Friday, 1 June 2012

A Venezuelan Pentacost

 This is a blog which you can also find on the other blogsite I contribute to, but slightly longer than this other version:

Last Sunday, the Church celebrated the feast of the Pentecost. This is not usually a big celebration for me. It may inspire some prayers to the holy spirit, but not much more. Things are a little different in Venezuela. Across the city of Caracas, all night vigils were being held for young people to come celebrate this feast which helps us see how the Spirit can transform our hearts into a missionary heart, one more in union and harmony with the heart of Christ.

  Perhaps the idea of a Pentecost Vigil is not that new to many of you out there, but I had never even heard of such a thing, and due to past experiences with all night vigils and resurrection parties, I was quite excited about this vigil. I should also add, I was also a little crazier than my other Jesuit Brothers who are with me in Venezuela: They attended a vigil where they would be given the freedom to go to sleep. I would not have this freedom, and this point was made perfectly clear to me time and time again by the ones planning it to make sure that I knew what I was getting into.  For some reason, staying up all night celebrating God and his Awesome presence in my life sounded awesome, so I didn’t even hesitate about this. Even the language barrier would not deter me from the not so pleasant prospect of an all-nighter.
  In the end, it turned out to be quite lovely. It was not the spiritual explosion that I may have hoped for –partly because of the aforementioned language barrier. I manage well in Spanish, but there’s still a lot of obstacles along the way- but it was still prayerful and invigorating in many ways. See, despite my struggles with the language, I recognize that the Latinos have a very powerful way of communicating God. Their language, their whole experience of faith and the divine is so immensely rich, that one’s faith can’t help but grow when surrounded by this world. Every day, the language of the Mass inspires me, the spirituality of the people lifts me up, and my heart is filled with the ‘esperenza y allegria’ (hope and joy) that comes with the way they live faith.
   With regards to the Vigil itself however, there is actually quite a lot I could share that is not necessarily related to rich spirituality of the people: this was not just an encounter with God: it was also an encounter with youth, with some aspects of the culture, with ministers and their work, with a behind the scenes look at Jesuits at work in their apostolate  -I was mostly left in awe of the amount of energy the Venezuelan men have for their work- and with other religious communities active in Venezuela. Most of it would be worth sharing, but I would need more than one blog entry to do so.
  In what little space I have left, I’ll say how moved I am by the faith of the people in this country. It’s not uncommon to be walking on the streets of Caracas, and see people cross themselves as they walk past a church. Last weekend, one young lady I spoke to told me that all of this was very superficial, that she wished Venezuelans were more committed to Jesus and to their Catholic faith. She herself rather openly labors to achieve this enthusiasm for the faith among the young by getting them to be publicly excited and joyful in their practice.  Still, I am moved at the expression of people’s faith here –I assume it’s the same across the continent-. It’s refreshing, considering the situation in Canada, especially in Quebec.
I obviously got a taste of that open enthusiasm for the faith during  the Vigil: These 50 or so students were all there on their own volition, not because they had to for school or because their parents forced them, but because of their desire to deepen their faith and to get closer to God. I think the most moving expression of that desire came in the first minute of the vigil or so when all the young people were gathered in a circle, and the animator said something to the effect that they were gathered here to come to praise the gifts of the Spirit given to them by God. The response was a very warm, yet solemn applause. It was one of the loudest applauses of the whole night. Not one with cheering or whooping…just an expression of their gratitude for  God’s greatness.

Some of the other highlights of the Vigil: a) There was one moment of solemn prayer that really drew me into God's presence It was a scary moment though, where I felt that Jesus was personally inviting me to join him on a special journey during this prayer, and that I kept resisting, declining the offer, saying "maybe later". This is a reflection of the mood I spoke of in my last blog, this feeling of being in a rut here in Caracas. It was depressing a little, to know that I would be saying yes to Christ with my religious life, and still be able to say no to him like this, but in my prayer, he just lovingly came back, encouraging me to join him, and if I said no again, I knew he'd be back the next day. There's something both disturbing and comforting around that.  I can take comfort that he is patient with me, but should be disturbed that I'm still capable of this, and be worried how often I can expect this to happen. Many Christians believe that if you keep declining to follow Jesus, eventually, you'll be 'left behind'. I absolutely hate this way of seeing things. It's probably more how humans would behave than how God would.  Still, a part of me recognized that even his infinite patience may have limits, and that scares me a little.

