On December 6, 2017, the Missionaries of Mariannhill in Colombia celebrated a memorable day. On the afternoon of that day the Missionary Center of Mariannhill of Bosa was inaugurated and its chapel blessed. The work that had begun many months earlier came thus to a happy end. But that same day another task began: i.e., to launch the missionary activity of the Center for the evangelization of all those who live in the populated neighborhoods around it. The driving force for this whole missionary project is Fr. David Fernández Díez, C.M.M.
Since the Missionaries of Mariannhill took over the parish of Our Lady of the Nativity located in the district of Bosa on the outskirts of Bogotá, the idea of this exciting project was maturing among them: i.e., to build a Missionary Center that would serve to welcome the elderly during the day, provide protection and education for children and adolescents, and also be a place for activities of the Afro-Colombians. The planned Missionary Center would also serve as a residence for the Mariannhill community that works in that parish and as a house of formation for future missionaries. The chapel of the Center would be at the disposal of the parish for liturgical celebrations.
Indeed, among the displaced people living in those populated neighborhoods are many elderly people who have had to leave their villages. Since there are no safe places for recreation in the area, these elderly people are forced to stay in their homes all day. Many of them still live in fear and every stranger is viewed as a potential enemy. For them the Missionary Center was thought of as a home where they could spend the day and socialize, living with others and feeling welcome and safe.
Among the displaced are also many orphaned and one-parent children and adolescents. They do not always receive adequate protection and are left on the street when their guardians go to work. Then these children and adolescents come to be the prey of the mafias, who are looking for people to swell their ranks, forcing them to work as hired assassins or coercing them into prostitution and blackmail. For example, we know that in a health center in the area there are 400 registered pregnant women and more than half of them are minors. The Missionary Center was also planned for them as a place where they could go and be safe until their guardians return from work and where they could receive school support and a supplement to their diet.
The phenomenon of displacement encompasses huge areas of the country and all kinds of people, but it is hardest on indigenous groups and peasants. These are mostly Afro-Colombians. In addition to the problems that are presented to them as displaced people, they are torn from their lands and their cultural environment. In the city they are more isolated, and not always accepted. The Missionary Center was also thought of as a place for them, where they could find each other and protect, cultivate and live their cultural values.
As the saying goes, “Well begun, half done,”, the first thing that had to be done was to identify a piece of land where that exciting project could become a reality. The necessary steps were then taken and, by calling at many doors, the necessary means for the construction of the projected Missionary Center were collected. In October of 2016 the construction license was obtained and before the end of that same year, work, with all that that implies, began on the project. With the help of God, in twelve months the Missionary Center of Mariannhill could be inaugurated.
The blessing of the Missionary Center and of its chapel took place on the afternoon of the aforementioned December 6, 2017. The celebration was presided over by the Bishop of Soacha, Msgr. José Daniel Falla Robles. He was accompanied by the Bishop Emeritus of that diocese, Bishop Daniel Caro Borda, and Bishop Javier Pizarro Acevedo, who is the bishop of the Vicariate of Trinidad, where the Missionaries of Mariannhill are also working.
The following Missionaries of Mariannhill were present at the celebration: Fr. Thulani Mbuyisa, C.M.M., Superior General, Fr. David Fernández Díez, C.M.M., superior of the foundation in Colombia and soul of the project, and Frs. José Francisco Flores Zambrano, C.M.M., Jeremy Butawo Dube, C.M.M., Alexander Musau, C.M.M. and Juan José Cepedano Flórez, C.M.M. as well as Frater José Ferney Aragón, C.M.M. Mariannhill candidates in Colombia also took part in the celebration.
And together with them, the technical managers of the work attended the celebration. The project’s engineer, Mrs. Ana Vilma Gutiérrez, who had died a few days before of cancer [RIP], could not attend.
Lino Herrero Prieto, C.M.M.
