by Leti and Martín Pereira, Paraguay
It’s in the small everyday things that the Blessed Mother gifts us with the greatest blessings, or as João Pozzobon use to say: “Mother takes care of everything.” We are Leti and Martín and we have been married for almost eight years. We live in Asunción and are parents to Mariana, the girl with mandarins for the Pope and who is about to turn five, and Juan Martín who is 11 months old. We are Schoenstatt Pilgrim Mother Campaign missionaries and belong to the 25th course of the Family Union. Martín, an agronomic engineer, works on his family’s farm where he dedicates himself to agricultural production. There are many orange and mandarin trees, but they are not for financial gain. When they give fruit, we put them in boxes and give them to family, friends, neighbors, the children’s hospital…we also take them to some children’s homes and a juvenile detention center.
Our apostolate is in organizing the annual Pilgrim Mother Campaign pilgrimage to Santa Maria, Brazil. Before our children were born, we would both go. Mariana came with us shortly after she was born, and she still comes every year. Juan Martín was born in 2014, and just like in the previous years, we went as a family and at six months, he was the youngest pilgrim in the group.
Our Schoenstatt is here in Tupãrenda
For a long time, we weren’t sure where we were going to celebrate the Movement’s Jubilee. “Shall we go to Germany and experience the great international celebration? Or shall we remain with our people in Paraguay?” We thought a lot about it and finally decided: “Our Schoenstatt is here in Tupãrenda,” and with that, all doubts ceased and we started working on our celebrations for the Jubilee year. About four years ago, we did a census of all the Pilgrim Mother images at the country’s three shrines: there are just 10,500 images travelling throughout Paraguay.
“I also want the Pope to pick me up and I want to take him a gift of mandarins”
To get to the story of the mandarins, we have to go back a little further back in time. In mid-2013, World Youth Day took place in Rio de Janeiro. We had hoped to go and see Pope Francis, and of course, we would travel as a family. After thinking about it for a long time, we decided not to go because of the sheer number of people that would be there and how difficult it would be to go with such a small daughter. But we thought: “Doesn’t matter, we’ll meet the Pope at a later stage,” and made our peace with watching the entire event on television. On one of those days, we watched as the Pope entered a favela in Rio de Janeiro, picked up a child and gave him a kiss. Mariana, who was three at the time, started screaming: “Look, look the Pope picked the baby!” and immediately said, “I want the Pope to pick me up too, and I want to take him a gift of mandarins.” What a generous and innocent gesture that she thinks about taking gifts to the Pope, she wants to take him a gift of fruit!
The MTA was very quick to act. The very next Sunday, we gathered with the family at the home of the Pereira grandparents. A Schoenstatt Father we didn’t know, Fr. Gerardo Carcar (from Cordoba) was visiting Paraguay. Our job was to fetch Fr. Gerardo from the Youth Shrine. At the grandparents’ house, we spoke a lot about the Pilgrim Mother Campaign in Paraguay and other Movement topics. During lunch we shared Mariana’s lovely reaction and the mandarins for the Pope. Everybody laughed and soon the conversation moved onto other things. After lunch, we took Fr. Gerardo back, and on the way, in his characteristic tone, he said, “You know, I really liked that story about Mariana and the mandarins,” and he went on to say, “Let’s take the mandarins to the Pope.” Surprised, we asked him, “What? How can this be?” “Yes, I’d like Mariana to take the mandarins to the Pope, would you be able to take her to Rome?” asked Fr. Gerardo, and explained that a short time earlier, he was given the job of organizing the audience on 25 October in Rome to celebrate the Movement’s Jubilee. What is more, the theme to be presented to the Pope on that day was that Fr. Kentenich once planted a seed in fertile soil and up until today, it continues to bear much fruit throughout the world, which fits in perfectly with the mandarins. Can you imagine, our daughter would be next to the Pope, in Rome? We could not believe that it would work out; it seemed like a dream.
João Pozzobon, we want to go as a family to meet the Pope
In March 2014, we received an email from David Perera, who was responsible for the audiovisual component of the Jubilee, telling us that a production team would come to Paraguay to make a documentary about the mandarins. What a joy! It was the first contact we had on the topic after our conversation with Fr. Gerardo. The first people we called to tell them about our trip to Schoenstatt and Rome with the pilgrim group that would leave on 12 October was the Patiño family who coordinate the Pilgrim Mother Campaign in Paraguay. They were very happy for us, but said that there was no one else who could do the census, so it would be better if we stayed…
In July, Alejandra and Boris — Chileans — arrived to record the story of Mariana’s mandarins for the Pope and the Family Missions in Paraguay. Mariana was happy, now aged four, and she spent the entire day speaking about the Pope. She said that the Pope was her friend, and that she had to take the mandarins to him. But the producers told us that the bit about the mandarins had still not been decided. At around the same time, we called David Perera: “This is not to put pressure on you, but we have to work in Paraguay on 18 October. So if we can’t take the mandarins to the Pope, it’s better for us to stay. David solved it easily. “Yes, you have to be there, stay and work on the 18th, and then the next day you can leave directly for Rome for the audience with the Pope and from there, you can go to Schoenstatt.” Problem solved, that is what we would do.
