Saturday, January 21, 2017

Day 5 - Pastoral Visit to Colombia

            Today was the most beautiful day of the week, weather-wise.  It was sunny, clear, fresh, and warm throughout the day.  While as I understand it, our Diocese has also been experiencing some moderate and higher than normal temperatures (which happily also means no snow or freezing precipitation as is normal in January), I will very much miss the constant Spring-time weather here in Colombia.
            During the night, the Sisters were able to bring back the body of Sr. Antonia from Medellin, with the help of many of the civil authorities and the funeral director, arriving back here around 2:00 a.m.  By time for early morning prayers and 7:00 a.m. Mass, Sister's body was lying in state in the Chapel where it has remained throughout this day.  Fr. Fabio and I celebrated the morning Mass for Sr. Antonia's eternal rest, blessing  her body and beginning the Vigil that has taken place throughout the day and will continue through the night and tomorrow until the Funeral Mass at 3:00 p.m tomorrow afternoon.  The local Bishop, Bishop Fidel, will be the Principal Celebrant.  Because this Religious Community is Diocesan, the Bishop acts as the ultimate superior and spiritual Father. 
            As all of us know all too well, death often enters into our lives unexpectedly and never invited.  As I mentioned yesterday, this is this Community's first experience of one of their members dying.  While yesterday's shocking news was like that proverbial punch in the gut, the faith of these young, dedicated religious women has moved them past shock and grief alone, and relying on the Hope of the Resurrection and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to move them forward.   They are truly an inspiration.
            After Mass and Breakfast, Mother Consuelo and Sister Cielo, along with Fr. Fabio and I, met with Bishop Fidel as a courtesy visit during our time here.  We had met with him on our last trip, so it was good to renew his acquaintance, and he graciously met with us for the better part of an hour.  I wanted to bring him up to date with how the Sisters were enriching our Diocese through their presence with us, and to ask his blessing on the agreement that Mother Consuelo and I have reached about making their "house" in our Diocese more permanent.  He was happy to give his approval and blessing.  We had a very pleasant conversation about many different things before our meeting came to a close.  I thanked him for the special relationship our two Dioceses have thanks to the Sisters of the Holy Spirit.
            Upon returning to the Motherhouse, Father Oscar met Fr. Fabio and I there and gave us a tour of some of the additional sights in the La Ceja area, including the Cathedral Church for the Diocese.  This Diocese is known as Sonson-Rionegro.  Those are two separate and large cities that were combined to form one Diocese.  Bishop Fidel is the Bishop, and the Cathedral Church is in Rionegro, under the patronage of St. Nicholas.  It is a beautiful, old and magnificent Spanish-architecture building in the very center of the city, as was usually the case in the old days.  Most towns/cities had the Church and the public square at its center, with businesses flowing off the square. 
We also visited a few other historic places and beautiful countryside, and enjoyed a delicious meal together along the way. 
            After we returned, Fr. Fabio and I had only a short while to get ready for the Mass to celebrate with Fr. Evelio's parents, Luis and Celia Ramirez who will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in April.  Since Fr. Evelio was not able to accompany us on this trip, he asked if we could celebrate this special Mass with them.  As I mentioned in one of the postings earlier in the week, this couple is so special.  It was a joy to celebrate that Mass with them and many members of their family who came to be with them.  This Mass was originally going to be celebrated in the Motherhouse Chapel with all the Sisters present, but in light of the Wake for Sr. Antonia, the Mass was moved to the Salesian School Chapel.  A few of the Sisters joined to help lead the singing.

            We shared one final meal with the Sisters after returning to the Motherhouse.  At this point, there must be 50 Sisters who are here, with more still coming and on their way.  What began on Monday evening with a small group of Sisters, concluded with the room practically filled.  After the meal, I had a chance to express to the Sisters my gratitude for this wonderful relationship that has developed over these several years, and assured them of how much I look forward to this relationship growing stronger.  After about 50 hugs and 50 personal blessings, it was time for Fr. Fabio and I to pack and prepare to retire for the evening.  We need to leave the Motherhouse at 2:30 a.m tomorrow morning to be prepared for our 4:50 a.m. Flight----the first of four flights (Medellin to Panama; Panama to Miami; Miami to Chicago; Chicago to K-zoo) on our journey back to Kalamazoo that will take 12 hours tomorrow, God willing. 

            This has been a wonderful week and a blessed pastoral visit.  I am grateful to God for the providential way He guided all the twists and turns of what it took for us to get here, and for all the blessings that have been experienced in so many ways over these days.   Be assured of my prayerful remembrance for all of you at every holy point along the way of these fuve days.  May God bless the Misioneras Siervas del Divino Espiritu (Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit) in the wonderful witness they provide in so many missionary lands far away from La Ceja, including our own Diocese, and may God bless the Diocese of Kalamazoo.  

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