Words of Fr. Thulani V. Mbuyisa CMM,
Superior General of the Missionaries of Mariannhill,
at the end of the celebration
“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour”. [Psalm 127:1]
There are many references in the Scriptures about buildings or about building houses. One of the most striking references is found in the Gospel of Matthew 7:21-28, the parable of the two builders. The one who obviously acted wisely is the one who constructed the house on rock. Of course Jesus uses this image to conclude his Sermon on the Mount and urges his listeners to not only listen to his words but also to obey them or put them into practice. The one who obeys him is like a person who builds a house on a rock.
For us Christians the Rock is Jesus Christ. He is the centre, the foundation, the pillar of all our constructions. Whether we build a family, a community centre, a church, a nation Christ must be our one and only rock and foundation. Without him, all is in vain! In Christ we find emotional and spiritual foundation without which even our most noble projects and desires rest on shifting sand.
We gather here in Bosa-Bogotá, diocese of Soacha, to open this community house for the Missionaries of Mariannhill, to bless this social and community centre that has been in the making for a number of years. Countless number of people have worked very hard to see this dream come to fruition. I cannot possibly mention everyone here and I will leave it to Padre David to mention the key stakeholders on this project. Mine is to give thanks to God for the inspiration behind this centre and in a special way to thank the previous General Government, our confreres in different Provinces/Regions who contributed generously to this building and our donors, especially Adveniat, for trusting us and for believing in us and in this project and above all for their contribution to the development of the people of Colombia.
Following our historic presence in Colombia, allow me to mention:
Our Bishop Javier Pizarro Acevedo [Bishop of Vicariate of Trinidad] for his invitation and welcome during these almost 10 years since the Missionaries of Mariannhill arrived in Colombia. Thank you Your Excellency for your friendship over all these years. Your presence here today is further proof of the strength of our partnership.
I want to thank the Augustinians Fathers: you have proved to be true brothers and companions to us. Since our arrival in Colombia to this present day you have provided all kinds of help, support and advice to us. There are no words enough to thank you.
To Monsignor Daniel Caro Borda (our retired bishop), thank you for your invitation and welcome to this diocese of Soacha and for your fatherly and brotherly care to our confreres since they arrived here.
To our present diocesan Bishop José Daniel Falla Robles. Your Excellency thank you for your solicitude and fraternal spirit. We hope that this partnership we have with you will continue to grow strong and God willing for a very long time.
This ceremony of today is a thanksgiving ceremony to God and to all who were instruments of God in building this simple, solid and beautiful building. As such I want to thank all of you and in particular: the engineers, advisers, architects, masters of works, artists and workers in general. By uniting your talents and efforts you have achieved such a work of art that will be admired by many.
But I also want and need to mention in particular the engineer Mrs Ana Vilma Gutiérrez. Your dedication to this project is something to be admired and only God will be able to thank and reward you in the right way and measurement. Knowing that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, I hope that my words of gratitude will be transformed into a continuous prayer that will always accompany you.
Dear Bishop, José Daniel Falla Robles, through you as Pastor of all people of this area and of this parish, I want you to know that this centre is further proof of our commitment to you and the local Church. May all those who come in this centre find in it communion, renewal and inspiration to be the type of Catholics that Pope Francis, who visited you recently as a “pilgrim of peace”. urged you to become, “builders of peace and reconciliation”.
To you my dear confreres. Every time I visit here I feel inspired, renewed and challenged in my own missionary vocation. Thank you for being faithful sons of Abbot Francis Pfanner who always sought new frontiers. Like him let us trust in divine providence and dare to go to the peripheries for it is there that we encounter Christ in the midst of the marginalized who hunger and thirst for the Gospel that liberates, consoles and empowers them to take their destiny into their own hands.
May our confrere Blessed Fr Engelmar Unzeitig, the martyr of brotherly love, to whom this chapel has been just dedicated, be your companion as you present him to the people of Bogota and the whole of Colombia as a symbol of love that is ready to sacrifice itself for another.
“If the Lord does not build the house in vain do its builders labour”.
With Mary the Mother of Mariannhill and our Patroness we invoke God’s blessings upon all those who live in this house now and who will live in it in the future and upon all those who enter it. May they find within its walls communion and peace and leave these walls ready to be people of peace, brotherly love and reconciliation. This is my prayer!
