Saturday, July 2, 2011

An New Educational Adventure

Two days ago, on June 30th, Br. John ONeill and I arrived at Guatemala City for a few weeks of intense immersion Spanish classes. We had spoken about it a few months ago, found that a common time was available, discovered very reasonable air fares, and proceeded to make all the arrangements. Much to our advantage, of course, was the fact that the Brothers have places throughout Guatemala, including where we will be staying, Antigua.

Upon arrival, we were picked up by a driver from the Provincialate community in Guatemala City who has the uncanny ability (so we were told later) to pick Brothers out from a crowd simply by looking at their faces. Perhaps its that deer-in-the-headlights look that gives us away. In any case, before John could whip out his "La Salle" sign (red letters on the back of a manila folder and a pre-arranged signal), Marcelino, standing across the street in a mix of people greeting arrivals, took one look and had his sign up, smiling and staring right at us as we came through the glass doors beyond immigration.

A fast-paced, exciting drive through busy streets later, filled with smoke-belching buses and shops open for the evening, we arrived at the oasis of the Provincialate - a large set of buildings on a big piece of property in a gated-type community (guards at check-points with serious demeanors and real guns). The complex used to be the formation center of the District. Now, novices and scholastics go to the regional novitiate in Costa Rica while this place is used for retreats, meetings, and gatherings by outside groups. And the Provincialate and district offices are here. Its a very nice facility. (BTW, I cant figure out where the apostrophe key on this keyboard is, having tried all possibilities, so dont fault me for bad grammar.)

The four Brothers here greeted us very kindly and had dinner waiting. Brother Daniel knows English fairly well and was quite helpful in getting us settled. Toward the end of dinner, a number of young Brothers came into the dining room to say hello. They were here for their own retreat but staying in another part of the property. John was quite ingenious in communicating with all the Brothers, and soon we were laughing and relaxing as we might in any Brothers community in the world. Between halting, half-forgotten Spanish words, gestures, smiles, and guesses, we got along pretty well. In a few weeks, hopefully, our abilities will be much more improved.

Both of us slept like a log that night. Yesterday was a church holiday here - the solemnity of the Sacred Heart - and so we had a special schedule. After a breakfast that seems to simply appear in the morning from elsewhere on the property, both of us wandered around the property hunting for new birds to observe. John is quite the birder, and I am happy to tag along. We identified three new birds that neither of us had seen before, and then Br. Daniel came by to invite us join him for Mass next door with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart who were having a special Mass on their feast day.

We were placed in the front row of the small chapel, and I understood most of the Mass - in action if not in words. Being tall people compared to most Guatemalans, I felt bad about blocking all the people who sat behind us, but nobody seemed to mind. At the end of Mass, the monstrance came out and we had a procession to the inner court of the house, where a small shrine had been put up. The monstrance was placed there, many people knelt on the concrete, and a series of prayers were begun. After a while, Br. Daniel indicated that we should sneak away since this was likely to take a while; the group was scheduled to continue this prayer journey throughout the house.

This property had been sold to the Sisters by the Brothers some years ago. Several years after that, the Sisters sold a large portion of it to someone else. Without realizing it, they had sold it to very large evangelical church, which proceeded to construct a stadium church right next door, with enough room for at least 5,000 people. They fill it up every Sunday, too, which is a dramatic illustration of how active the evangelical Church is becoming here in Guatemala. On the plane ride here there was a large group of American evangelicals wearing T-shirts advertising the fact that they were service-bound missionaries for a few weeks.

Back at our place next door, the two of us continued our bird-watching adventures until lunch, which is their main meal. Again, the food mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. The food is good an plentiful, but the water has to be taken from bottles. Beer works too. A nice siesta later, and each of us did some futzing around in our rooms, reading, listening to the rain, and the like. There is a football (soccer) championship going on, called the Gold Cup, and it can be pretty exciting on the TV.

Today, after breakfast, Brother Alex took us to another location in Guatemala City where there is large complex of buildings that the Brothers run for the diocese. It consists of a school for indigenous people, a teachers college for teachers from indigenous tribes, all of whom live and learn here and support the whole operation with a large farm (vegetables, fruit, coffee, and animals). The Scholastic community for Brothers at study is also here, as is a set of buildings on the far end of the property housing 8 Postulants, 7 Pre-Novices, and three Brothers who oversee their combined 3-year program. They were all happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic, and hospitable. One of the postulants was painting a picture of De La Salle on the wall outside of their entry gate, and we all took several photographs to commemorate the event.

And so now it is towards evening on our second full day here. Its been raining on and off all afternoon, but somehow that seems appropriate. Tomorrow, we will be taken to Antigua and the rest of this little adventure commences. But I think it will be a bit more taxing on the brain.

A final note: Brother John wrote down a Spanish quotation that is posted inside each of the guest rooms. "Uno de los grandes signos que hoy puede ofrecer la vida consegrada como signo evangelico pobre y humilde, sea sencillamente la casa: que alli donde haya consagrados haya casa abierta, acogedora fraterna como signe de communion el la eglesia." (Ciro Garcia) The Brothers explained that it is a quotation from a Carmelite theologian who describes religious life as one of simplicity and humility. The way they interpret that is by trying to live as simply as possible in community (common TV, few possessions, shared cars, etc.).

This is evident in their lifestyle; nice but simple buildings, lots of responsibilities for each of the Brothers, good and hearty meals, and a palpable sense of community (care for others, much humor and teasing, dedicated to prayer times). It has given us a fine introduction of our likely experience during the next four weeks, for John, or six weeks, for me.

This last picture here is of the chapel in the Provincialate complex, used by larger groups since the Provincialate has its own small chapel. Brother Alex explained that the first time it was used was for the funeral of Br. James Miller. Another significant connection to the experience of the Brothers in this country.

More pictures at the following link: