By Erica Pereira
Student, University of Notre Dame
During the spring semester of my junior year at Notre Dame, I studied abroad in Santiago, Chile. My time in Chile was transformative, exhilarating, and a lot of the time, very challenging. In Chile, I took a class called Poverty and Development that examined the state of the poor in Chile from theological and social lenses. There was a service component to this class, and I decided to work with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who had a home in Santiago. The Little Sisters run retirement homes for the elderly poor. Every week, I would join the Little Sisters for mass and helped them around the home.
Sr. Liz (right) and me.
The sisters would always invite me to spend more time with them, whether it be to have lunch and play Uno (they were really into their Uno games) or to celebrate feast days. On one particular Thursday, the sisters were preparing for a celebration of Corpus Christi and invited me to stay for the afternoon. We were going to have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament around the home! All the sisters (and myself) were very excited for this procession. We spent the whole morning preparing the home for it. We took plants and berries from their yard to decorate, and they even had me climb up into a pine tree to trim branches so we could decorate more. This was really comical, and I never thought I would climb up pine tree with a couple sisters below me saying over and over, “Ay, Erica, por favor, ten cuidado!” (Oh, Erica, please be careful!)
As the procession neared, the sisters, the nurses and I rushed around the home to make sure that all the elderly were in the chapel, ready for the procession. This was quite a task, as many of the elderly did not want to change their normal daily routines or move to the chapel. After about 45 minutes of coaxing and rolling many of them on wheelchairs into the chapel, I stopped to catch my breath right before we began the procession. I had a nagging feeling that I should go back to the men’s infirmary to make sure we had taken care of everyone.
I scurried back, with images of Christ searching for the lost sheep flashing in my mind, and there was Hipólito, alone and still eating his onces (the Chilean term for a type of afternoon tea). Hipólito is a bit slow and struggles with dementia, and I tried to encourage him to come with me to walk to the chapel. He couldn’t really walk by himself, but the sisters hadn’t given him a wheelchair because he can still walk with help. So, we began our journey down the hallway at a snail’s pace (though I think snails might have been able to move faster). Step by step we walked down the hallway and he continually asked me where we were going. As we went along, we saw the procession beginning down the hallway in front of us. My first feeling was a bit of panic because I realized that we were never going to be able to catch up. But, I understood that I needed to just be patient and that I would lead him into the chapel where the procession would end. We managed to make it to the chapel just before everyone else in the procession came in to finish and we still were able to be in the presence of the Eucharist at the end.
From a first glance, it seems that Hipólito and I missed the procession that we had been preparing for all day entirely. But, I don’t think we actually missed the procession at all. Just as Christ was present in the journey of the Blessed Sacrament around the home in the procession, he was also present in our pilgrimage down the hallway because he was there in our mutual accompaniment and love for one another. We didn’t miss the procession, we just had our own version.
Sr. Lizeth (left) and Sr. Liz (right).
This experience always reminds me of the importance of the slow, patient journey. Working through challenges, discerning God’s will for me, and striving to love him more deeply every single day are all slow journeys that need patience. Just as I was walking slowly and patiently with Hipólito down the hallway, so too, does God walk with me in this journey of life. Hipólito continuously asked me, “Where are we going?” just as I repetitively ask God this question. The Lord loves so deeply that he will continue to accompany me, no matter how slow I go, on this journey.
“O Lord, in my eyes you were gazing
kindly smiling, my name you were saying
all I treasured, you have left on the sand there,
close to you, I will find other seas.”
“Señor, has mirado a los ojos
sonriendo, has dicho mi nombre
en la arena, he dejado mi barca
junto a ti, buscaré otro mar.”
Erica Pereira is a senior at the University of Notre Dame studying Theology and Psychology. She is an Anchor Intern with the Office of Campus Ministry focusing on retreats. She loves running, surf casting on Nantucket Island, and her newfound love – rock climbing.