Last Will Be First

Hello!

Well, finally I have another chance to post and share what has been happening here in Ecuador. I was in El Chontal for 10 days or so and there is no internet access there right now, but I started writing some things to post. It was great there, and now I am back in Quevedo. So maybe first some things about Quevedo and my first week there at the beginning of August staying with Padre Julian. Last night was the big festival of the Divino Nino, but since I haven´t had time to write about that, I´ll save it for the next time.

Quevedo is a small city with a river that runs right through the middle of it. It’s hot here every day, because it’s in the coastal region of the country. It’s completely flat, at sea level. The days are hot under the sun and the nights as well. And there are a lot of mosquitoes, too. It’s urban, and poor.

Padre Julian is the pastor at the diocesan shrine dedicated to the devotion to the Divino Niño, or the Divine Child. I have a few pictures of the shrine here, and you can see the infant Jesus at the center of the devotion. On the cloud under His feet are the words “Yo reinare”, “I will reign”. This is a very popular devotion in Ecuador and I think most of Latin America. It is a great devotion oriented toward spiritual littleness and the humanity of Christ, which I think is a treasure that Latin America has.

The devotion began through an Italian missionary priest in Colombia. He had a devotion to the Christ child and experienced many graces through the devotion, so that it extended to the people to whom he ministered. He was inspired to take up and modify an Italian devotional statue, and that became the statue that you can see here in the photos. You can see the backdrop of the statue in one of the pictures, where there are a number of cherubs painted. It is interesting that none of the faces are Latinos: they are all AngloEuropean (and there’s one African), which seems like a common thing to me here. Now you could imagine the problems that occur when all the images of things that represent God include anglos and no Latinos. You might imagine the difficulty for the local people to recognize their own dignity and see themselves as children of God when all the pictures of sacred people in their religion are Anglo! You can see why one person (not from America) said to me about the local mindset here: “America is heaven.” I experience this psychology here expressed in a number of ways. But the main thrust of my message to them is how blessed they are here, and how blessed I am by God to be here with them.

But this mural is a sign of what apparently is, and has been, a problem with missionaries in the past – not being able to integrate and adapt and join devotions that are relevant to the indigenous people. It´s a whole topic for another time, but I think it points attention to the need for people who will give themselves to be bridges of sharing and communion in the Person of Jesus Christ. Latin Americans – and the poor in general – need us as true brothers and sisters, and we need them likewise. The words of the Divino Niño are true: the little ones will reign… “Whoever becomes humble like this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt 18:4) The first will be last and the last will be first …

That brings me to a book I’ve been reading, published by the NCCB Committee on the Church in Latin America concerning the history and relationship between the churches in North and South America. It’s called Sharing Faith Across the Hemisphere, by Mary McGlone, CSJ. It’s a great book for anyone who is interested in such things, and it was recommended to me by Fr. Jim Ronan, who at the time of publishing was the Executive Director of the Secretariat for Latin America.

My time that week was spent with Padre Julian visiting communities for Mass. Although Quevedo is urban, it too has a variety of smaller communities in a single parish. So, we visited a number of poor communities for Mass and catechesis. I am usually an observer and helper and participant at this stage, it’s good to accompany and listen and add when I can.

The fiesta for the Divino Nino was yesterday, so Padre Julian has had the task of getting the shrine ready after being there only about a month. Repainting was one of the major tasks for the fiestas, and we got to it pretty good. Much of the pink color will be gone, thankfully. In the pictures here you can see Padre Julian as a painter, and then in a more free-style artistic form …

Padre Julian has offered me his room to stay in, because the guest room is attached to his office. This room here is behind the sanctuary of the shrine.

We also worked to get a donated computer up and running, and spent time with Bible studies. There’s a youth group that helped out painting as well.

One evening, Padre Julian said we were going to a house to meet some of the local government officials. Being fairly new, he was invited to a sort of meet and greet. So we had on some good duds (at least Padre Julian did), and went to this house, which was pretty nice. For here, it was clearly a rich person’s house. The lady of the house greeted us, well dressed, and we met some of the family and we sat down in the living room. The whole time, I’m thinking, what on earth am I doing here? What am I going to say? But I have to say, I really like that about Padre Julian, he’s not afraid to jump right in and take me along with him. Well, after a few minutes, there’s some commotion at the door, and I look up, and there’s a young woman standing in the door with a huge sash across her body that says, “Candidata”. Then, one by one, came in about 8 of the young women – mostly teens – who are candidates for the local beauty queen contest, with the queen herself last. It wasn’t after all a meet and greet with any political honchos, it was a meet and greet with the beauty queen candidates!

