Three Claretian Sisters on a mission: Stories from Bolivia’s Amazon
By Sr. Lucia Galiccio
We are the Religious of Mary Immaculate, Claretian Missionaries, present in Guayaramerín, Apostolic Vicariate of Pando, in the Bolivian Amazon region. Our home is two blocks away from the Mamoré River, which separates us from Guajara-Mirim, a Brazilian city in the state of Rondônia. Both Spanish and Portuguese are spoken fluently in this border and commercial area. And we, Josiane (Brazilian), Judith and Lucía (Argentinian), are also fluent in both.
We arrived here on 12 March 2020. We didn’t know anyone, and that is how we faced the coronavirus pandemic. We did not even know where the hospital was. But Divine Providence helped us so much that we now feel enormously grateful to the Lord for “so much good received”.
We carry out a variety of activities, and our apostolates broadly encompass parish ministry, rural ministry, missionary childhood and adolescence, youth vocation ministry, family ministry, education ministry, as well as the dimensions of justice, peace and integrity of creation. In each of these areas, we seek to accompany and safeguard the fragility of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers in urban and rural realities: destitute people living on the street, forsaken elderly people, youth, adolescents and children. The key to our work is formation in Gospel values through fraternal closeness.
The “caretakers” of Guayaramerín
Here in Guayaramerín the sun and heat are very intense, which is why people get around on motorcycles of all sizes and colours. Even kids ride motorcycles! People park on the sidewalk, and that is where the “motorcycle caretakers” appear. They are poor adults and children who use pieces of cardboard taken from the central market to cover people’s motorcycles, protecting them from the sun and keeping the seats from overheating. In return for this simple service, the caretakers ask for a “fichita ”, that is, a small tip.
On other occasions, these individuals ingeniously use those same pieces of cardboard to fan tourists who stop along the street for lunch. This is another way for them to earn a “fichita ”, which they request with a certain charm. And this is because necessity brings out a creative humility. Who could fail to recognize the human dignity and Jesus hidden in those rags?
A community where grace is tangible
One of the sectors we visit regularly is the rural community of San José, where the people’s unshakeable faith is moving. The oldest among them is an elderly man who sits in the chapel alone to pray — very loudly because he’s becoming deaf. He spends long periods of time seeking the Lord in solitude. That’s probably how he attains the peace and wisdom he transmits to the community, because, although he cannot hear, the people listen to him with pleasure. This man usually makes decisions together with another elderly animator. Both are generous and solidary, and teach the people to share and give from their poverty.
This wonderful community reflects a strong sense of belonging to the Catholic Church. The people meet every Sunday to share the Bread of the Word and the Bread of the Eucharist. They are also characterized by their love for prayer; it is clear that they enjoy encountering the Lord. In our last visit there, during Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, we witnessed with admiration, the devotion and fervour they profess. In some way, we could perceive the grace of God, present and active. For us it is a blessing to share with them.
Synodality and care for our Common Home
Now that we have become a part of the Amazon, we have welcomed, with enthusiasm and commitment, the challenges that the Holy Father has given us with respect to caring for our Common Home. We have therefore formed our communities with the awareness that everything on our earth is interconnected, and that, therefore, each of our actions and our solidarity have an impact on our surroundings. Every small gesture performed with love can bear much fruit.
With respect to the Synod on Synodality that we are experiencing as a Universal Church, we have very ardently participated in the stage on listening, through our accompaniment in parishes. Focusing on the ecclesial objective of giving rise to the “encounter with the people”, we have patiently travelled up to 500 kilometres at a time, through rough and inhospitable terrain, with the hope of including communities like El Sena, Porvenir, Villa Bush, Puerto Rico and Cobija in this discernment. Each community presents a unique reality and offers its own cultural wealth, characteristics which they have brought together cordially and fraternally in harmony with the Church.
In almost three years of service in Guayaramerín, as Claretian Missionaries, we have accumulated countless experiences shared with people and communities. They are everyday stories that remain etched in our hearts, the hearts of those who have discovered that hearing the Lord’s call was the best thing that could have happened to us.