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Reflection on the journey

For the past year I have been working and living in a community in Puente Alto near Santiago, Chile. I work in a parish named after St. Andrew Kim, the first Korean saint. I live in a house with two other lay missionaries, Kata from Fiji and Jenny from England. Everyday I take a short 5 minute walk from where I live to where I work but that 5 minute walk is what makes the difference for me each day. I walk alone as soon as I step into my community I am suddenly surrounded by people from all sides shouting out from windows as I pass by, ‘Good morning Marguerite, how are you today?’ and the children run over and greet me with the words ‘Hello Auntie’. It is the most uplifting and life –giving experience, it happens everyday. The more I live here the more I love this community and feel that the people are not only my friends but my family here in Chile.

I am involved in a women’s group that meets once a week for two hours. The first hour is spent reading a piece of Scripture and then sharing what it means to us and how it relates to our lives today. In the second hour we do some talents so each week a different woman is the ‘professor’ or teacher. In this way we share our talents with each other and learn something new.

Most of the women live in very crowded spaces, with houses on top of each, or in crowded apartments, so getting a chance to come out of their home environment and getting to each other in a spiritual and creative way is a wonderful experience. I see God at work in this women’s group and as I join them on the walk home listening to their friendly conversations with the parting promise and commitment of meeting one another again next week.

The majority of my time is spent visiting people in their homes and I used to plan each day to visit maybe 6 families each day, as once I have been invited into a house the people open their hearts to me and to share their lives with me and I do not want to leave but want to stay and hear more.

I have discovered that my presence and being there is important and we share our stories and dreams by giving each other time. I have realised that being fluent in Spanish is not immediately essential as speaking is only a small percentage on my communication with the people. My time is the greatest gift that I have to share and this is what missionary work is for me at the moment.

When I first came here in Jan 2003 there was no church building and the community gathered in a shed every Saturday night for mass. We also have our meetings and gatherings in this humble but beautifully decorated shed and it is a place where we can share our spirituality and the stories of our lives.

However since 2000 the people have planned to build a new church and a lot of people are involved in fundraising and preparing the site for the building and the work has finally begun. We completed the foundation of the church in October 2003 and we celebrated by having mass on the site.

The priests and the people in the community came together to thank God for the new church and for the preparation of a new home for us to come together and share the word of God. I was proud to be asked to bring up a picture of St. Andrew Kim during the offertory procession. It felt good to join in this celebration and I felt very much part of the community that day. I thank God for this work toiling to build and grow.

I often get asked the question, ‘How can you be a lay missionary?’ and I answer, ‘I cannot but God can.’ The best  I can do is to be here and to live and work with the people of Puente Alto and to let God do his work in me. I am not here to do my work but God’s work. This is how I am and can be a missionary in Chile.

by Marguerite McManus

(She has since been back in Ireland)

'A life unlike your own can be your teacher'.      St. Columban

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