So these girls, all made up and posing and decked out to the nines in slinky tight dresses, compete to greet us, and then they tried to have us squeeze into the tiny living room couches together, but Padre Julian and I thankfully found a few separate chairs. Awkward silence. Padre Julian was embarrassed. I am clenching my teeth as hard as I can to hide my laughter that I almost couldn’t control. Now during all this, there are like Papa Razzi there taking photos left and right, getting poses from the girls and whatnot. A bunch of other people, I don’t know who they are, are sitting around in the background. Now, I am there, underdressed (well in the formal sense, but I had more clothes on than the girls!), and it’s sort of like, who is this guy? So I asked a few simple questions about their preparation for the election, to break the silence. It worked out well: it sounded like I could speak Spanish, and everyone was engaged, so much so that they thought I might be from Spain. Then the queen gave a pep talk to the group of candidates, another woman gave a talk, and then we all got up to move to another room with some light refreshments and whatnot … but not before the photo ops with the candidates. So there were Padre Julian and I, surrounded by beauty queen candidates competing for the limelight, camera lights flashing, I’m sure a look of utter embarrassment on his face. Me, I finally had an excuse to let out all the laughter inside. Oh, I wish I had a copy of those photos! Afterwards there was a professional singer who sang for the young women, and then each of the candidates had the chance to speak and share some words, and then the evening wrapped up and we were off. When we got into the car, I asked Padre Julian if he knew it was really a meeting with the candidatas, thinking, in a good way, that he pulled one over on me. He had no idea … but apparently, the hostess, who helps out the church frequently, wanted the chance for the young women to meet the new priest, hoping it would be for the good, and so it had to be arranged a bit incognito.

Here, the beauty queen election is a normal part of the local festivals everywhere, and the civic and ecclesial identities of towns and parishes are not separate like in the US. The fiestas in this situation are for the parish of San Camile, yet here there is always a jumbled mix of church and secular activities, usually not integrated into a whole. So for the queen and the candidates to meet the priest is to meet a public official. It is an opportunity for the priest to meet these young people who from now on will in some way have a public influence, and have an influence with them. You can see how this delicate setup can work out either way … such are some of the tensions in society here that are different from those in the US.

The Shrine is located in the diocese of Babahoyo, which is a change for Padre Julian. He was before in the diocese of Ibarra. One of the reasons for the change is because of the real shortage of priests in Babahoyo. Ibarra has about 350,000 people (almost everyone in Ecuador is baptized Catholic) and about 125 priests, if I remember right. Babahoyo, on the other hand has about 850,000 people and only 35 priests. In contrast, Boston has about 2 million Catholics, and 800 priests (again, if I remember right). If you scale for population size, and if my memory is good, Boston has as many priests as Ibarra, but about 10 times as many priests as Babahoyo. In any case, it is great that Ibarra would “share” a priest with their neighbor, even in their own poverty. In Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II quotes from the Latin American bishops’ meeting in Puebla: “Certainly we have need of missionaries ourselves, nevertheless we must give from our own poverty.” That is characteristic of the Kingdom of God: “Give, and it will be given to you… for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Lk 6:38)

When we are running short on a necessity and we feel the need, the natural tendency is to tighten up. But God calls us to do the opposite. He calls us to continue to give, even if we are running out of what we need. He is taking away that thing we think we need because we are too attached to it, we need to let go of it. We have been out of balance and have not recognized it. In some way, we are putting it ahead of Him. It’s a crucifixion to an overdependence on something, in this case, priests. Some call it imprudence or foolishness, but that is as St. Paul said, For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)

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One day I was passing through the shrine and noticed a long line of ants going along the ground, up a high wall, and then laterally for a good distance. It was a long line of ants over a huge distance. I don’t know where it began, but I know where it ended: someone had left a large bag of oranges leaning against the wall, and the ants were having a feast.

