Presence by Ana Flores

"I believe I am not doing a lot, but I am spending my time with them as much as I can."

PRESENCE

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By Ana Flores 

After 13 years of being assigned to the Philippines, I am now back in my own country doing mission in San Martin de Porres and Ventanilla District in the north of Lima.

I wanted to return and continue working in the Philippines but the uncertainty brought by the pandemic   caused all my plans to a halt. When I heard from the Philippine Immigration Office that I had to leave the country at such short notice, it frightened me to the core that I had to take a long-haul flight back to Lima in the midst of the pandemic. Cases of Covid-19 in Peru were surging and I had to undergo several bouts of quarantine before leaving the Philippines, during layover in Chile and upon arrival in Lima. A total of four quarantine and a series of RT-PCR tests! It was the longest journey back home.

After my second quarantine, I was comforted with the idea that I could see myself adjusting to this new reality. I started pondering on how I could continue to serve my mission. There are so many people who are suffering, a number have died an untimely death. These occupied my thoughts while travelling. “What can I do to help?” was a question I asked myself over and over again.

Presence 1

Under normal circumstances, families come to the airport to welcome an arriving family member who  had been away for a long time. This was before the onslaught of the virus. What a huge contrast to my arrival in Lima, wherein the usually busy and vibrant airport looked like a ghost town. No one was there to welcome me. The roads were clear except for a few taxis. I have never seen the city of Lima that empty!

Initially, I found it challenging to readapt to my own culture, even to speaking my own language, but slowly I learned to reintegrate. While waiting for my return to the Philippines, I have occupied my time by visiting and involving myself in the communities of Villa Isolina, Jerusalem and Huertas del Paraiso. These areas are occupied by a great number of informal settlers who belong to San Martin de Porres Municipality. However, people from these communities prefer to belong to Callao Province because they can get access to hospitals, schools and markets.  The only available facility in San Martin de Porres is a pre-school for the whole community. It is disheartening  that these people have been living in these communities for more than 30 years but they still don’t have water and drainage systems.

Presence 2

I have been visiting a soup kitchen called Olla Common Dios Provee (The Soup Kitchen That God Provides for Those Who Need It). It is a project initiated in March 2021 in response to the economic situation of families who were tremendously affected by the pandemic. Almost 65 persons regularly collect lunch. They have to pay a very minimal amount for each plate, but the elderly, the sick and other social cases who cannot afford it can receive lunch packs for free. The Columbans support the Soup Kitchen by providing groceries. Beneficiaries take turns in preparing food from early in the morning until 12pm. The recipients come and bring food home using their containers.

The women in the Soup Kitchen are not just focused on preparing food, they also make the space to listen and share about the struggles and challenges in their families. I also decided to help the children in their studies. It is a very good experience for me as it feels like going back to being a teacher.

I believe I am not doing a lot, but I am spending my time with them as much as I can. At times, I help in cooking and courageously introduce some recipes I learned in the Philippines. I interact by sharing funny stories at times which temporarily makes us forget about the dire situation even for just a few minutes. I don’t know what the future will look like but I remember what Pope Francis said to be with the people and listen to their experiences and problems and journeying together – it’s SYNODALITY. I continue to be present and continue to be hopeful for the best that is yet to come.

Presence 3