Fr. Thulani V. Mbuyisa, C.M.M.
ICON: the look that saves
I remember once reading that the important thing about icons are the eyes: both the eyes of the figure or figures that appear in it and the eyes of the person who looks at it. And when those eyes meet, an authentic religious experience that saves and strengthens takes place.
These reflections come to my mind when I observe the people who, as they pass in front of our new Missionary Center, keep looking up at it, and, giving free rein to my imagination, I see an infinite number of questions before my eyes.
I remember now what an old man told me when he came to the house to thank us for the beautiful building: “Every time I pass by this building I feel the need to look at it, and I always notice that something or someone looks at me from the inside. We needed a chapel in this area so much! This is the best Christmas present that the Child Jesus could have brought to us”.
When the people pass in front of the new Missionary Center and look at it, they make different gestures, but all of them positive. There are those who look at it and make the sign of the Cross; there are those who look at it and take off their hats or bow; there are those who look at it and remain pensive…. There are also those who look at it and ask themselves: “What is this? Are you going to put bells in that hole up there? What does that iron flower up there mean?”
If questions are always a sign of interest, much interest must be among the people of the place, since so many questions are asked.
How do you give a complete answer to them? What is the symbolic significance contained in the façade of the building? The façade expresses the idea of a home and the presence of a church or chapel. And both ideas are true. In the façade, a balcony with geraniums gives a touch of elegance and variety to the environment. At the top of it the belfry of the tower ends with a half open circle, which allows heaven to enter into the house. Underneath there is an open circle with the fleur-de-lis inside, forged in iron. All of them are Catholic and missionary symbols, which speak of the identity of the house and its inhabitants. They refer to our God who incarnates himself and to Our Lady, the Virgin Mary [fleur-de-lis], who welcomes him and gives him birth. It is the task of missionaries and, in this case, of the Missionaries of Mariannhill, to echo this mystery of salvation.
The Missionary Center as such is located on the ground floor. It consists of a chapel, which can be joined to a large room for conferences or meetings, and two offices. At the back of the same floor, there is a large room with the possibility of being divided in two, and a covered porch with a kitchen for more relaxed meetings.
The decoration of the chapel is a symbolic expression of the task that must be carried on from it. On the front wall of the sanctuary in imitation marble is a painting made by a street artist, symbolizing the solidity of rock. Being carved in rock highlights the silhouette of the Cross. All this makes us think that Christ is the rock on which our life is based. Christ is known throughout the Liturgical Year, so the contours of the Cross are illuminated with the colors of each liturgical season. In the center of the cross is the tabernacle, where Christ himself is truly and really kept under the form of bread, to be divided and shared. All this is symbolized by the hands breaking bread that are carved on the doors of the tabernacle.
The two pillars, one on each side of the front wall of the sanctuary, are decorated with pre-Columbian drawings. The artist chose them because, when he was making the ornamentation for those pillars, the pope was visiting Colombia and wore such drawings on his liturgical vestments. They allude to the task of inculturation that is linked to missionary work.
On each side of the front wall two polychrome wooden paintings may be admired, one representing Saint Ann, co-patroness of Mariannhill, and the other one representing Abbot Francis Pfanner, founder of this missionary family, and Blessed Engelmar Unzeitig, the missionary of Mariannhill, to whom the chapel of the new Missionary Center of Mariannhill in Bosa-Bogotá is dedicated.
At the base of the altar is the coat of arms of Mariannhill, which reminds us of our union with all our confreres of the Congregation, who, scattered throughout the world, offer with us the same sacrifice of praise.
And that praise is full of thanksgiving to so many organizations and individuals, known and anonymous, who have made the construction of this building possible by their contributions. It was a long, arduous and difficult task, but with God’s favor, the result is now there.
It is our hope that this new Mariannhill Missionary Center and community house will be an icon where not only looks will be exchanged, but also a place where both outsiders and insiders will make it possible for the people who live around this house and Center to have life and have it in abundance.
Fr. David Fernández Díez, C.M.M.