by Sister Alicia Alambra FMM
It was a call that scared me. I did not know what awaited me and it meant giving up all my plans in the Philippines. I was at that time working as Assistant to the Provincial Treasurer and doing chaplaincy to university students. But I was finally persuaded and hooked. It was April 1989 and my provincial was greatly worried that a missionary bound for Bolivia-Chile could not make it for health reasons. I volunteered to replace her and the great journey began in my life.
Just to reach Chile, my companion and I traveled for three days, crossing the globe, passing the great Pacific Ocean, going to the USA, going down to Central America until reaching South America. Arriving in Chile made us experience a climate ‘from the oven to a freezer.’ As we reached the convent, we needed to switch gears, read prayers and struggle to talk or make signs. Meals were different, every breakfast you were served bread and butter. What was funny was even the manner of sweeping our rooms - we used hard brooms.
Off to Bolivia
It was a constant going out of myself. I was in a different country, living in another culture and still learning the language. But when I was just settling myself in Chile, I was already sent to my mission in Bolivia. Again I experienced a new adaptation. In Cochabamba, where 60 percent of the people were indigenous, the altitude was three times that of Baguio. As you go higher, the air becomes thinner in oxygen. The place was eternal spring and the people were so warm in accepting new missionaries.
I became administrator of the Franciscan Center of Bolivia. This center assures the formation of the members of various congregations and the deepening of the Franciscan spirituality of the Franciscan family at all levels, active religious, contemplatives, lay. Nearly 80 percent of the religious and bishops were Franciscans. I was also asked to represent Bolivia in the Franciscan Assemblies of Latin America held in Peru and Ecuador. But I always sought to be involved with people around me, so during weekends I worked in our parish with around 200 youth preparing for confirmation.
General Secretariat in Rome
In 1995 I was called by our Superior General to work in Rome, to assist in the meeting of the Provincial Bursars from 54 provinces all over the world. To speed up the work in the Generalate, I continued the computerization of the offices at the same time as I worked in the General Secretariat. These responsibilities brought me to Paris, France, and Florence, Italy, to study French and Italian – an ongoing experience of relating with different peoples and cultures, eating different kinds of food, seeing places, talking in different languages. Imagine, in the Generelate at meals you spoke in four or five languages to entertain the sisters and visitors. My community was a beehive of 15 nationalities. Still my generosity wasn’t limited. I was asked also to be a representative at international meetings such as those of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) in Rome. I also became a member of the preparatory commission for our General Chapter. It was a constant joy to do pastoral work. I didn’t hesitate to go to the Filipinos in one chaplaincy center for OCWs where I constantly shared and animated their faith.
Encounters with nature
As I look back, the journey wasn’t always rosy but there were thorns to make the rose complete. These experiences reminded me of the very interesting encounter the prophet Elijah had with God on Mount Horeb (1Kings 19:11-12): A mighty wind rent the mountains and crushed the rocks. Followed by an earthquake and a fire . . . I was greatly spellbound by the things the Lord showed me and the experiences of his powerful manifestations, especially the encounters with nature. Taking a 30-hour bus trip to pass through the second largest desert in the world, the Atacama in northern Chile; seeing the canyons and El Oasis, the village of San Pedro de Atacama there; the deep precipices and the different kinds of mountains in Bolivia, which you only see in the movies or on Discovery Channel; the almost 17 km long St Gotthard Tunnel that begins in Italy and at the end of which you come out seeing the Swiss Alps; and the intricate works of art of Michelangelo. Along my journeys, I always marveled at God’s gentle whisper.
The works entrusted to me were avenues for these rich experiences, whether with simple people or with the typically prominent and hailed few of our Institute, I was conscious to live a normal life on a day-to-day basis and, very importantly, to discover God’s presence in all of these.
Finally, I continually praise and thank God for letting me tread this enchanted journey but it takes a constant ‘yes’ to let him unfold to me the unraveling splendor of his love.
You may write Sister Alicia at Our Lady of Peace Convent, FAPP-Mary of the Passion Compound, GENERAL MARIANO ALVAREZ, 4117 Cavite.