In January, two of our community members, Fiona Liava’a and Antonia Swann ventured over to Guatemala for the International Marist Youth Gathering, Weaving Life. In exploring this theme of the gathering, 300 participants and volunteers delved in to a range of activities, workshops and experiences that delved in to the richness of ‘community’, ‘interiority’, solidarity’ and ‘mission’ as a way of growth and strengthening bonds of unity and personal commitment to the Marist identity.
“One of the most impactful things that I encountered at this conference in Guatemala in January was being with my community. We were Group 12 – Team Blue, and we were made up of 1 Australian Marist brother, 1 Australian Marist Sister who had lived in Brazil for the last 20 years, her name is Sr Grace. We had 1 Italian, 3 Mexicans, 1 Peruvian, 1 Brazilian, 1 Guatemalan, 1 US American and me, from New Zealand and I am of Tongan ethnicity. What I realised with the diversity of our group was that it was very enriching. With our discussions we each brought unique perspectives and experiences to share. It did bring a lot of challenges, for example the language barrier – as not all of us could speak English or Spanish, there was always one person in the group who didn’t know what the other person was saying so everything was translated twice; and when people are translating sometimes nuances and meanings are left out of those translations. However we were able to as a group help each other as a group move forward.
My biggest takeaway from this, and also interacting with other people at the gathering was that we as humans – we speak a universal language. It’s beyond mere words. The language is connection. We are able to understand each others feelings, each other’s personalities and emotions. And even if we think we’re so different, we can focus on our similarities and find unity in that and we can continue to push each other forward.
Another very impactful event that I encountered was the day that we explored ‘Solidarity’. My group visited Hogar Marina Guirola Leal, an orphanage caring for young children and youth with disabilities. We spent the day playing with these vibrant, energetic and beautiful children and my heart was touched by them. At first I was nervous before going in to the orphanage because I had never done this before. When the sisters who look after the children were explaining some of the backgrounds these children come from, I had to hold back my tears because their suffering was very sad and my heart was heavy. My friend, Eddy, from the USA told me, “just be a kid and play with them”, and he was right. Some of the children couldn’t speak, nearly all of them were confined to wheelchairs, yet we all had so much fun (and exercise) running around with these energetic and also hilarious children; racing around the track, dancing to reggaeton music, and talking. I found that we spoke the universal language of fun with laughter, smiles, singing and dancing. They understood me and I understood them; and they ended up giving me more than I could ever give back to them. I will never forget their beautiful faces and the love in my heart that day. It felt bittersweet to leave them knowing that we couldn’t do much more for them but their joy and laughter, despite their challenges in life, filled my soul.”
“This experience wove together young people from all over the world with a Marist connection. Across the six-day gathering we were invited to deepen our connection to the Marist identity through lenses of community, interiority, solidarity and mission – each led by the four Superior Generals of the Marist family. Each day took us further in to a journey of what it meant to weave all aspects of our lives in to one and thus to make a stronger connection with ourselves, our companions, our faith and our God.
A particular highlight for me was being able to represent Oceania alongside the representatives from Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna. Each region was given the opportunity to showcase the Marist presence in their part of the world and to be able to do this through the beauty of song, dance, haka and culture was an honour and true testament to the villages we all come from. We were able to share this experience with Superior General of the Marist Fathers (who is also a Kiwi!), John Larsen, who played the role of Bishop Pompallier, alongside sisters and brothers from across the Pacific who acted as Marist missionaries from France. Our fellow participants thoroughly enjoyed getting a taste of Oceania, especially given the little knowledge they have of our home.
Upon leaving the gathering, as well as finding an appreciation for Central American culture, food and language and beautiful friendships, I took with me a renewed sense of identity and belonging to the global Marist family – a woven community of people who are committed to the compassion, challenge and mission of the Church.”
(Photo: Weaving Life – Guatemala 2019)