In December, the Congregation withdrew from its mission in Venezuela after 32 years of working with and living amongst the people of Catia la Mar. Here Sr Marsha Moon recounts her final visit...
In early November, I made my final visit to our sisters and our people in La Roraima in Catia la Mar, Venezuela. It was, in many ways, a sad journey back, yet so full of blessings… It was a good visit and very full, as always. I am always struck by the affection of the people of La Roraima for our sisters, and it was so very evident at the activities I was privileged to attend. The closing Mass at la Capilla del Valle was on Wednesday evening. Bishop Jesús Tomás Zárraga (Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of La Guaira) said the Mass and several priests came to concelebrate. There was standing room only and the overflow spilled outside – thank God the rain held off! Bishop Jesús opened his homily with the words: “We celebrate the Eucharist, which is the greatest act of thanksgiving, appreciating the testimony of the Sisters of Charity during twenty years in La Paez and over thirty years in La Roraima, La Soublette. Today, you, my dear Sisters, are passing the torch of the love of Christ to the Missionaries of Perpetual Succour, whom we welcome to the diocese and to this beloved parish community." Welcoming the four Missionaries of Perpetual Succour who came for the Mass and celebration, he said, ”This diocese, the priests and deacons, religious, the Parish of Señora del Carmen and the community of La Roraima with all the families and sectors open our hearts to receive Christ in you.” Towards the end of his homily he said, “My dear Sisters of Charity, this diocese will continue to hold you in our hearts and will remember you always in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist... You, with your silence, your look, your teaching, your presence with the poorest, have shown us the sure path to reach heaven: The love of Christ urges all of us.”
The celebration was very Venezuelan and every ministry group was represented in some way. Several people from La Roraima helped prepare the liturgy and the celebration afterwards. One young man, Alexis, prepared a video of the history of the Sisters of Charity in Catia la Mar. Both during the Mass and afterwards during the celebration in the salon above the convent, people were weeping – young and old, men and women all. The warmth and affection were palpable. All were full of praise for the sisters – all the Sisters of Charity-- who, over the years, gave themselves to the people of this barrio, and they were very grateful. Even though we tried to tell them, I don’t think they realize what a gift they have been to us! I can’t tell you how many people said to me, “Don’t ever forget us!” I promised to hold them in my heart – always. I’m not sure how Bernadette and Teresa held it together, but they did. Must have been all the prayers! There was chicken and rice for everybody, which amazed people, but given the time of day, travel, and the occasion, as Bernadette said, “We couldn’t but!” It was a long evening, incredibly hot, yet people were in no rush to leave... All in all, it was a wonderful celebration with happy and sad woven together to make a tapestry of love.
On Sunday, there is a Children’s Mass at La Soublette, which Teresa attends. This week was extra special, because this Sunday was a day to honor families. Bernadette and I, who attended Mass in La Capilla earlier that day were asked to attend, too, so we suspected something was up! La Soublette Church has been gone for some time, and Mass is held in a large room – very hot and crowded. They’ve roofed the patio to hold the overflow, which is where Bernadette and I sat (partly to have some air in the heat!). At the end of Mass, Padre Omar called up all the catechists, who had organized everything. When they were all up around the altar, he called Teresa, Bernadette, and me to also come up. Since I was trying to take photos, I was “excused”! Bernadette and Teresa were placed standing next to a blue cloth on the wall with two ties coming down, and at the count of three, unveiled a plaque. The plaque held a beautiful message of appreciation to the Sisters of Charity. It is to be hung in the new church, whose frame can be seen outside. It will be there for all to see, Padre Omar explained, so that no one will ever forget all that the Sisters of Charity did to make La Soublette what it is today. The response from the people was thunderous. The entire experience was so touching. Before he left the Diocese of La Guaira, Bishop José de la Trinidad Valera said, “If it weren’t for the Sisters of Charity, there would be no La Soublette!”, as did Padre Mario, Diocesan Vicar. Sadly, due to surgery that same week, Padre Mario could not attend, but he phoned several times in the time coming up to the celebration. One of the things he said was, “When the Sisters of Charity leave, the diocese will have lost a treasure!” Padre Mario worked with us in La Soublette for over twenty-five years. He is a very hard worker with a great love of the Venezuelan people, and has been and is one of our greatest supporters – Padre Mario holds a special place in our hearts.
It was a trip I had dreaded, because I, too, have grown to love our people in La Roraima in Catia la Mar, and knew of their heartbreak when they heard we would be leaving. Hard though it was, it turned out to be a wonderful time, seeing their love and knowing that the ministry would continue, both through the dedicated people with whom we have been working and with the help of Srs. Maria and Naomi, who will be coming to our house in La Roraima the end of this month – don’t know how it happened, but they are coming months earlier than we were originally told, which is a real gift! The Missionaries of Perpetual Succour seem delighted to be coming and their ability to be with the people was evident – their charism is really close to our own and they seemed excited about the future. They had three days of orientation with Bernadette and Teresa the second week of November – both to the place and to the ministries, which will be a big help. In the course of Wednesday’s celebration, the bishop had said at one point that now it was time to pass the torch of love from the Sisters of Charity to the Missionaries of Perpetual Succour, whose task it will be to keep it burning brightly.
Thank God we can leave knowing the mission is in good hands – the many leaders trained over the years and the Missionaries of Perpetual Succour. The days ahead before their final departure will be very full for Teresa and Bernadette – it will be an incredibly busy and emotionally draining time for them, but I suspect it will also be a time of abundant grace and gratitude, as well.