For the ants to get there, though, there had to be one original who found the oranges, and then headed back to the nest. He carries a scent with him, and leaves behind a scent for all the others ants to follow and reach the oranges. I didn’t actually see the first ant leave the nest and find the oranges and return, but I have evidence of the path the little guy took. Just watching the line of ants makes it clear the path that the first ant took. The faithful following of the ants makes visible the path of the original visible.

It’s the same with the People of God: we didn’t actually witness the path Jesus took while He was on earth, the path from here to the Father. But the Church makes it visible by following the same path. This is the gift and privilege of our relationship with Jesus, to reveal Him and His way. When we are faithful to that path, then everyone can see the path of love, the way of the cross, that Jesus Himself walked: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” (Jn 14:6)

Here’s one example: One evening, after Mass in a local community, a group of people, about 15 or so, headed out to visit a sick man in his house. It was a surprise, and we waited outside with lit candles for a bit before entering. So, we came into the house with music, and there was singing and some food, and then some sharing of thoughts by each of the visitors, beginning with Padre Julian. It was very beautiful. They had a birthday cake for the man’s wife, too, and we all sang happy birthday, the whole nine yards. Then they asked me to share a few words too. All I could say was a few simple sentences, but especially what I could see very clearly, that he was very blessed because he is loved all the way from Quevedo to Boston, that this shows the size of the love of Jesus’ Heart for Him. And so there were many hugs. I don’t know how sick the man was, but knowing the state of health care here, who knows? There was a really great spirit of openness and sharing and love in the house. When we left, I said to Padre Julian, “This is the Spirit of the Church.” He agreed and said that they are a lay group who started this apostolate themselves, of visiting the sick like that. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)

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There are some youth at the Shrine as well. There’s a youth group who helped with the painting – two of them, Raoul and Adrian, came along with us on the long ride to El Chontal. It was about 6 hours of a drive, some of us slept on the way – Padre Julian did all the driving, and then after an hour or so nap, headed back to Quevedo. I plan on taking the buses back. While he napped, Raoul and Adrian and I took a walk to the river nearby and got some photos. It’s one good sign of the bridge between Ecuador and Boston… Adrian (on the right) is considering entering the Franciscans in Quito in a year, so please keep him in prayer. They are both great guys with open and generous spirits …

So I began my time in El Chontal on Monday. The main community is in a valley near 3 rivers, and has about 250 people. The picture shows the community, with the Guyallabamba River behind it and the church at the far right. There is actually another community at mid-mountain height, and another near the top. These they names are Chontal Bajo, Medio, and Alto. IN some ways they are all one community and other ways they’re not. Altogether, there are about 100 families, or about 500 people.

I stayed in a new construction behind the house of the catechist of the community, Suzanna, behind the restaurant she owns. It has a single bed and actually a private bath. Tuli is the guard dog. I think he’s a hound. Anyway, with his barking he kept me safe every night from bugs and other critters that might have wandered around my door:

I noticed this view outside the door one day. The branches are bearing so much fruit that they need help from these wooden boards to stay up. When the Lord talks about the vine and the branches, He talks about the branch bearing much fruit. The Greek word for “bearing” isn’t just to bring forth, but really means “to carry”. A branch must not only bring forth the fruit, but also have the strength to carry it to ripeness. These branches have brought forth much fruit but need some help bearing it …

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I had the opportunity early on to go on a day’s hike with a guide to a waterfall in the mountains. The leader was Jorge, a brother in one of the several large families in the town. A group of tourists from France came along with a French-Spanish interpreter. So we had Spanish and France, and a little bit of English now and then…

Going up the mountain, we had a ride from someone in a pickup truck for part of the way, which was helpful. You can see from the picture that some parts are a bit risky! I have a video of this passage that I hope to be able to post sometime …

One of the great gifts here is the fresh food, and the fresh fruit especially. One of the residents gave me a bog of about 10 oranges, and we had them for the journey. Tropicana says its orange juice is freshly squeezed, but you can’t beat this, even if it’s a little more work by hand. First, using a jackknife, you peel the orange, but leave the white part of the rind. Then, you cut the top to create a little lid. Finally, put it to your lips and squeeze for freshly squeezed OJ directly in the mouth. God provides …

About mid-way up the mountain is the home of Jorge’s brother Guillermo, where they have guest rooms and serve food. We stopped here on the way up for lunch, and then on the way back from the waterfall we ended the day here. There are beautiful colors and vistas on the property.

