An Experience of God’s Love and Kindness

Edgardo Jara, OFM Friar News

Edgardo Jara, right, with eight of the participants of the mission trip to La Florida, Peru. (Photo courtesy of Edgardo)

From June 23 to July 1, Edgardo Jara, OFM, participated in a mission trip with St. Francis Builds – a ministry of St. Camillus Parish in Maryland that, according to online information, offers “an opportunity to explore, live out and reflect upon Franciscan values in the context of construction projects.” He and 19 people went to La Florida, Peru, to help build houses for a struggling community. After returning to the States, Edgardo – who served as mentor to the group – described blessings he felt through the people he met – both Peruvians and the other mission trip participants. St. Francis Builds was launched close to 10 years ago.

This is the fourth time that I’ve participated in one of St. Francis Builds’ mission/retreats, but the first time as a priest. When I participated in these missions before, I did not wear my Franciscan habit. I go as one of the group participants. Of course, I assist with spiritual direction and confession to those members of the group who need or want it.

My tag name in these missions has been just Lalo. I have not introduced myself as “Father” or “Brother Lalo” and, because of this, I have experienced many blessings. People treated me exactly as they treated the other members of the group, especially men and young people. When they find out that I am a Franciscan priest, they cannot believe it. Because the relationships have already been built, the trust and friendship grow stronger.

God has definitely brought me many gifts with this trip. One of them is that God took me from my comfortable way of life in the United States to a small village in the south of Peru, La Florida, to experience the struggles that many people have when they try to live a better life.

Building Relationships
During our stay, we helped build three small houses. I had the opportunity to work on two of them. One of the important characteristics of St. Francis Builds is that we work with members of the families who will use the houses and with people from the place we are visiting. God is relationship, and we try to build a relationship with them more than to build a material house.

I had the blessing of meeting Augusto, one of the men who guides the construction of the houses. He is around 35 years old. From the first day, we started to build a good relationship. He is a quiet man, but when we worked together, we laughed and had some good conversations. He found out, in the middle of the week, that I was a priest but this did not change our relationship; on the contrary, our friendship got stronger.

Augusto is one of the “little ones” that Jesus mentions in the Gospel; he taught me a lot – his passion for what he does, his humility, the love for his family and values, and above all, his patience. I am not a man of patience; I am still developing this virtue in my life. Every time we had a difficulty or an obstacle when we were working, he always said: “No hay problema;” even when it seemed that we could not find a solution to the situation, he said: “No hay problema.” With patience and knowledge, he fixed the problem and we continued building the house. What a lesson for me as a person who does not have patience in many situations!

Edgardo assists with the construction of a house. (Photo courtesy of Edgardo)

Appreciating Love and Blessings
I was ordained a priest last February, and the transition time at the parish was a little difficult for me. As some of our brothers of our fraternity were moving to other places, I was getting new responsibilities and a heavy schedule, full of many activities. St. Camillus Parish is one of the busiest places of our province and of the Archdiocese of Washington as well.

However, God always takes care of us. My trip to Peru was a healing and potent light for my ministry as a brother and as a priest. My role was very small, but the love and blessings I received from God during the week are beyond description.

God blessed me with a wonderful team. It was a very diverse group. We had young adults, teenagers, adults, and seniors, and we had people who represented five countries: Bangladesh, Guatemala, Haiti, Costa Rica, and the United States. In one sentence, we were a perfect representation of the intercultural element that characterizes St. Camillus Parish.

I was very surprised and impressed to see the love, perseverance, and enthusiasm that the young and senior people from our group had during these five days of hard construction work. They were an inspiration and a daily motivation for me.

As part of our routine, every day we had morning prayer together, and every evening we had our check-in and reflection time, where we shared our joys and struggles of the day. What powerful moments we lived and shared together as brothers and sisters. Instead of focusing on our differences in age, gender, culture, and background, we built and lived the St. Francis Builds’ values: patience, perseverance, flexibility and openness.

After we finished our mission in La Florida, Cañete, most of us went to Cusco and Machu Picchu for a couple of days. God could not find a better way to close my wonderful experience in Peru. My visit to Machu Picchu was framed by a powerful spiritual experience, not only by the beauty of creation, but also by the appreciation and acknowledgment that our ancestors, the Incas, had about the sacred and the Supreme Being.

I would like to conclude these words with a short poem that one of our young adults – Matthew, who is from Bangladesh – wrote in the journal we shared during our mission:

I see her carry the weight of life all alone,
even the burden of those she once loved.
I am not asking her for much,
but to allow me to help her carry it all.

— Fr. Edgardo, a native of Costa Rica, professed his final vows as a Franciscan last August. He has been stationed at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., since 2015.

Editor’s note: People from other ministries around the Province have also been involved with service trips to Peru. Among them is St Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va. 

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