I started this year in a different way: going on a mission trip with a group of Schoenstatt girl’s youth in a small, humble town in the countryside of Chile. Now I am convinced that there is no better way to have begun 2015! I am deeply grateful for all that happened; the experience was a gift from God. I am also grateful for all the ways He invited me to give and sacrifice during the mission trip, all the ways He invited me to grow.
In the send-off mass for the mission trip, the priest proposed to us that we could take the following words as a “program” for the trip: “Let yourself be surprised and transformed!” His phrase marked the spirit of each day – and so it was! Even in the day-to-day rhythm of the mission, God surprised me often. He surprised me in the magnanimity of the town’s people whom we were serving as missionaries. I was deeply impacted by how they welcomed us with such warmth and generousness. They are humble folk, and noble. Many work in the fields or the small stores nearby, and their homes, while very basic, were always immaculately clean. Of course not all of them opened the door when we came knocking, but most of them did – and in those homes many beautiful and fruitful conversations were born.
Every day in the morning we had time for fellowship and faith formation, with prayers, mass or a communion liturgy, talks over different themes and time to reflect. Then in the afternoon, at the height of the sun’s strength, we set out for the town to mission from house to house. We knocked on many doors and many families received us. There the people shared much of their story with us, and God surprised us with the unique way that He was present in each of their lives. Some stories told of grief, losses and challenges, but were also full of a simple and strong faith, full of love for the Virgin Mary.
We had religious themes prepared each day to share during the visits as a guide if needed, but often the themes of God appeared organically in our conversations. The most important thing was simply being with them, listening to them, and offering all that they had told us in prayer together there with them, joining our intentions together and giving them to God through a rosary or a prayer.
Very slowly, day by day, I also began to experience the transformation and notice it as well in the youth. There was so much happiness, and where before there were lots of unknown girls, a community of friends was born. The atmosphere really became a slice of heaven, with everyone united in giving of themselves to God and to their neighbor, bearing the difficult aspects with a good spirit and much energy – and lots of singing! Even when the heat was really awful, the missionaries boosted each other’s spirits and were able to keep on moving forward and serving others.
I also felt the inner transformation. Through the sacrifices that came with each day –hurting feet, doors closed in our faces, feeling tired – He made my heart grow a little bit more each time, helping me each time to serve a little bit more and to love a little bit more, pulling me slowly beyond the boundaries of me.
The motto for the mission trip was “Your Cross, Our Mission!” We had several talks over the days on the motto, and through our daily experience it took on more and more weight and we began to live it in a real, concrete way. One theme that impressed me deeply was about the transforming power of the cross – several talks given by the priest and by the director of the youth group touched on this same theme. If we let ourselves embrace and understand our cross, they said, God uses it to purify us and carry us towards Himself. Our cross takes three forms: our way of being, our personal and family history, and the situations and things that happen to us. For example, in our way of being perhaps our temperament or an aspect of our personality is difficult for us or causes us suffering; perhaps there is a wound in our families past or some form of grief that our family experienced – and you can imagine an example of the crosses that come to us through situations that arise or through other people. Each of us can experience the cross through these three ways. But through our crosses, we can really be transformed in the grace of God, when we see in childlike faith that God uses everything to our good. He never gives us the cross to make us suffer without reason or for suffering’s sake. The paternal love of God is always behind everything that happens, inviting us through the cross to be transformed and redeemed, redeemed by the cross of His Son.
And not only this, but in the talk it was also said that God gives to each one the cross that is perfect for him or her, that is unique – meaning that it is the best one for bringing us to holiness, and also that each individual alone can take up his or her own cross.
The other aspect, especially seen in the Unity Cross, the official cross of the Schoenstatt Movement and the symbol of the mission trip, is that it is a cross of bonds and of relationship. In the Unity Cross, Mary appears next to Christ, at the foot of the cross and totally united to Him in His redemptive mission. This shows us the unity between us, represented by Mary, and God, and also the unity between all mankind. The priest explained also that through the cross we grow in humility, and that this humility is the fountain of fraternal love because we learn to profoundly respect the cross and life of the other, and thus to feel true solidarity with the other.
I saw this unity blossom amongst the young missionaries, and also experienced the deepening of this unity between the missionaries and the families we visited. It’s a very unique mission trip because this same Schoenstatt group has been going to this same town for 12 years in a row! Usually with mission trips you think about going to different places or taking on a different project each year. But these missions are different: they are about quality and not about quantity. The mission is just that: to be with the people, to forge bonds with them, to bring and to experience the presence of God. Each winter and each summer the townspeople wait for the arrival of the missionaries, and each winter and each summer they arrive and fill the houses with their youthful joy, their hearts willing to listen, and their passion and love for God and the Church. Thus not only is town left transformed, but ourselves as well.
This is what our Holy Father spoke of – of going out to the peripheries to build a culture of bonds, a culture of “for ever” (and not a throw-away culture), a culture of covenant and of solidarity. Yes, Christ, together with Mary, we carry your Cross—our Mission!