The property is a farm, like most of the properties in the village, and mostly all of the rural areas. A few photos of the group, with Jorge and Guillermo and some of his family in the top picture. They are also brothers of Romero, who owns the hotel in town that I’ve stayed in.

The hike to the waterfall was a few hours each way, with some stops along the way. The path goes through forest area, and many parts are climbed and descended with the help of a rope.

But reaching the waterfall was well worth it. It has two levels to it, I’m hoping to be able to publish a short video that covers it, but we’ll see. As we got nearer and nearer, you could hear the sound of the water getting louder and louder until you suddenly turn a corner and break out into the view of it. Being there was breathtaking!

On the left here is a photo of me and Immanuelle (sp?), one of our companions on the journey. From the main waterfall, a bit further down stream, there’s another waterfall that joins another stream into the river, and we could swim here because the water had pooled. I couldn’t wait to get in … Lying under the waterfall was a profound experience … Immanuelle, God is with us …

The impression that kept coming to me was how old this waterfall is. The area being so underdeveloped by man, you can see all of nature’s work. I’m imagining that the crevice that the water has carved out must have been forged over thousands or tens of thousands of years. It gives the feeling of eternity, and the presence of God. The reading from the day’s Mass: The people that escaped the sword have found favor in the desert. As Israel comes forward to be given his rest, the LORD appears to him from afar: With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. (Jer 31) The Lord always provides for us, He always keeps His word …

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Before I left, a friend Cathy Rais and her husband Frank invited me over for dinner and some time together, and before I left, Frank passed along to me a number of hand-made cars, or “carritos”, to give to children. He makes these all by hand, and each is unique. The Raises make a lot of crafts – they call their little collaborative Rais Ranch Crafts. All the kids here in El Chontal who I was able to give them to loved them. I tried to get photos to share whenever I could – thanks Frank and Cathy!

When I was in Mexico City staying with the Sisters to visit the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, thee passed along to me a collection of miraculous medals to give out in Ecuador. When I was in Puerto Quito, I had the chance to buy some string and a whole bunch of beads of different colors, so that kids could make their own necklace for the medals. Last week in El Chontal I got to teach the catechism class for Confirmation, and the kids got a chance to make their own necklaces. What a gift that these kids received. In the States, it is not uncommon to find things from foreign places, even shrines. But here it is very uncommon. But the novelty was used to make a lesson in the end when we were done: that we all could see that, like the necklaces, we are each unique, but Our Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, gives each of us the same great dignity as sons and daughters of God. We are each very important – and free – in her family…

It reminds me of the photo I got at the basilica in Mexico City, with the flags of the Americas, including Ecuador and the US and Mexico, and all the colors. These flags are centered on Our Lady of Guadalupe. I thought I had it here with me, maybe I´ll try to post it another time – for now just an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe …

The memory of my Mom is also alive here, her presence is always here with me, as well as that of my sister. I have always believed that it´s through my sister´s intercession that I was brought back to Christ. My father is also very close to me as well in these days, and thanks to the Virgin for her miracle in that (hopefully I can post on that before I come back). There´s a lot to say about it all, but, just like Christ showed us when He instituted the Eucharist, when we love like our beloved deceased, they become present again through us, and in a sense they live again. ¨Do this is memory of me.¨ (Lk 22:19) For now a few pictures of my family in heaven, who are very close to me down here:

In communities down here, especially in the poorer and smaller ones, authority can make itself felt. The men get the front seat, animals are treated harsh compared to our standards. Life itself, what comes by the way of the authority of nature, is a bit harsh, and this is reflected somewhat into the behavior of the people. There are here and there injections of American culture and technology – often out of place and poorly integrated – that give some a projection of power or influence: loud speakers, various piece-meal technologies, the physical objectification of women, etc. The first impulse is to laugh, because it is obvious to an American how out of place these things are. Certain features are over- or under-emphasized to have a caricature effect. But really it is sad, because the tendency here is to give up on their own self-value and try to copy the US. What is received down here from the US normally is the commercial aspect of the country, and not much else. All the way back in 1919, the US Catholic Bishops were aware of America’s international commercial effect and the need for something different. In a pastoral letter, they wrote: “Let it not be said, to our reproach, that American commerce has outstripped American Catholic zeal…” (from Sharing Faith Across the Hemisphere, p. 81).