With the Auxiliary from Paraguay
The whole time we were thinking: what would João Pozzobon do in our place? Of course, we have to take the National Auxiliary of the Pilgrim Mother Campaign with us, and what is more, we’ll find a way for the Pope to bless it, so that through it, every missionary of the Campaign in Paraguay can be blessed. Can you imagine? To make such a long journey with a little girl, a 7-month old baby and the huge Pilgrim Mother Campaign image?
Some months prior to our departure date, we were practically ready to go to Rome, and with such emotion that is hard to describe, when they told us that they would not show the videos while the Pope was in the audience hall, but would be shown before he enters, and therefore, Mariana would not be able to give the Pope the mandarins. It made us very sad…on one day Mariana had spoken about how she would hand over the mandarins, and we had to tell her, “Child, it seems like you won’t be able to take the mandarins to the Pope.” Her reply broke our hearts. Crying, she said, “How can we not take the mandarins? The mandarins are important, they are full of vitamins.” We dedicated ourselves to praying with even greater strength and trust. We asked João Pozzobon to intercede for us, that he could take us as a family to Pope Francis. In exchange, we promised to pray for his canonization every day.
On the 17th, 18th and 19th, we gave ourselves completely to the Blessed Mother will all our efforts at the Pilgrim House in Tupãrenda. Everything went really well in all three shrines and we could feel the joy of all those who attended. We were eternally thankful to the Blessed Mother for giving us the privilege to being part of the centenary generation. We did a census of just under 5,000 pilgrim mothers, and no sooner had we finished this than we were off travelling.
Representing the entire Campaign
We left for Italy, accompanied by the Blessed Mother, but without any great expectations about meeting the Pope, until the day before the audience, on 24 October; we received an email telling us to attend the general practice of the audience that afternoon. We couldn’t believe it. We went running to the Vatican without really knowing why. Arriving at the security entrance for the Paul VI hall, we gave our names and they replied that “the Martin pilgrim is on the list, you can pass.” At the practice, they told us that we would enter as a family at the start of the audience, in the procession with the Original Pilgrim Mother image that João Pozzobon carried for 35 years…it was something incredible: when we asked him to intercede for us, we never imagined that he would do so in such a way. João is really ‘extravagant’, and we kept saying “Thank you João” the whole time. It was an immense honor for us to represent the entire Pilgrim Mother Campaign all the over the world at such an important moment of the Movement’s Jubilee.
After the practice had ended, we stayed on until midnight to help to prepare everything. As thanks and so that the Pope would be able to bless the Auxiliary from Paraguay, we were given special seats almost in the front and along the corridor to the Paul VI audience hall where the Pope would enter.
The big day arrived, and with it incredible nervousness, which was a mixture of joy and fear…in that moment, we felt as if we were the people most loved by the Blessed Mother and her Son. We would be taking Mary as the guest of honor through this entire crowd that had come to see her, to climb and place her on her queenly throne.
A second that felt like ten minutes
Then Pope Francis arrived…after having greeted so many people along a seemingly eternal corridor, he drew closer to us, looked at us and we told him, “Holy Father, this is the principal Pilgrim Mother image for Paraguay,” he looked at her for a while and blessed her. It was just a second but it like ten minutes. In that instant, we remembered so many people, so many missionaries, families, communities… “mission accomplished,” we said. Then the Pope kissed our son Juan Martín. This was the gift sent to us from heaven, and we felt like the most blessed family in the world. The audience was wonderful, each word the Pope spoke was beautiful, he looked happy, with his people, as with a family, and it lasted nearly two hours.
Afterwards, we thought we were here thanks to Mariana and her dream to take mandarins to the Pope and we couldn’t get the Pope to greet her. What is more, she had her mandarins in her hand the whole time. And not just this, during the audience the Pope mentioned a story of a community and their mandarins. At that moment, Mariana asked us if she could run to the Pope and give him the mandarins, but as she was running one of the security guards stopped her and the poor little thing came back crying bitterly. Today, looking at the photograph of that marvelous moment, we couldn’t help but be sad to see her face: Martín with the Auxiliary, Leti with Juan Martín in her arms and Mariana alone with her mandarins.
The Pope will go to Paraguay
Everyday that we were in Rome was like a dream, which will remain with us for the rest of our lives: to see so many Schoenstatt people from all over the world and passing by on the streets, we would greet one another as if we were old friends. These days of Schoenstatt celebration may be relived there again with the canonization of Fr. Kentenich or João Pozzobon. Please God, may it be soon.
Three months later we saw a message on our cellphones that Pope Francis will come to Paraguay. We showed the message to Mariana, saying: “The Pope will to Paraguay!” Her cute reply was: “The Pope sent you a message?”
A few days ago, we wrote to Pope Francis to tell him that we pray for him every day for physical and spiritual strength and we told him that the mandarins in Paraguay are the sweetest in the whole world…and since we’re talking about physical strength, as Mariana said, “Mandarins are very important because they are full of vitamins.”