments and we accomplish that Mary establishes herself there and that it becomes a place of pilgrimage.
What did you learn from this experience?
F: What I reaffirm is the treasure God gives us has a name and surname, a life story, a relationship with the same God who gives us that encounter and Mary who makes herself present. What I take with me in my heart from this place are the faces, life stories, and the generous Family that welcomed us.
J: The gifts that I take are the encounters with people, their life stories, and their vocations. For me, it was an enriching experience that allowed me not only to mature as a person, but also to grow in faith close to Mary and God our Father.
C: I take many things. After our year ended, where there was much prayer, where we confirmed in our mission that God is calling us to, we arrived at this point very motivated. We are convinced of assuming the mission we have. Now we have to form this discovery in daily life… to continue to discover the personal mission and see how to live the small things in the day-to-day. I take these small situations in my heart with my smallness and my limitations. I have certainty that God and Mary have given me so much freedom to fulfill that mission, to share Christ with people. I take great joy and very strong experiences with the people, with God and with the Blessed Mother.
Also published in schoenstatt.org.ar (spanish only)
Original: Spanish. 27 August 2018. Translation: Celina M. Garza, San Antonio, TX USA. Edited: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA