Sunday, March 16, 2014

More than just a communal adventure

First of all, I apologize that this blog became long… 
However, I feel that the gift we received during Spring break deserves at least this much.

I feel that this story must be told and retold, as this story is based on a natural disaster that has been calling forth efforts to unite diverse people to share God’s love by serving those in need.

Before our New Orleans experience, I asked novices about what makes the novitiate unique that there is no such app for that. I heard many responses, but what I would like to share with you is the very fact that
  • While it is a communal adventure, and we learn to live in community with each other, the discernment is very unique and personal.
  • It is very real.
  • We never know until we live it.
  • We grow into a deeper relationship with God.
  • It’s “Cold and broken Hallelujah” - it's a challenge and from that challenge comes all the gifts. They are truly gifts.
  • We learn how to live for others.
I would like to share about this latter one.

Learning to live for others is lived daily by being present to one another in community, by praying for the needs of the world, for the needs of our sisters, and for the intentions of those who ask us to pray, etc.

Another way is choosing ministries (service experiences) based on the needs of others. Each week for a few hours, we each volunteer to help the poor or marginalized by needs, by health, or by being a foreign student.  

During spring break, as a community, we decided that we would go to New Orleans, where Katrina hit in 2005, and that we would volunteer helping rebuilding New Orleans through the St. Bernard Project,  here is a short YouTube video (click on link.)
While it was a service, I feel that we received just as much or actually, even more.

St. Bernard Project connected us with Ms. Vera, a survivor of Katrina (center of the photo in blue sweater,) the owner of the house that we were working on. St. Bernard Project gave us the tools, materials, and the lesson on each task, along with the story of Ms. Vera.

Ms. Vera lost a grandson before Katrina hit (he was at a birthday party and was found drowned in the pool.) When Katrina hit, she evacuated to Mississippi. Her husband (stayed to look after the pets) was promised by a passing-by-boat that he would be picked up, but that remained a promise, and he ended up wading through the floodwaters, until he reached the highway and her sister-in-law was able to pick him up. When they returned to Louisiana, Ms. Vera’s husband was working on their house, but one day, his heart’s pace was slow and the next day he passed away. Four years later, Ms. Vera lost one of her sons in an auto accident, now she is raising her son’s son, Robby. The week before we arrived to help her, she lost another grandson who died from leukemia.

                               In the middle of the photo: Ms. Vera and her grandson, Robby.

There we were, ready to help her. 
But here it is what really happened, why I feel we received so much more...

Before we were able to help (and during our stay), we received a wonderful welcoming, care and hospitality from Dominican Sisters of Peace, feeding us, touring us around the city, and making our stay feel like home. They also prayed for Vera, her family, and for us to have the strength.

Our week seemed to get viral on our congregations’ digital news, and so, our sisters, too, prayed for the family, as well as we received their prayers.

When we arrived to St.Bernard Project, there were other volunteers.
One of the group of college students played a game, I only asked what was the name of the game, but their response was not only the name, but also welcomed us to play with them, and so we did. I felt being included, I felt a unity of the same spirit: being there for others.

When we arrived to the house where we helped out, Delcy and Amy (part of St. Bernard Project staff) were very welcoming, appreciative and were  very patient teaching us how to mud, sand, and paint. During breaks, we had very rich conversations with Amy. We felt touched by those stories and also left us changed. (Amy is on the far left on the photo.)

From left to right:
Amy, novices Bea and Christina, Ms. Vera, novices Katy and Kathy.

First day of our volunteering experience, we ran out of drinking water, and the house had no drinking water. It was a hot a humid day. I went over to a neighbor, and asked her to refill our water bottles. She asked me to let her give us new bottles of water that have been refrigerated. I first refused, as we had our bottles, but she really wished give us the cold ones, saying: “you are helping my friend and this is the least I can do for you.” So, I accepted. I talked with her mom a bit while she was getting the bottles for us. I again, was touched by their story and their compassion for Ms. Vera.

As the day went by, Ms. Vera came by and we got to meet her. She gave us a tour on how her house used to look like before Katrina, and how the new rooms would be used. As the conversation went by, she shared her story, with tears of sorrow and pain. But then, her Kindergartener grandson ran by, and that brought her back to the present, and she cheerfully showed us which room would be her grandson’s.

The four days we volunteered there, the more we got to know Ms. Vera. She is a wonderful, courageous and pleasant woman. Her smile itself is very life-giving, and she is so vibrant. She has been truly a blessing for us, and we also learned how to stay open, loving and hopeful in times of sorrow and pain.

After we left, the following day, we had a theological reflection with Sr. Dorothy Trosclair, OP, who helped us integrate what we experienced this week, and where and how God has been present in all these. It was very insightful and deep reflection and we really appreciated this experience.

St. Bernard Project is one of the many organizations that help rebuild New Orleans, rebuilding homes, but most of all, rebuilding hope and lives.
The story is not just a story anymore.

In 2005, I heard about Katrina.
I followed it as it was on the news.
Each year, I went there and saw the changes as the city was coming back to life.
I was a tourist.

Resonance with the novitiate:

  • I didn’t really know until I had a taste of it. I feel changed.
  • It was a communal adventure, were we as individuals came together for the same reason
  • It has also been unique and personal: I feel blessed and changed
  • It is real.
  • Through the prayers we shared and received and theological reflection, I feel in deeper relationship with God and feel ever more passionate about sharing that God is there even in the midst of deep loss and sorrow.
  • It’s “Cold and broken Hallelujah” - it's a challenge (sorrow) and from that challenge comes all the gifts (love, compassion and hope.) They are truly gifts.
Lent is a time of conversion, we fast, we pray and we do good works as we prepare to renew our baptismal commitment at Easter, recommitting ourselves to be Jesus' disciple. I feel that during this Lent, this 'communal adventure' was more than it sounds. It was really helpful to me to discover God's voice in our heart through others's stories and theological reflection, and gained encouragement to continue being God's disciple and doing God's desire.

Thank you for reading our blog. You are invited to post a comment as long as it is relevant to the blog.


  1. Bea, Thank you for sharing your experience and reflections on your time at St. Bernard's Parish. Your service will live on and ripple out to touch others. I (and I suppose most of us) forget there are people still recovering from Katrina - 9 years later! How is this possible? I am moved and grateful to all those people who continue to help these courageous people recover. Gratefully, June, OP

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to share as much as you did. I suspect the words are arrows pointing to an experience that can never fully be described. I've just finished leading a weekend retreat for women survivors of sexual abuse. Leonard Cohen's words, a "cold and broken Hallelujah" echo in my soul. My experience is that when our hearts are broken they can be broken open to courage, beauty, love, compassion. beyond words. Your story gives me hope to know that our Dominican Novices are growing ever more deeply in God's love and participating in the healing grace of Christ.

  3. Bea, Thanks so much for your ministry in St. Bernard and for sharing your experience and reflections!! Having shared life with the people of lower St. Bernard in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy destroyed many of their homes and shrimping boats and experienced their faith and gratitude (because , though they had lost everything material, no lives had been lost) I learned so much about faith. Over the 15 or more years I've spent with them since then, I've gained so much more then I could ever have given Then, after Katrina, it took me months before I could venture to the end of the roads and see the empty spaces where they had built their new homes.
    It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. So thanks again!!