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18 June

St. Elizabeth of Schoenau
1900: the first Brothers leave for Bom Principio, Brazil

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Marist Bulletin - Number 118


To be good news for the aymara communities

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Brother Lluís Serra
Three Marist Brothers: Enrique Martínez, 55 years, Abel Pérez, 56 years, and Avelino Jiménez, 60 years, together with volunteer Mari Luz Quiroga, 29 years, live amongst indigenous Aymara people and form a community in Tiquina (Bolivia). They are on the shores of Lake Titicaca at an altitude of 4000 meters. During May I was able to share with them an intensive weekend. At the Saturday night supper, I proposed to them a series of questions to which their responses are published below. I found it a very special place—somehow bewitched. I was able to grasp a gospel without footnotes or embellishments.

What is the meaning of your presence in Tiquina? What is your mission here?
Jilatanaka Abel and Enrique reply:
The Tiquina community is a response to the third call of the Latin American Provincials and District Superiors at their meeting in Campinas (Brazil), in September 1995 (VIII CLAP). It is intended as a “gift of the Spirit” for our continent, and it continues the impulse of the meetings at Chosica, Cali, Guadalajara and XIXth General Chapter.
Campinas (§3), calls for: “the creation, in each region, of at least one interprovincial community of Brothers which will open new paths of Marist life in fidelity to the XIXth General Chapter.”
Subsequently, the same Brothers meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 1997, sent an Update/Consultation to Southern Cone Provinces and Districts in which they sought Brothers and volunteers, and requested opinions on placement, pastoral role, and lay participation to give flesh to this response. In the same Update it was made very clear that: “... what we require, at base, is to find Brothers who are ready to make real what we desire for every Marist community, namely: ‘to promote... communities which are more austere, simple and welcoming; communities which will be real schools of Marist spirituality and a prophetic sign of God’s tenderness in the midst of a culture marked by individualism and a system which excludes the poor’.”
Little by little, through searching, visits and discernment, there arose this Marist community inserted into the world of the Aymara, and formed by Brothers and lay folk.
Our mission is to incarnate the spirituality and charism inherited from Marcellin Champagnat in the Bolivian high plateau, in the hope of opening new paths of Marist life in fidelity to the XIXth General Chapter. We feel we are participants in the mission of Jesus to be “Good News” for the Aymara communities, in communion with our local Church. We live our mission in the key of Marist presence, aware that our personal and community witness gives credibility to our action. Our apostolic priorities focus upon religious and educational activities with children and young people (religious education at school, computational training in accountancy centres, sacramental catechesis for Eucharist and Confirmation, meetings with young people, systematic tutorial assistance on Mondays and Thursdays, tutorials or other types of meeting in our house, a Wednesday and Sunday paraliturgy when the priest is not present—the congregation consisting for the most part of children and young people, etc.)
We also take care of the formation of catechists and community animators; we are present, too, in these communities for their meetings, and religious, social, and cultural celebrations. We try to remain alert to possible calls to help the least favoured children and young people, without neglecting our presence and care, our listening and closeness to all.

Are there elements for dialogue between the Aymara culture and the Gospel?
Avelino replies:
The Aymara culture is mainly situated around Lake Titicaca, some 4,000 metres above sea level. Its inhabitants are grouped into strongly bonded communities.
The Aymara lives his religiosity with a great sense of community, and with a strong link to life.
His working of the earth and the raising of animals are characterized by “care for life” and at the same time by the cult of the “Pachamama”—Mother Earth—who provides the means of subsistence.
For the Aymara, the harmony between man, nature, and God is important, and indeed furnishes the base of his spirituality.
All his agricultural and cattle-raising activities are marked by rites and religious festivals meant to ensure the protection of Mother Earth, and to thank her for her benefits. When they drink, they always pour a little onto the ground, so that Mother Earth can participate in what she has given them.
Their relationship with the divinity in each occurrence of life, and their great community sense, allow one to claim that they are already pre-evangelised; they are thus ready to receive the message of salvation which Jesus Christ brings us: God is the God of Life, he lives in a community of love, and takes care of all things so that their may reach their fullness. God is the vinedresser who tends the vine, who causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the fields. He never lets the birds lack for food, or the flowers for beauty; and in the same way he cares for all of us. He has sent his Son so that we may have life and have it in abundance.
I will tell you a beautiful experience I had at the beginning of July this year in an annual assembly of Aymara catechists.
We had met in a little hamlet called Taraco. There were more than 2500 of us, with catechists, their spouses, and active parish members from the southern zone of the El Alto diocese.
On the second day, at 5 in the morning (some two and a half hours before sunrise) with a winter temperature of several degrees below zero, we began a procession towards a hill nearly one kilometre from the village. We went along singing religious songs in Aymara, accompanied by three parish musical bands. At the summit, under the waving flags of the indigenes (the Wipalas), we awaited the sunrise to the sound of chants and prayers in the local language. We concluded with exhortations on social themes touching the people.
Beautiful indeed was the music and the total participation of those present, and equally beautiful were the indigenous garments they wore. The men shone in their brilliant ceremonial ponchos, and many of the women, over their frocks and mantillas, wore mantles of aguayo, each different from the others, and embroidered by hand in striking colours.
When the sun was about to rise behind the high snow-capped peaks, we all turned our faces to the east, and many knelt with arms and hands outstretched towards the sun in order to be born. A permanent deacon then began to invoke the Lord while the astral king (the “god Inti”) slowly revealed himself to our contemplative gaze. At that point there was a loud round of applause, and we began to descend the mountain to the sound of joyful music. The people, firstly one by one, then in a massive demonstration, began to dance the entire route, and finished with several rounds of the village square. For me this was the exultant and joyful celebration of life, of Resurrection, of the passage from darkness to light, from cold to warmth.
In summary, the Aymara culture, in all its symbolism, is directed towards the God of Life; but, as in the case of the Jews, to pass from the desire to the fullness, the Salvation of Jesus, and the Power of the Holy Spirit are needed.

What are the main cultural characteristics of the Aymara people?
Jilata Enrique replies:
All the Andean cultures, with the Aymara people amongst them, from their reality and life-style, have their own ways of knowing the world, and of relating to its existential dimensions: human community, the ancestors, nature, ‘Pachamama’, the Tutelary Beings and the Creator himself. From these dimensions of life, there flow the cultural characteristics of the “Aymara family”...
a) Sense of Community: All their activity is oriented to community building. One is a person (jaqi), in family and community. Services and tasks that are carried out in community are imbued with religious meaning. Community life for the Aymara is “synonymous with the Kindgom of God.”
b) The Family, Principal Nucleus of Life: The married couple, their children (those whom God wills), and the complementarity of the spouses. The educating of children: “Don’t be weak, do not steal, do not lie”. Being in solidarity, being hospitable, being industrious, and being thankful.
c) The Value of a Promise Made: honour and truthfulness. For the Aymara, the word “freely pledged” has more value than contracts and signatures. They express it this way: “may parliri”, “mä arumi jaqi”: to be a man of a single word.
d) The Celebration of Feasts: For the Aymara, every important event in life is celebrated festively with music, dance, food, coca tea and liquor, without counting time or putting limits to the celebration.
e) Respect for Pachamama: In her they thank the Supreme Being who made everything they have for life. The earth is a fruitful mother and from her all life flows. They love her, venerate her, respect, protect, and thank her, and even ask permission and pardon of her.
f) Maintenance of Universal Harmony and Equilibrium: All the levels of existence constitute, for the Aymara people, a unity. The principle of harmony and equilibrium sustains everything in the universe. Each being has its proper place. When a being abandons its place, equilibrium is disturbed and problems come. The restoration of harmony and equilibrium is attained through the offering of services to the community, and through special rites.
g) Life and Dialogue Together with the Ancestors: The ancestors are alive. They and their wisdom continue to be present to the community’s life. They are family members and have the same needs and desires as the living. They need food, drink, intimacy, affection and respect. Special attention is dedicated to the Tutelary (or Guardian) Beings, and to the deceased.
h) The Veracity and Richness of their Rites: Rites give expression to the desire to repay the gratuitous gift of the divinity. Offerings are presented to God the Creator, to the Achachilas and to Pachamama for everything received. There are an enormous variety of such rites, but they are all related to: agriculture and cattle-raising, the life-cycle, thanksgiving or asking protection, rites of pardon and rites of festive celebration.
i) A Marked Religious Sense: The Aymara people are Christian, but profoundly Andean in character. For centuries they have been an agrarian society, and their experience of God is realized in direct contact with the earth, which is the sign of God’s love. God is present in nature, which is the source of life. The nucleus of all the Aymara people’s activities is the CELEBRATION OF LIFE as a gratuitous gift from God (Father and Mother). Life is to be protected, preserved, and above all, recreated. From the life and religious experiences of this people, there arise innumerable riches of great value. They really furnish an undeniable foundation for the processes of inculturating the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To what degree is Mary Luz an integral community member, from a Brother’s point of view?
Jilata Abel replies:
Before directly answering the question I wish to mention two fundamental premises:
In the first place it is to be noted that in the mind and spirit of the Brothers Provincial, meeting in Campinas, the intention had always been to establish an interprovincial community in each region of South America, and that it would be a community made up of Brothers and layfolk.
In the second place, we need to consider the personal journeys experienced by certain lay partners within Marist charism, and their interest in deepening this spirit within a community of Brothers. It is precisely in this manner that Mary Luz, after conversations with the Brother Provincial and other Brothers of the sector of Bolivia, decided to come to Tiquina. The how and where of her residence were not clear at the time, given that originally another young Argentinian lady was due to come also. When the latter did not in fact arrive, it was decided that Mary Luz would live in the Brothers’ community, and be an additional member thereof.
Answering now the specific question, I can say that her membership of the community has evolved beyond the first moment of adaptation, where fears and questionings came and went—both on her side and that of the community—to an excellent sense of complementarity and sense of community belonging.
Mary Luz lives in her own room, as do the three Brothers also, and this has been good for her own privacy and moments of personal reflection. In addition, it has also permitted the accommodation of other women who come visiting and who are able to share her room with her. She shared in the community project, and thus shares also the daily prayer, the teaching work and the house work, as well as community relaxation and outings.
I think her membership is a great contribution to our community, not just in domestic tasks but in the depth of her human and spiritual life, and in the delicacy with which she treats each Brother. She has a very good relationship with the young people, and this strengthens the esteem in which not only she herself, but the whole community, is held.
For me this is a very enriching experience, and I perceive it is the same for the other Brothers in every aspect in which, as the months pass, we continue to support and commit ourselves to this evangelising work of special mission. It is a work much loved by our Superiors as they are at pains to show us in all the meetings we have had.
This feminine presence in the midst of our community seems to me, in the first place, a gift from God through the richness which Mary Luz brings to it, and in the second, because it allows us to supersede the earlier questionings or fears of many Brothers, and perhaps also for the Aymara world, which does not understand religious life.
For my own part, I would say that when one perceives clearly his mission and has a clear sense of his own religious identity within the Church, such a form of community living helps to manifest the complementarity within the commitment accepted, and a greater self-giving to the Kingdom, in this culture which is so different, so marvellous and so challenging.