 b) There was something quite magical about being in this tropical country and to experience the sounds one can hear at dusk, in the middle of the night, and at dawn. The sounds all around me with incredibly exotic. Especially in the morning. The birds we heard we so loud, and filled the entire square with their song, yet were probably no bigger than the ones we usualy hear in the morning in Canada. In fact, I hear those same (sparrows and robins and others) here as well, those that gently chirp, as the sun rises, but the college where the Vigil was held -this was actually where we were on our first 2 nights here!- for some reason had more exotic birds around, maybe because of the giant palm trees that populate the campus!. It was quite beautiful, and a little surreal.

c) I really had nothing to do...honestly. So I just walked around took pictures, talked to the brothers. Prayed a very little (like I said, it wasn't the most spiritual experience). And noticed a lot of things. One of the brothers at one point told me he would not be sleeping for a while, that there was too much work to do. And then he quoted the Scripture passage about the apostles that slept while the Lord was calling them before he faced his passion, how he didn't want to be like that. I can relate (-;

  Still, at one particular moment (I photographed the moment in question, but don't have my USB cable with me so I can't really transfer pics yet) near the end of the vigil which really was a bunch of seminars for the kids to attend, one of the girls decided she wouldn't join her group for the last session. The brother who was staying awake despite his exhaustion sat there and watched play her acrobatic game with a string and a rolling plastic object (don't quite know what to call it, but she was essentially bouncing the object off of the string and catching it again. It was quite cool to watch). You can tell he wanted to discipline her, but that he was torn between doing that, or just talking her, or just ignoring her. So he just said " Tu Grupo?" which was meant as a whole sentence: " Why aren't you with your group?" and when she ignored him, he proceeded to just stare at her for the rest of period. It was a little weird, but it was also a lesson  for me as well. There are certain things that are out of our control and we should just let go off.  If he didn't have the energy to discipline her, or even talk to her, he should have just stayed  quiet. In other words:

  The problem with the apostle who stayed up with Christ in the end, is that he has no energy to do much with his presence. It's a noble gesture to do so, but it may not be necessarily what Christ expects from us. I should add, this last segment was by no way a criticism of the the work of the Jesuits scholastics here, simply a reflection of this propensity we have to want to give all to Christ, without thinking of our limitations But I will  indeed repeat that I have nothing but awe for the labours and  mission of the men in this province. They give a lot, and they're never afraid to give more. It's inspiring. These guys have an incredible amount of energy for their vocation and I admire them with all my heart.Through them, many young Venezuelans will encounter God time and time again!! One of the brothers in particular, who was the MC for the evening was the energizer Bunny, he kept going throughout most of the evening and was the heart of the operation. But all of them had so much to contribute, I felt pretty useless next to them, but it was to be expected. I was here as an observer, not a worker.

I should wrap this entry up with my favourite moment of the vigil. As is usually the case with these things, what I long to do most of all is connect with the youth. However, in this case, I felt a little overwhelmed due to language barriers and not knowing what to say to them, so I stayed with being the strong silent type that made eye contact and smiled at people, but not much more. At the very end of the evening, as people were preparing to leave, one group of youth came to me as a group. One girl wanted to speak English to me, the others to ask questions. It was a moment I wished I had captured on film, but my camera had run out battery by that point. We had a cool conversation, which culminated in two of them giving me an example of their freestyle beat boxing -a guy and a girl. They were pretty good!-. It was a conversation that reaffirmed my impressions of the middle class here:  that they're good people with a wonderful sense of the  'Latin American Soul' (some of these kids were extraordinary dancers!), and many of them remind me of young Canadians, but in general, they also have a poor sense of justice in this country, and are a little apathetic towards the people in the Barrios, parts of the town these kids would not be caught dead in.

As I asked in a previous blog, "are we that different?" Sure, there's a great movement going on in Montreal right now, and many people are optimistic of the social change this can bring, but in general, we are just as apathetic as the youth in this country are. I should say, I was quite moved and encouraged when speaking to young people involved with religious communities -either as religious or as lay- who had seen the same movie about the young people in Caracas that I had seen, and were utterly disgusted by their selfishness. In other words, even when there are many who apathetic towards the plight of the poor, there is a rag tag group of people ready to give their lives to them. So long as this continues to happen, I think there will be reason to hope in our world.


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