Vigils of reconciliation

In February, one of the brothers who prepared the pilgrimage of trust meeting in Cochabamba in October 2007 was back in Bolivia to visit some of the young adults who had been involved and to lead several “vigils of reconciliation”.
JPEG - 21.9 kb

Although one of the main roads leading into Cochabamba was blocked by a truck strike, the downtown Church of San Francisco was full of young adults on the evening of Friday 22 February to celebrate a vigil of reconciliation. Young people from the parishes that took part in the Days of Reconciliation in October 2007 were happy to meet again and willing to take a break before continuing the hard work of peace and reconciliation.

One of the first people to greet them was Mgr. Tito Solari, the Archbishop of Cochabamba. His words were poetic, but also realistic. Referring to the parable of the wheat and the darnel, he told the young people that every day we find light and darkness, but we are called to create something new with what we are, with what is good and not so good in our lives. Taking into account the daily lives of the young people in the meeting, with their difficulties, the recent flooding in most of Bolivia, the rising prices of basic food and the never-ending political conflicts, Mgr. Tito’s words were a channel of hope. Yes, even when there is darnel, God can create.

During the meeting, the young people decided they wanted to continue praying regularly. There are several parishes in Cochabamba where they celebrate regular prayers with songs from Taizé. But they also decided, with the support of the Cochabamba Youth and Vocation Ministry, to hold a “vigil of reconciliation” three times a year. For many, these prayers are very important. In an ever-changing country that faces an insecure future, prayer is a source, not to escape from their daily lives, but to rest, and where they can go back to what’s essential. Christ is essential, in him we are all reconciled and he gives us the strength to fight with a reconciled heart, as we are invited to do in the Letter from Cochabamba.

The next day, Saturday 23 February, a vigil took place in El Alto. In 2004, the Days of Reconciliation were held there, with more than 2.000 young people in attendance.

JPEG - 18.6 kb

After the song practice, a young man from Titichachi, a small village in the mountains, about 7 hours from El Alto, who had been in Taizé for three months last summer and who had helped to prepare the meeting in Cochabamba, shared his thoughts. He spoke very honestly about his fears while he was living in Taizé: fear for being in a foreign country, fear for not being accepted, for not speaking English, for coming from a humble place. But he also spoke about little by little overcoming those fears.

JPEG - 16.7 kb

For Esteban, struggling with a heart that is reconciled is above all being reconciling with himself, not fearing his own story and that of his people. Struggling with a reconciled heart is accepting yourself and freeing yourself from the belief that you have nothing to contribute because you live in a country where things have been and still are difficult. After helping in Cochabamba, Esteban decided to enroll at the Art School in La Paz where he is now pursuing his studies. For the meeting in Cochabamba, Esteban painted an icon, which was used during the prayers. It depicts a Bolivian family: the father is from the Altiplano, the mother is wearing cruceña clothes, and the daughter is from Cochabamba. It is the icon of reconciliation.

On Sunday 24 February, the vigil took place in La Paz. When traffic is not too bad, travel time from El Alto to La Paz takes about 20 or 25 minutes. The “vigil of reconciliation” was held in a downtown parish, the Parroquia del Corazón de María, in the Miraflores district. A group of 15 young people from the Youth and Vocational Ministry in the Archdiocese of La Paz prepared everything: contributions from young people who had attended the Days of Reconciliation in Cochabamba, pictures, the song rehearsal, the prayer around the cross…

JPEG - 16.6 kb

One of them, Vicente, shared his experience during the Days of reconciliation: “About 100 young people from La Paz went by bus to attend the Days of Reconciliation in Cochabamba. I was excited and little bit worried because I hardly knew any of the people I was traveling with, and my thoughts were not so optimistic, ‘These are bad times, praying doesn’t help, hope can fly away like a bird’. This was my frame of mind because, as you know, people in my country are divided.

When we arrived at our destination, I was impressed when I saw young people from the countryside, wearing their traditional clothes. As days went by, I was also impressed to see people from all over Latin America, North America, Europe and even some from Asia, Africa and Australia.

The last day of the meeting, I said to myself: ‘Today there will be a miracle, if you have faith, you’ll see it.’ And indeed there was one, because after the farewell Eucharist was over, a huge and socially and culturally diverse crowd offered each other a sign of peace. In particular, there was a small miracle of reconciliation when we were told that the young people from Chile had given a letter to the bishop saying that they wanted to forget the past and pursue a future of peace together.”

When the vigil was over, the youth group decided that the icon of friendship they had received in Cochabamba was to start a pilgrimage in La Paz. So the Days of reconciliation are still producing new seeds!

The last part of our trip was in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, in the Eastern part of the country. In the news about Bolivia, very often you read about the division between the East and the West. Often, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is the leader of the Eastern provinces. In October, during the Days of Reconciliation, more than 300 young people came from Santa Cruz.

The first thing I saw in Santa Cruz was water. It hadn’t stopped raining for several months. The regions of Beni and Santa Cruz are the most affected. People say that more than 60.000 families have lost everything. Between the airport and where I was staying, the streets were flooded. Luckily, the car I was riding was high enough to get through.

The flooding affects the daily lives of every Bolivian. In Beni and Santa Cruz, there is rice, fruit, dairy products and meat. The loss of their land and their cattle means that prices will rise. During the last few months, the people of Bolivia have been suffocated by inflation.

The very same morning that we celebrated the “vigil of reconciliation”, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, had passed a law that authorized the preparation of several referendums: about land division and about the new Constitution. For many people, this means that the Government is unwilling to have a true dialogue. Once again, choosing reconciliation and forgiveness is not easy.

Before starting the “vigil of reconciliation”, the young people talked together about the Letter from Cochabamba. For many of them, the Letter is a call, a question mark: Will we be able to listen? Will we be able to walk towards forgiveness? Will we be able to struggle with a reconciled heart?

Faced with these challenges, often all we can do is trust ourselves to God again. That night, in a sports center in Santa Cruz, full of young people, surrounded by the beautiful sound of the songs, the prayer around the cross once again made complete sense”.

Last updated: 17 March 2008