How do you feel in this community of Brothers?
Mary Luz replies:
Before answering the question, I would like to offer a warm ‘thank you’ to all the Little Brothers who have helped me to grow as a Marist, with their example of life, their affection, and their confidence, from the time I was a child until now, for it was they who taught me to approach Jesus and our Good Mother with confidence and love.
I feel deeply that I am part of this great family. Since the experience of being always close has opened inside me some aspirations, and one of them was precisely to experience the role of volunteer, though I must confess it seemed a dream—something distant and perhaps unachievable.
But now that I’m actually living this beautiful experience, I feel myself very privileged to be able to share what I am in a community of little Brothers in a culture and reality so different from those in which I’d always been accustomed to live.
From the very first day of my arrival here, I felt a great welcome on the part of each of the Brothers, and it’s the same each time I return after having spent a few days with my family in Cochabama: and this for me is a very meaningful fact. Also because any time members of my family have visited, the same welcome is extended to them—especially to my mother, who spent some days with us as a member of our Community.
The first month, I lived together with two young Chilean women—Paty and Caro—who were my roommates and together we shared about our experience within the Marist Family. It was a month which passed very quickly, but which allowed us to get to know something of our respective cultural realities: they as Chilean and myself as Bolivian.
I feel my life is changing in several ways: prayer and the simply daily life which I share with them make me frequently recall the life-style of our beloved Father Champagnat: being close to children and youth who need a friendly hand and someone who will tell them how much Jesus and Mary love them...
Another important aspect which I value greatly in this experience is being able to insert myself into the Aymara culture, which is a little slice of my beloved Bolivia, though frequently we forget our brothers and sisters who live in the rural areas, especially the most deprived.
On the other hand, I believe that my presence in the Community is that of one more family member, given that the love and confidence I receive make me feel “at home”. The little Brothers Quique, Abel y Avelino are part of me, and I feel that I am part of them as well.
All that remains is for me to thank God and Our “Little Mother” of Copacabana for so many signs of life they offer us each day. I thank them also for my having encountered the Marist Family along my path and for my becoming a part of it.

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