“Only love can transform…. You, the youth, are not the future, but rather the ‘now’ of God”, said Pope Francis during the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama City. Moved by the love that comes from God, and wanting to respond to the invitation made at the WYD, 21 youngsters and adults came together from February 1-12 this year in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, for another Missionary Expedition organized by the Volunteer Program of the Shalom Catholic Community. Recruits to this program are people who in their hearts have the desire to serve their neighbour, especially the poor. Previously, the Missionary Expedition has been held in Madagascar, Cape Verde, and the city of Chaves on the Marajó Island in Brazil. This year in Colombia, many people from various parts of Brazil and Uruguay took part in the Expedition including Life and Covenant Community members, youth members of the Shalom Work and people who do not participate in our groups but who wish to unite with those who have spiritual and material needs. They together with young people and families who are members of the Shalom Diffusion Work in Bogotá, helped to organise and participated in the activities offered during these special days.
The Activities of the Expedition
The Expedition’s programme was very rich and intense. The volunteers immersed themselves in the local culture such as the “Noche Colombiana” and held a moment of prayer. They socialized with the Colombians who welcomed them, tasting their national dishes and joining them in their traditional dances and music. During the first few days there was time to explore the wonders of Bogotá, a big city with about 10 million residents. It is filled with beautiful landmarks such as the Monserrate Hill, where the Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary can be found and offers a splendid view of the entire city, the neo-classical Primada Cathedral built in the early 19th century as well as other beautiful churches from the Colonial period in the borough of Candelaria. However, the main purpose of the Expedition was yet to be fulfilled.
The members of the Expedition and local volunteers offered very deep moments of service to those in poverty and in doing so they were able to come out from themselves to touch the pain of others with respect and love. It was a true experience which not only transformed the lives of those being helped, but of those who were helping.
Visiting the poor and the sick
One example of these precious moments was the visit to the homeless from the Bronx Borough, where the participants provided breakfast and lunch, and looked into the eyes of each “miserito”, the term used to refer to those faced with the condition of poverty. This visit was an opportunity to help relieve the pain of humanity which in that moment was given a face, and to get to know the life stories of those brothers, many of them who lived in the world of drugs or crime. But it was also a time for them to receive the Good News that they too are loved by God and are worthy of His mercy.
Another task was to visit the city’s Cancer Treatment Institute. The participants went from room to room, hallway to hallway, talked and shared a few words of comfort to those suffering with the pain of illness, as well as to their families, all of whom together carry this cross. Additionally, the Expedition’s volunteers learned more about the work which is carried out by the Church with the underprivileged children from the town of Paraiso, located in a region that is very poor and ‘forgotten’ by many in the huge city of Bogotá. They visited the borough’s nursery and the sports and social centre, interacting with the children and letting themselves be enchanted by the look of purity in the little ones, who live in an environment so poor and hostile, but have not lost their dreams and have a sparkle in their eyes.
“Vuelve a empezar”
The Expedition came to a close with the “Vuelve a empezar” (restart) retreat, a life in the Holy Spirit Seminar which was a great gift to the people, offering more than material things or human solidarity, but a true experience with the Love of God that can cure and transform everything. There were dozens of Colombians who took part in the retreat- young adults, grown-ups, families- people who came with a thirst for God and who had their lives transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit. The retreat took place in the St. Jerome Emilliani Church, and the concluding mass was celebrated by Bogotá’s auxiliary Bishop Luis Manuel Ali, who like Pope Francis at the WYD, sent everyone out to continue serving those in need, not in a temporary way but in way that our lives may become a continuing expedition of mercy, stepping out of ourselves to be more aware of the suffering of others.
Translation: Jhoanna Climacosa