Maryknoll seminarian in Cochabamba, Bolivia, reflects on the Sunday readings in light of what he is learning from the witness given by two senior Maryknoll missioners.
As we reflect on the Sacred Scriptures for this Sunday, our attention is drawn to the images of Jerusalem, New Creation and the Kingdom of God. The invitation, therefore, is for us to understand what God is calling us to do through these beautiful images that reflect both the promises of God and our part in this collaboration.
Jerusalem, in the Old Testament, represented the promise God made to Abraham and his descendants. It was to them, a geographical location where God’s blessings for the people of God will be fulfilled. According to the Prophet Isaiah, it is a space where God’s people will grow, will prosper and most importantly, it is where they will find their comfort. Jerusalem, today, continues to be a sacred space to people of the Abrahamic religions. Faithful of Judaism, Islam and Christianity continue to hold the unique sanctity endowed by God in this sacred space.
For us, Christians, through the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, we are invited to understand this space in a different way. Saint Luke tells us that it is more than a geographical boundary, that it is a Kingdom of God that we are called and sent to build by sharing the love of God through the teachings of Christ, to the ends of the world. Saint Paul reminds us that in order to do this, we need to remember that we have been baptized into new creations, and wherever this presence of God’s new creation lives, peace and mercy will be brought to this Israel, where the Kingdom of God reigns.
When we put all these today, we see that God has invited us to co-create a new world order. It is a calling to radical personal and communal transformations. For example, while we often associate “kingdom” with authority and rule, Christ offers us a new understanding of “kingdom of God” more towards kin-dom or radical kinship.
During my Overseas Training Program in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I have seen how Maryknollers working in the region have understood this. Fathers Paul Masson and Paul Sykora live amongst the Bolivian people, and like a family, they share their lives with them.
Father Masson walks together with the people in small Christian communities in their journey of faith through regular theological reflections. He also offers liturgies in the several prisons where he reflects together with them on the scriptures regularly, inviting them to share their perspectives. He lives as an equal to them all.
Father Sykora lives in a rural village in the southern side of Cochabamba, where he works with local educators to offer programs for children who are disadvantaged by the economic system.
They have one thing in common. They are known to the Bolivian people as part of the community, as part of their families. Father Sykora is like a grandpa to all the children who come to the support school program. He spends time playing with the children, introducing learning through play. Father Masson, though older, dances and sings at family events, where his presence is assumed because of the radical kinships he has developed. Both of them are taken care of and respected by the locals as elders in their families.
Through their positive role-modelling, many seminarians and brother candidates have been inspired to develop similar kinship with the Bolivian people. Seminarians Joshua, Charles, Patrick and I have been part of Nuestra Casa (Our Home), offering what we can to young girls who have suffered domestic abuse, as their hermanos (brothers). Charles and I had the great fortune of living with and serving some elders during the pandemic and now we have more abuelitos (grandpas) and abuelitas (grandmas) than we can count. All these people we have met, have truly become a part of our lives as family in a distant land.
In these spaces, we have experienced the fulfillment of God’s promises. People marginalized by their society and challenged by their life experiences find hope, promised by Christ, through those who try their best to live out their missionary discipleship.
The missioners, too, being part of this family of God, are enriched by these members of God’s household in Cochabamba in many ways. In Cochabamba, we have a “new” Jerusalem, where the kin-dom of God reigns, where each of us are new creations bonded by the radical kinship to which all of us have been called. Like in the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah, it is here that we can grow and prosper authentically and with dignity as children of God, it is here that we find comfort in each other’s accompaniment. Yes! It is here that we can cry out to God in joy, as the responsorial Psalm invites us to, “Come and see the works of God, his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam!”
Therefore, the questions for each and every one of us today are, “Where is your “new” Jerusalem?” “Where can you experience being among God’s new creation?” And perhaps most importantly, “Where will God’s kin-dom reign?”
Image: On December 18, 2021, Maryknoll Father Paul Masson dances with the wives of incarcerated men in Cochabamba, Bolivia, celebrating the Feast of Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Cochabamba. Faces are blurred to protect privacy. (Courtesy Matthew Sim/Bolivia)