Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our fifth round of bloggers: Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer with the Fundación Madre Josefa (Mother Joseph Foundation) in Santiago, Chile, and Lauren Magee is a Good Shepherd Volunteer at Hands of Hope, an income-generating project that provides dignified employment for villagers living with HIV/AIDS in Nong Khai, Thailand.
One of the most meaningful aspects of my Good Shepherd Volunteer experience has been building a community beyond our immediate community of three volunteers. Coming to Chile, I knew that finding a Catholic church would help me feel more at home and connected to the culture. Thanks to a number of seemingly random coincidences, we found just that.
A few months after my fellow Good Shepherd Volunteers and I arrived, we attended our first Mass at Our Lady of Montserrat, a local parish next to the neighborhood park just about five minutes from our house. That particular Sunday just happened to be a special celebration for immigrants.
At the end of the Mass, the presiding priest invited us and other newcomers to the front of the church to receive a blessing. We stayed after Mass to introduce ourselves to Father Manuel, who seemed to enjoy having an opportunity to practice some English. We learned that he was friends with some of the apostolic Sisters of the Good Shepherd who lived nearby! I may not have been able to understand all of the Spanish Mass or our Spanglish conversation, but this warm welcome gave me a sense that we were exactly where we needed to be.
God continued to work through our new connection. A few weeks later, I ran into Father Manuel on our property. The parish's youth coordinators were facilitating a retreat for those preparing for confirmation, and he invited us to attend a Mass at the outdoor chapel right outside of our house.
In December, we attended a beautiful outdoor service for the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. Fr. Manuel introduced us to other parishioners named Connie and Antonella, who were studying English in college, and we became fast friends over our shared language-learning experience. We loved that we were cultivating more relationships within the parish and wondered how we could get more involved.
It all came together on Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, as it's called here in Chile. We were planning to attend the outdoor service at Our Lady of Montserrat that evening, so I went out earlier that day to run some errands. Upon returning home, I reached in my bag for my keys to the door of our property, and felt ... nothing.
Realization dawned upon me: I left my keys in the house this morning. A bit annoyed, I thought of my next move: "No problem, I'll just call one of my community members and ask them to come let me in."
I pulled out my cellphone — it had died. My sense of frustration rising, I tried to calm myself: "That's OK, I'll just ring the doorbell. Someone is bound to be around on the other side." No response.
"Maybe the girls are in the other house using the internet." I jogged over to a different part of the property and started shouting over the large wall, hopeful that one of my community members might hear me.
After about five minutes, growing hot and a bit desperate in the Chilean sun, I thought of another option: "Let's check with the neighbors." I walked to our friend's house across the street and tried using my broken Spanish to ask if they had phone numbers of anyone on our property. Nope.
"OK, think. Think. Think. Who else do we know around here?"
Then, it came to me. Of course: the church! We had exchanged phone numbers with Father Manuel when he was thinking about taking our English classes. I could finally get in touch with one of my community members! Not only that, I remembered how extravagant the outdoor Mass was for the Immaculate Conception. They probably would be outside already setting up for the Christmas Eve service.
When I arrived, many church members were indeed setting up, but Father Manuel was nowhere to be seen. When I asked a bystander if she knew if he was available, she said he would be back in a few minutes. With traditional Chilean hospitality, she invited me to sit down under the shaded tent to wait with them and gave me a glass of water.
Two of the choir members, Ana Paula and Paola, came to sit with me. In Spanglish, we talked about their involvement with the church and what brought me to Chile and joked about the whole ordeal that led me to seek refuge at their choir rehearsal that afternoon.
Father Manuel eventually arrived, the girls helped me explain the situation to him, and we finally got in touch with my community members so I could return home. While it seemed like everything that afternoon had gone wrong, it actually opened up opportunities for deeper connections.
We developed strong friendships with Ana Paula, Connie and Antonella, sharing time together both inside and outside of the church. Their leadership in the parish's youth ministry has led to more opportunities to get involved, such as a recent Vocation's Day we attended for youth across various parishes in Puente Alto.
We also discovered partnerships between Our Lady of Montserrat and the local apostolic Sisters of the Good Shepherd. For 13 years, Sister Nelly has facilitated a ministry in the local women's prison, which youth ministers and volunteers from the church participate in. On Good Friday, we even had the opportunity to experience this ministry firsthand by attending a beautiful Stations of the Cross service in the prison.
Most recently, we saw these communities come together to celebrate the feast day of St. Mary Euphrasia, the foundress of the Good Shepherd Sisters. Father Manuel presided over Mass in the apostolic sisters' community with the sisters, friends who work with Sister Nelly, and me and my fellow Good Shepherd Volunteers.
Before our final prayer, Father invited the sisters to offer special expressions of gratitude for their vocation.
Sister Paula shared how grateful she was for the mysterious way God brought her to the congregation: "Dios escribe derecho en renglones torcidos" ("God writes straight in crooked lines").
I smiled at how true that felt for me, too. At that first Mass at Our Lady of Montserrat, I couldn't have imagined how this church would become such a pivotal part of my community in Chile. Yet through a chance encounter, a series of unfortunate events, language barriers and a network of connections, God's grace worked in ways better than my own.
[Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer in Santiago, Chile.]