Monday, December 19, 2011

Hasta Luego Albuquerque & Feliz Navidad!

My time in Albuquerque has flown by. It definitely does not feel like it’s been six weeks. Although there have been some struggles, homesickness and growing moments, I’ve had a truly amazing time here and have met some wonderful new friends. But, I am definitely excited to be going home for Christmas for two weeks and to ring in the New Year with my family. I think this is the most excited I have ever been to go back to Missouri.

Since I’ve been slacking on the blog posts this month, I’ll try to give a quick update of what’s been going on.

An “Emergency” at the VOICA House
Sr. Angela saved a bird. Although I’m sure some people won’t find this story interesting, I thought it was absolutely hilarious, and it shows you how amazingly kind this woman is. I was downstairs studying Spanish when I heard Sr. Angela yell down to me, “Hiliary come upstairs. We have an emergency!”After telling her that yes, I do like animals but I have no idea what to do to save this bird, Sr. Angela took action. She got a towel to keep it warm, water for it to drink, we watched over it from the window and she even  suggested that I go outside to keep it company because it was lonely. She also asked what I thought a veterinarian would do. So, I thought about my father and the other veterinarians that I have met. My answer, " absolutely nothing. " Luckly, after about 10 minutes of shock the bird was off and ready to go. Thank goodness, because I definitely wasn't ready to put together a funeral.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
On December 12, Catholics celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when Mary appeared to Saint Juan Diego near present day Mexico City, Mexico in 1531. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas and highly revered and celebrated in Mexico. Here’s a very short version of the story if you’re not familiar with it. According to the Archdiocese of Mexico, more than 8 million people make the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe each year during the months leading up to the feast day and on the feast day itself. Because there is an incredibly large Hispanic population in the Southwest, there is a huge celebration here in New Mexico. Below are some images of the native dancers at the Mass at San Jose on the Sunday before the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe.

The dancers performing outside the church before Mass.
The mini dancer!

Inside the church performing at the end of Mass.

Sr. Marisa: Hero of the Week (Héroe de la Semana)
Each week the local Univision television station (Spanish) in Albuquerque chooses a Hero of the Week. Sister Marisa (or Hermana Marisa in Spanish) was nominated by the Catechism director at San José and was featured as last week’s Hero of the Week. She truly deserves it! And, I made the background footage!

Las Posadas
Las Posadas is a nine day celebration commemorating Mary and Joseph’s search to find a room in Bethlehem. Here in New Mexico and in other large Hispanic communities, Mexico, parts of Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador it is tradition to hold Posadas beginning December 16 and ending December 24. Typically, different families in a neighborhood will take turns scheduling a night for the Posada to be held at their home, starting on the 16th of December and finishing on the 24th. Every home has a nativity scene, and the family hosting the Posada acts as the innkeepers. The neighborhood children and adults go from house to house, holding candles and singing a traditional song about Mary and Joseph searching for lodging. At one house after the other, they are turned away (also in song), until the weary travelers reach the designated site for the party, where Mary and Joseph are finally recognized and allowed to enter. In our young adult group at San José we reenacted the Posadas on Wednesday and ended with a piñata and fiesta full of delicious foods and new candy!

My candle for the Posadas.

During our Posadas for the Young Adult Group at San Jose.
The piñata. It was definitely a lot more difficult than I remember for birthday parties as a child. There were guys on the roof holding the piñata and moving it around while people tried to hit it.

Inside my goody bag.

Tamarind flavored candy. I wouldn't say it  compares to Starburst or M&M's, but it was pretty good!

Christmas Plays
Nearly every night this week there was a some sort of Christmas play and/or party. I'm definitely not complaining about it. I had a blast. Below are some pictures from the plays at San José along with a few from the Christmas pageant for Saint Mary’s, the school where Sister Kay works.

The cast of the play put on by the older members of the youth group at San Jose.
Play put on by the Catechism teachers at San Jose. I absolutely loved the clouds!
Sr. Marisa talking to the Catechism students at San Jose.
The adorable cakes someone in our Kindergarten class brought in for the Christmas party.
Christina with our kindergarten students.
The pageant at St. Mary's School.
Christmas Pageant at St. Mary's School.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Breakfast with Santa

Mary's back in town for the weekend. Thank goodness! I needed to have some "20 somethings" conversations. Being around people my own age is definitely one of the things I miss the most about formation, and I'm guessing it's also one of the reasons that VOICA likes to send at least two volunteers into the mission. Luckily, Caitlin will be here in one month!

