The following post was written by Lorena Brothers, a senior Sociology major at Loyola Marymount University. She has been spending her Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester working (together with a small community of Salesian nuns) with children in Barrio Argüello, in the northern part of Córdoba.
What does it mean to love? To open yourself more fully in love? To practice giving and receiving love? These questions have always been important to me. But I have been considering them with greater care and attention this semester during my time in the Casa de la Mateada program here in Córdoba. More and more, I am coming to see that learning to love involves cultivating a deeper awareness of life—an awareness that can open the doorway for God’s gifts to come into existence in the form of light in our lives. These gifts from God serve as the inspiration and motivation for us to continue in spite of the difficulties we face when encountering rough realities. I had received such a gift recently during my time at my praxis site in Barrio Argüello that will forever leave an imprint in my heart. It came in the form of touch, the simple moment of contact between two human beings. I was having a difficult time that day, feeling overwhelmed by all the suffering happening in the world. I was trying to figure out my own position in the struggle for a better world and whether there was anything I could do. But I was feeling a little despondent.
It was at that moment that he walked into the nuns’ house and began touching the nail polish on my fingernails. In return I began to caress his little hands. He immediately threw himself onto me, hugging me and looking into my eyes, allowing so much to be said without the use of words. I knew in that moment that all he needed was love, compassion, and care. His name is Sebastian, a six-year-old child who has been abandoned by his parents in the barrio and currently walks the streets begging for food and money rather than having the opportunity to attend school. I did not know his story at the time. But without a word being spoken, I felt before me an innocent child in need of love; simply love (Yes, he also needed many other things—a home to call his own, a family, a chance to grow and thrive. But I could sense how hungry he was for love). There I stood, concerned about issues on such a large scale; here on a smaller, more intimate scale was one human being who in that moment simply needed love and attention. This beautiful gesture filled us both with the hope to keep going with only the flow of compassion and a need for love. Although it is difficult to explain, I know that this same gesture filled him with the love to keep going that day. I know it helped to sustain me.
My time in Barrio Argüello is spent with three Salesian nuns, Leticia, Maria, and Theresa. We go out and visit people from the barrio on a weekly basis. People who are ill, lonely, and mostly in need of company and prayer. Where there is poverty there seems to be a higher level of brokenness within families. As we assist the kids with homework in the afternoons, the love, time, and affection that we share with them is all we have to give; sometimes I have the sense that it is the only thing they have to look forward to.
During a study abroad fair at LMU during the spring semester last year, I had a brief conversation with Jennifer Abe about this new program: Casa de la Mateada in Argentina. Little did I know, at that moment, that I would soon be living in Argentina, experiencing a new manner of combining academics with spirituality, community, and accompaniment. Working with the sisters in Barrio Argüello has taught me so much about the meaning of accompaniment. There are times when we find ourselves in the presence of someone in need and our first reaction is to find the right words to console him or her, or we attempt to suggest that we know what they are going through. Accompaniment, however, is taking the hand of someone in need and giving them love through touch and time, as in the case of Sebastian. It often simply means being still and present with the person in need, allowing your open heart to share a moment in which the person in pain can feel raw, yet not alone.
It is especially challenging and exciting to do this work in community. We students came here not knowing one other, but with a willingness to open ourselves to one another in order to allow a community to develop. Back home in the U.S. we are all embedded in the fast pace of life and technological consumption that, taken altogether, limits our capacity to have a deeper connection with other people and with the world. Here at Casa de la Mateada we have begun learning how to live intentionally in relationship to one another, the world, and ourselves. Gradually, we have begun to notice in one another, individually and as a community, our roles and responsibilities in bearing witness to the suffering of the world. Living in community has been about caring, loving, and sharing an experience.
I came here to learn how to be more present; to learn and live the meaning of “here.” This has been a time to restore the relationship within my own heart. Here is where I have begun to narrow the distance between God and my soul. This is a place to leave footprints, to capture moments, and to feel alive. Together, as a community, we have come here to learn how to build a circle of wholeness with other beings. Our time is now: to give ourselves away in love, to the sad, the poor, the lonely, the sick, and those lacking love; and to allow ourselves to be healed by our contact with those among whom we live and work. Little by little we are learning what it means to love.