Well anyway, that’s my theory anyway on why some of the authority in the culture – including the classroom – can make itself felt, and stifle creativity. But it makes a very salient statement when, of all people, an American, who would have a “higher” position in the perspective of the people, who somewhere in their mind is higher up on the imagined totem pole, steps down and gives the children freedom to choose and create. The action itself does much to reveal to them who God is, how great a dignity and importance the people have, and how much they are loved – and to free them from the need to copy America so that they can have confidence in themselves and be the great and unique people that God has made them to be. They need more of it, I think, but as God wills… So, the kids here have a certain love for me, and I for them – I believe it’s the Holy Spirit …

Speaking of all that, on the bus back to Quevedo the other day, I had to sit through two American movies filled with f-bombs and violence. Now, the people have no idea what’s being said, but the bus has people of all ages including kids and elderly. The movies have all the technological bells and whistles and can be mesmerizing. They are formative if they are broadcast. My sense is that the people here are not capable of managing the commercialism and technology that can flow down from America, it’s simply too much for them. The ordinary American I think would be disappointed to think that the image of America is so entirely shaped by its commercial aspect, but we only have ourselves to blame. We do give them our commercialism, but we do not give them ourselves. Isn´t it true that we take advantage of their cheap labor and are pleasantly happy if they could ever buy our products, but we don´t actually want to endure what these brothers and sisters endure, we don´t want to live their life with them – we really don´t want to think about it. We willingly give one and withhold the other. And they know that. And it hurts them. The writer G.K. Chesterton said somewhere of the rich, that they will give their money, but they will not give themselves … now is the time to give!

What has an even greater influence than the commercialism is when a real, live American comes in the flesh. That’s one thing that the big money-makers will never do, and it speaks to the deepest part of the human heart. If we come in person with love, then all the commercialism loses its grip … That is the deep power of a fully human encounter.

Pope John Paul II writes in Redemptoris Missio:

“The contribution of the Church and of evangelization to the development of peoples concerns not only the struggle against material poverty and underdevelopment in the South of the world, but also concerns the North, which is prone to a moral and spiritual poverty caused by “overdevelopment.” A certain way of thinking, uninfluenced by a religious outlook and widespread in some parts of today’s world, is based on the idea that increasing wealth and the promotion of economic and technical growth is enough for people to develop on the human level. But a soulless development cannot suffice for human beings, and an excess of affluence is as harmful as excessive poverty. This is a “development model” which the North has constructed and is now spreading to the South, where a sense of religion as well as human values are in danger of being overwhelmed by a wave of consumerism. ‘Fight hunger by changing your lifestyle’ is a motto which has appeared in Church circles and which shows the people of the rich nations how to become brothers and sisters of the poor. We need to turn to a more austere way of life that will favor a new model of development that gives attention to ethical and religious values. To the poor, missionary activity brings light and an impulse toward true development, while a new evangelization ought to create among the wealthy a realization that the time has arrived for them to become true brothers and sisters of the poor through the conversion of all to an ‘integral development’ open to the Absolute.”

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Last week and weekend were the fiestas for the parish, Garcia Moreno. In our language, the actual town of Garcia Moreno is like the seat of the county with the same name. The town is up higher in the mountains, and I never get tired of the views, always wondering what it would be like to grow up with this around me. In a few of the pictures, you can see the little local high school. I went to a big high school in the middle of a big city with tall buildings. This is what shapes the people’s outlook on life here…

It reminds me of Assisi, in the sense that Assisi is right in the middle of a mountain with spectacular views of the countryside. Walking through the almost magical village, you get to see where he lived before he experienced his conversion. Of course, he left all that and went to live in the valley below (which is never pointed out by the tourism industry by the way), but the town still points to what shaped his outlook in his most formative years…