Mary, Sr. Angela and me posing in the backyard with the first snow of winter.
This morning we went to "Breakfast with Santa," a fundraiser for Casa Angelica. It was a wonderful event filled with delicious food, friendly people and fun activities for the "kids." Too bad I didn't actually take a picture of Santa. That probably would have been a nice touch.

Kids making Christmas cards. The boys was so cute--it was this long note to Jesus about how he hoped he had a great birthday.
Orbit, the Isotopes (minor league baseball team in Albuquerque) mascot.
Sr. Angela and Sr. Kay enjoying breakfast.
Mary making her card.

Saint Francis Xavier

Today, the Catholic Church honors St. Francis Xavier. He along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux are patron saints of missionaries! It sounds weird to call myself that, a missionary, but when you get down to it I guess that's what I really am. Here's a link to an article if you want to learn more about St. Francis Xavier and his life.

Monday, November 28, 2011


On Monday, Matt (my boyfriend) stopped to see me on his drive back to Missouri to spend Thanksgiving with his family, and part of me definitely wanted to stow away in his car. But, even though I missed my family, Thanksgiving in Albuquerque was still great! 

Because of the holiday, there weren’t any catechism classes at San Jose last week, but on Wednesday we celebrated Padre Gabriel’s (San Jose Parish’s priest) birthday. It was a great feast and wonderful live music. I tried some new foods and definitely realized my tongue is not quite up to the hotness of New Mexican food, where red or green chiles are a way of life

Father Gabriel and the cake.

Live music around the fire. It was freezing!

To kick off Thanksgiving Day, I made the first batch of fudge for the holiday season in keeping with the Smith tradition. It was a huge hit with the sisters even though they were shocked by how much sugar it contains. In the morning, we went to Thanksgiving Mass, and then Sr. Angela and I joined the sisters in the other house for a delicious breakfast. After we ate, the sisters had a special commitment/welcoming prayer for me. I made a personal commitment prayer and they all said a prayer for me for my formation and mission journey. It definitely made me feel great and thankful to have them supporting me. After a few hour break filled with Spanish vocabulary, we all went to the Provincial house for Thanksgiving dinner. The meal was delicious, but I almost had a heart attack when I didn’t see any bread or rolls. I thought it was going to be my Thanksgiving nightmare come true! Thankfully after about five minutes they brought some out.

Breakfast with the sisters.
The Chapel decorations at Cristo Rey Spirituality Center.

On Friday, we went to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge since the sisters had the day off. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque, but well worth it. 

The Snow Geese.
Sr. Angela & me.Yes, I look like a giant compared to her.

On Saturday and Sunday, Matt stopped in Albuquerque again. After getting to watch me sing in Spanish at afternoon Mass at San Jose, I took him to Old Town Albuquerque and suckered us into an overpriced tour that we question the accuracy of. But, since the pictures turned out great, I’m writing it off as a success!
On our tour!
In Old Town Albuquerque. I think this used to be a brothel.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel in Old Town Albuquerque.
Inside the chapel.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kindred Spirits

Last weekend was just what I needed. Mary, a past VOICA volunteer that served in Indonesia, came to visit me and packed my weekend with tips, new ideas, travel talk, reality checks and Albuquerque knowledge. And, I got to feel a little bit more my age when we went downtown to play pool and get a few drinks with her brother and his girlfriend who live in Albuquerque and who, like Mary and me, love to travel!

From the minute she walked through the door, Mary boosted my level of excitement by like a hundred. She told me stories about what her training was like in Rome, which was nice to hear since I’m here by myself and sometimes don’t have a clear idea of what I can be doing.  More importantly, she shared what it was like serving in Indonesia. She lived in a small village on the Indonesian part (west) of the Island of Timor teaching English to people of all ages and helping out in a health clinic for almost one year. Although a very different culture than Paraguay, it was great to learn about what she did, the challenges she faced and what it was like living in a hot, humid climate. Her stories about her mission are the best preparation I’ve received so far! Hearing about how she perfected taking showers down to only using two scoops of cold water and actually getting clean was just the reality check I needed. She told me about the wonderful friends she made, the beautiful things she saw, the inspiration and confusion she got from a different way of life, the things she witnessed and heard stories about that made her realize how much we take our freedoms, safety and health care for granted, the struggles she had with learning a new language and not being fluent when thrown into a world where English isn’t common, the foods she ate, how she dealt with missing friends and family back home, the things she wished she would have brought,  and that it’s OK to want to look somewhat presentable and not frumpy all the time.

