By Samuel Clear (Mission Coordinator)
A 4:30am wake up call is never a delight, but when you didn’t even order it, well, heads will role… I mean, what an amazing opportunity to offer a sacrifice! Oh my goodness – it took so long to even register that the phone was in real life and not randomly ringing in the obscure recesses of a distant dream. The bottom line though was that we did need to be out the door at 5:30am to make our flight to New York, USA, so after another half an hour’s sleep we wearily wandered downstairs to our waiting bus. Nothing seemed to evidence how tired we were more than Lauren falling asleep at the airport, while standing up. No joke. Kiara had misplaced her immigration form, which we hoped wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was. So with the group checking in, our tour guide, Armando (please role the ‘r’ as long as your breathe will allow), whisked her off to the nearest police station while Jess led the legal pilgrims through security. Arrrrrrrrrmando was a Godsend, sorting out the potentially disastrous situation in record time, having a very relieved Kiara standing at the gate with nearly an hour to spare.
For most of the relatively empty flight from Mexico City to New York our pilgrims slept. It had been both a physically and spiritually stretching few days, but one row each ensured a comfy bed to lay flat on. For the few of us able to stay awake the rising through horrendous city smog trapped in the expansive Mexico City Valley revealed three snow-capped island-like volcanoes towering above the sea of pollution, with one puffing away, sending a tumbling plume of ash and soot high into the atmosphere that spread out to create its own second, lighter band above the smog. The cabin remained silent for most of the journey, apart from the occasional out-bursts of laughter from Maz in the very back row. Maz didn’t sleep, and the airline hosts enjoyed her company.
Pilgrims Paul and Tien each successfully transferred large prints of the Tilma through United airlines freight, but we were holding our breathe with Maz. She hadn’t noticed that the Homeland Security line had moved on and so was mid conversation when an angry voice interjected, “Are you quite finished talking miss!” Now, for most people, the simple thought of ticking off Homeland Security is enough to pull them into gear, but Maz, without battering an eyelid, turned without a fuss to face the officer and replied, “Well, actually, no, we aren’t, but we can wrap it up if we like.” Her passport was snatched from her hand, stamped and thrust back at her with a scowl. Maz just smiled and said, “Welcome to America,” and walked on. Ten kudos points.
We were off for our second sleep of the day, commonly known as a bus ride. An hour north of New York is Stamford, home to the Sisters of Life’ Villa de Guadalupe, a new retreat house set on acres of lawn and spindly winter trees. Crisp air, patches of snow and an abundance of hot, home-cooked food greeted us, ushering in what we pilgrims had desired – an opportunity to rest and recover. Yes, we apparently still needed more sleep.
The Villa de Guadalupe (www.sistersoflife.com/villadeguadlupe) (CHECK) is normally reserved for holding retreats for pregnant woman, those who’ve suffered through an abortion or those struggling with life-issues, so we are truly privileged to be welcomed into this refuge and to learn first-hand from the sisters how they bring love and light into such troubled lives. Simply sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist with them was peace-filled beyond description.
Peace-filled, yes, somber, hardly! The Sister’s of Life bounce around this place like kids let out of the car at the McDonalds playground after a long drive. When it’s time to gather, a sister skips through the hallway’s ringing a bell, ushering to come with a smile and joy. We’re told they pray and fast regularly, so we’re assuming that the peanut butter cream pie and Hershey Chocolate cake after dinner were especially for our arrival. Maybe not though.
As pilgrims we seek to learn wherever we go; to learn to be humble, to know God, to know who God’s created us to be, and last night we were blessed to learn from three sisters the charisms of their work. They spoke with passion, with intellect and with joyful wit. The average age of the Sisters is 28 years. Wow, what a counter-cultural establishment this place is. It was with some reservation that I followed on from the sister’s presentation with a sharing about my own experiences in mission. I wasn’t reserved for having to follow on from the sisters, but that I may end up being the second pilgrim to fall asleep on their feet that day! Falling asleep during your own talk is never a good sign.
We settled in for the best night’s sleep of our journey. The early mornings, the distances travelled, the three tabernacles in our huge villa and a private room each ensured we rested soundly and woke with humble smiles to enter into a full day retreat with the Sisters, learning more of their mission and the inspiration that drives them. We also played cricket. That was about all we could offer them and apart from the Sisters continually sliding into the wickets to make their ground, “Ok, that’s good, but you only have to run past them,” we had a brilliant time. It’s good to be on pilgrimage.
Cheers and God bless,