The simpler, more natural life here is easily sensible. At the elections for the queen (a little more later on that), I was sitting next to a friend and the MC was waxing for a while over the people of the region as buena gente, good people. I leaned over and asked my friend if she thought that was true. She said yes, with such a simple and confident obviousness that I got the impression that everyone here simply knew that for a fact. Later on, after everything was over, we were all walking back to a car, and this friend stopped and went backwards. I turned and looked, and she was helping someone who needed help walking through the dark… Everyone give a hand to everyone else it seems … Yes, the people here do have their problems, but there is a general sense of trust and friendliness here that you would never find in the city. Regardless of how I am treated as a gringo with all the baggage that can be brought into that dynamic – and I am treated very well – I can see that they are buena gente by the way they treat each other…

So the fiestas began a few days after I arrived (everywhere I go in Ecuador, there are fiestas it seems), and part of the program includes a parade and dance programs by the different communities. Each is a cultural dance for about 5 minutes. It fills the afternoon, and then in the evening there is the beauty pageant for the election of the queen. Here are some photos put together:

On the top and right are some of the dance teams. The one in orange is from El Chontal. They danced a form of the bomba, which is a form of African music and dance that Afro-Ecuatorianos in the northern part of the province enjoy. They won first prize in the dance program. The photos at the bottom left are of friends from El Chontal, the family of Romero, whose brothers are Jorge and Guillermo, our friends from the hike to the waterfall. Romero owns the hotel that I’ve stayed in and has been very good to me. That’s his daughter Paola who was elected queen this year. Chontal basically took all the prizes this year, and it was a great day sharing it. But even more, Romero must be a proud guy – his other daughter Maria was also the queen several years ago…

A number of things happen at the fiestas, and one is the toros, or the bulls. I am not a big fan of the whole bull thing, but it´s an accepted part of the culture here. This year for the first time they had professional bullfighters, or toreros. The toreros even got on horses at one point. But of course, when we tempt nature, there’s some price to pay. On the bottom left, you can see the horse falling to the ground. The torero and the horse got up OK, but a little banged up. On the bottom right, you can see how agile a raging bull can be – this one almost got out!

Near the end of my stay in El Chontal, a surprise showed up. The local priest comes around only on Sundays, and this Sunday he brought with him pretty much the whole seminary from Ibarra: all the seminarians, the rector, and one of the formators. Here’s a picture from the end of the Mass:

I had the chance to spend the later part of the evening with the seminarians sharing a coffee. They are assigned in pairs to a number of the communities in the parish. I had the chance to share some time with the two in El Chontal for a few evening before I left. We all hope to stay in touch going forward …

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One of the things that is very special to me is being invited to a meal with a family in their home. I’ve had that privilege a few more times in this visit, and it’s always special to me. A theme that has been coming up a lot recently has been the real desire of the people to learn English. The adults have expressed it often in this trip, and the children all seem to love to learn English. They don’t run away from it like other subjects.

I have ideas on teaching English in the community, in the context of faith and hospitality, in a Marian and Ignatian way, and learning more Spanish in the same way. The people I’ve asked about it have been enthusiastic about it – we’ll see. I’ve visited the local school, and they have no one to teach English and Math …

Well, I’ll try to post again some time before leaving to come home. Some thoughts from Pope John Paul II below … Hasta la proxima vez …

Jerome

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From Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II, 1990, #52-53

The process of the Church’s insertion into peoples’ cultures is a lengthy one. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation “means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.” The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church’s reflection and practice. But at the same time it is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith.

Through inculturation the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community. She transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within. Through inculturation the Church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is, and a more effective instrument of mission…

Inculturation is a slow journey which accompanies the whole of missionary life… Missionaries, who come from other churches and countries, must immerse themselves in the cultural milieu of those to whom they are sent, moving beyond their own cultural limitations. Hence, they must learn the language of the place in which they work, become familiar with the most important expressions of the local culture, and discover its values through direct experience. Only if they have this kind of awareness will they be able to bring to people the knowledge of the hidden mystery (cf. Rom 16:25-27; Eph 3:5) in a credible and fruitful way. It is not of course a matter of missionaries renouncing their own cultural identity, but of understanding, appreciating, fostering, and evangelizing the culture of the environment in which they are working, and therefore of equipping themselves to communicate effectively with it, adopting a manner of living which is a sign of gospel witness and of solidarity with the people.

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