In addition to sharing about her experience, Mary really took it upon herself to help me with my mission and will be back multiple times before I leave. She brought me a Spanish book and is giving me homework, helped me get books about South America and Paraguay and even helped me go through my clothes and downsize yet again.

The Bad News of Talking with Mary: I’m pretty sure I will get sick. Mary got Dengue Fever and the other volunteer living with her got malaria, and from what she told me about other VOICA volunteers, sickness and disease seem to be a common experience. Yikes! According to the CDC, malaria isn’t in the area of Paraguay I’m serving in, but none of the symptoms associated with any of the diseases volunteers have experienced sound good, so I’m definitely splurging on the best mosquito repellant I can get before leaving!

Some pictures from our weekend...

Disbursing of Thanksgiving meals at Annunciation Parish (the church we go to). The parish collected supplies and money for meals to feed 200 families and more than 1,000 mouths. 

One of the 3 U-Haul trucks filled with Thanksgiving dinner supplies. Most of the meals didn't even go to members of Annunciation parish. 

Pick up site for families from St. Vincent de Paul parish.
San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town Albuquerque.

San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town Albuquerque.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

5 Reasons Why This Week is Great!

1. Caitlin officially decided to volunteer in Paraguay with me! She’ll be coming to Albuquerque sometime in January for formation, and we’ll leave for Paraguay in the middle of February. She can only stay until May, so please pray that someone else will want to replace her!

2. I can see progress in my Spanish! After feeling frustrated with not being able to understand or speak Spanish, I could actually see improvement in my comprehension last night at the youth group and young adult sessions at San Jose. Gracias, Señor! Plus, I spoke to the kindergarteners in Spanish on Monday and they understood. Granted, while trying to teach me some of the body parts they told me I had a big nose like a witch, but they’re kindergartners so it was cute.

3. I stayed out past 10 p.m.! Last night, Christina and the group she’s going on a service trip with to the Dominican Republic this summer cleaned The Pit (University of New Mexico’s basketball arena) to raise money for their trip, so I tagged along to help. I finally have people I can talk to about things 20 somethings talk about. Gradually I’m building a social life.

4. I have weekend plans! Mary, a past VOICA volunteer that served in Indonesia, is coming to spend the weekend with me. Sr. Angela is out of town at a conference (in Kansas City of all places), so Mary is coming to Albuquerque to show me around and tell me about her mission experience.

5. My ticket home for Christmas is booked! I’ll be back in Missouri for two weeks beginning December 19.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Week In

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here one week as of today. It feels like it’s been much longer, and I feel more comfortable living in Albuquerque and with the sisters than I would have ever thought possible ­­­­­­after knowing them for just seven days. Heck, I feel more comfortable with the sisters than I did after living with my freshman year college roommate for a month or even my housemates in Ireland after a semester. The sisters’ openness and desire to get to know me has really helped me to feel a part of the community. Plus, Sr. Angela makes a mean pasta, loves desserts, actually encourages me to eat ice cream and thinks I’m a good driver! 

Today I attended a Quinceañera retreat at the Spirituality Center. In the Hispanic culture a girl’s 15th birthday marks her transition from childhood to womanhood. The retreat was to help the girls recognize the spiritual importance of the milestone rather than just the party. Though a good experience, it was also a challenge. Like at San Jose, the retreat was done in almost all Spanish, and Sr. Marilu speaks fast! After greetings and registration, (I asked girls their names in Spanish!) we did some icebreaker type activities. One had all the girls sitting in chairs in a circle with me in the middle. I started the game by asking someone in the circle a question, and then they said something about clothing or how people looked (for example, wearing a red shirt). Then, everyone that fit that description had to get up and switch seats. The person left standing asked the question again to another person. Since I’ve gone over one lesson on Rosetta Stone about clothing and another on colors, I could, for the most part, understand which characteristics were said. I couldn’t however ask the initial question or understand what people were asking me. So frustrating! Thank goodness Sr. Marilu sent me to get some craft supplies after the game. I definitely needed that time to say a little help me Jesus prayer and to ask for patience. I know being immersed in the language is the best way to learn it, but it’s kind of annoying being lost all of time. If you can, say a prayer for my patience and memory! :)

View of our house.

Our backyard

Thursday, November 10, 2011

First Night at San Jose Parish

I am so thankful for last night and that I get to keep going to San Jose Parish until February. I’ll be going to four times a week, three for youth and young adult activities and one for choir.  I met great people, and I’m more motivated than ever to learn Spanish!

