T here were no Christmas trees in northern Peru where I served as a Sister of Charity in mission. But there were nacimientos, Christmas crèches, that adorned the humblest of homes. Elaborate Nativity scenes were constructed with the heavy brown paper of cement bags spray-painted green, crunched and folded to resemble the Andes Mountain peaks that rose to the east. The mountain was the base. Perched upon it was the newborn Jesus with Mary and Joseph in pride of place. Up and down the paper mountain were dozens of small figures of farmers, shepherds, kings, sheep, cows, geese, chickens and a dog or two.
One Christmas, I was invited by a nearby parish to join the judges panel to choose the best nacimiento. We threaded in and out of the crowded streets of the barrio, knocking on the doors of contestants. Every house had done a magnificent job. I despaired of picking a winner.
Our last stop was a mile or two out of the barrio at a farm just off the road. The entryway was so small we had to stoop to enter. Bending through that door, I thought for a moment that I had gone back in time and space.
Before me was a young Peruvian woman, black braids on her shoulders; a young man dressed in ordinary workday clothes; and between them, their son, an infant propped on a bedding of quilts, covered with a light blanket. There were a real cow, a real donkey and a placid dog undisturbed by our sudden entrance. These were the sights, sounds and smells of the first Christmas, replicated in Peruvian style. Contest over. The clear winners knelt silently before us.
Mary Beth Moore, S.C.
R ecently I spoke at a parish on Staten Island. The pastor, Father Hernan Paredes, was born in Ecuador. He told me the inspiration for him to join religious life came from Maryknoll magazine. His family lived near the offices of the Catholic bishops and that is where he found it. Now how did it get there?
I recalled sisters sending boxes of Catholic literature to the “missions.” When I traveled around India, I met priests who had heard of Maryknoll, which really surprised me. Then I learned those boxes of magazines had found their way to their seminaries!
John P. Martin, M.M.
I started learning Tanzanian sign language around the time we planted rice last year here in this African country. Rice is one of the more intensive crops to grow. We got a few sacks in the end, but our rice mostly came out in little pieces, as the guy at the milling machine said, “inakatika,” literally “it breaks.”
Learning sign language is also intensive. I’ve run into members of the deaf community in town or at the market and people have been surprised to see us communicating.
Recently I visited the school in Mwanza where I first taught when I was in the Peace Corps. The school now has 120 students with disabilities, including 90 deaf students. A number of teachers know how to sign, but no math and physics teachers do. I used to teach these subjects, so I was asked to tutor the classes. Even if my signing is “broken,” hopefully, like our rice harvest, it can still be useful.
Stephen Veryser, MKLM
S ister Judy Noone and I worked with the women of Chinanton, a Mayan town in Guatemala. The diocese promoted a dairy goat co-op. Everything was related to the goats. Health, literacy and civics were all taught based on goat wisdom.
After relocating, I returned for a visit and found that climate change had affected Chinanton. Not a goat to be seen. But the women are still organized in a co-op, now doing handiwork. They make fans, caps, pillows and bottle covers. French volunteers have come to help. I asked the women if they have gone to New York with their products. One answered, “No, but I have been to Paris.”
Mary Duffy, M.M.