From 6 to 8:30 each Wednesday night there is youth group and catechism for junior high/high schoolers. Their participation is amazing, and a lot of it is because of Sr. Marisa. Three years ago before she came, it was only a very small group that barely filled a room. Now, the group fills the entire chapel that is probably at least 1.5 times the size of St. Mary’s.

Then, from 8:30 to 10:30 there is a meeting for young adults. As a first timer, I had to introduce myself to the group. I am the only person that doesn’t speak Spanish, and it was kind of difficult to follow along, but luckily people acted as translators for a lot of it. Regardless of if I could understand everything, it was great to be around people my age again, and nice to talk to other people that are wanting to strengthen their faith.

When I first arrived, Sr. Marisa introduced me to Christina. She’s a sophomore in college, already knows that she wants to be a missionary and is planning on going to medical school. Her family is from Mexico, and she moved to Albuquerque when she was about three. She is my new inspiration and tutor. She has so much passion towards missionary work and is involved in nearly everything at the Parish. I’ll be her shadow until February and am so excited to learn from her. On Wednesday nights she works with the youth group and is helping them practice a play that they’ll perform in December. One of her other duties is a kindergarten teacher for catechism, so she has already given me songs that I can use in Paraguay. Her help and friendship is a huge gift! 

Gracias Señor

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Settling into Life with the Sisters

Sr. Angela doesn’t like garlic or tomatoes, which knocks out about half of the things of what I know how to cook and like. I thought she was supposed to be Italian! When we went grocery shopping, I was a little scared. We got so many types of meats and vegetables that I know I will eventually have to eat. I don’t think Sr. Angela completely understands the extent of my pickiness, but luckily she is easing me into new foods. So far I’ve tried cooked mushrooms, cooked carrots and cooked zucchini. I also had pasta with a ton of meat. Apparently the Italians aren’t too big on sauce either, but it was actually extremely delicious! Today, I tackle stew.

When I first moved in, I saw a Netflix envelope and was surprised that the sisters had an account. I’m not sure why, but I guess I had in my mind that religious people didn’t have fun or time for movies. And on the Canossians' website it talked about living simply. Last night we watched Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story. It was definitely inspiring to learn how her views and actions completely changed after finding the Church, and I couldn’t believe how much she and her family gave up to help the poor.

Living with the Sisters has been interesting. Although all of them are at least in their 60’s, they’re all very young at heart. I never feel awkward, but this lifestyle is a lot different than what I was used to. I like a lot about it, and I think that it’s helping me become a better person, but I feel like I’m maybe not letting enough of my true self be expressed yet. I feel like I have to be SO good. On the first day I came here I saw the Sisters were watching TV. It was a program on the Catholic channel of a choir in England. In my "previous life," while flipping through the channels I always wondered who actually watches things like that and enjoys them. This week, I found my answer. It’s not to say that is all they watch, because as I mentioned before, Sr. Ann said she likes Modern Family, and we’ve watched the news and Jeopardy, but it’s just a mix of two I guess. I think the longer I’m here and the more I get to know the sisters, (I need to remember that it has only been 3.5 days) the more the true Hiliary will come out.

We’ve finally got my daily schedule just about locked down. I’m going to start volunteering today at the San Jose Parish in Albuquerque with Sr. Marisa who is from Mexico. San Jose is a predominantly Hispanic parish, and Sr. Marisa has developed programs for teens and young adults and also teaches CCD classes. I can’t wait to actually do something, even though today will probably be a lot of watching. It will be great to meet some more young people and since all of them are bilingual, it will definitely help me with my Spanish!

I’m also going to try joining the choir at San Jose. Not because I’m a good singer, but a lot of the sisters think it will help me improve my Spanish. Wish me luck!

Here’s what my Monday schedule looks like. Other days of the week I volunteer more at San Jose or have teaching technique lessons or have more free time, but on the weekends I have Saturday afternoons and Sundays free.

8:30: Mass
9:30-10: Breakfast
10-10:30: Free time
10:30-11:30: Mission Meeting (learning about the history of the Canossians, St. Magdalene, St. Bakhita, VOICA, volunteering, spirituality and Paraguay.
11:30-1:30: Cooking, cleaning & lunch
1:30-3: Free time
3-4: Language lessons with Rosetta Stone
4-5:30: Free time & dinner
6-8: Volunteering at San Jose
8:30-10:30 Free time