Living a courageous life in the middle of a pandemic

Divine Word Missionaries and guests gathered in Spain before the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Hoang Nguyen SVD

It is time for me to adapt to another way of life. I am a Divine Word seminarian who is living and studying in Spain. This country has been my host country for the past seven months. 

I live in a community in Dueñas, Palencia, which is two hours north of Madrid. Now that my formal studies are completed, I continue learning new things at home. With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in Spain last month, I have heard many heartbreaking stories. However, I also have heard stories that inspire and encourage. 

As a student learning Spanish, I read as much as I can every day from whatever I can find. I make a practice of finding a story in the newspaper that I can share with one of the priests with whom I live. I have shared story after story about COVID-19 and people’s fear of the deadly virus. Finally, one of my confreres reminded me that there are positive stories too. 

 My priest instructor’s comment reminded me of what I learned at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. It is so important to have a balance of stories about any place. Even though the virus has brought sadness to the world, this virus has awakened us to a new consciousness. 

We cannot just sit around and wait for something good to happen. Most of us, in fact, are making a better reality at home, work and in our communities. I have seen neighbors waving at me from their front yard for the first time since I arrived in Spain. 

People in other towns, who live in apartments, come out at night to stand on their balconies and sing to each other, talk to each other from a distance, and wave while wishing each other well. Indeed, they are connected. Seeing these positive people on TV gives me hope for better days. 

Though people practice social distancing, they are still in solidarity with one another. In other words, people are united to fight this war against the COVID-19 by being supportive of others and collaborative with one another. 

Social distancing is so contrary to being a Spaniard. Since I arrived in the country, I have observed people on the street converse with each other from a close distance. When a woman and man meet each other, they often give each other kisses on both cheeks. But now, kisses and close distance are gone. However, what is not gone is their being supportive of each other. 

One writer, Nuria Labari, shares her vision in El País, a Spanish-language daily newspaper in Madrid. She wrote, “Cuando una sociedad es solidaria como la nuestra lo está siendo, en tonces sentimos que formamos parte de algo más grande y más importante que nosotros missos.”

In English, it reads, “When a society is as supportive as ours is, we feel that we are part of something bigger and more important than ourselves.”

Nuria went on to say, “Give us courage to face life. To also face disease and even this virus. Even to be better persons.” What I have learned from people like Nuria is that after this pandemic virus, no one will be afraid to face something as deadly as this virus again. 

Schools have been closed. Streets are empty, but homes are full. The people usually get together at home to play dominoes and card games, like Chinchón, which is a famous matching card game in Spain. 

Nuria writes that the children are learning something fundamental these days without school. I agree with Nuria because whenever there is a problem, there is always something good that we can learn from it. 

Like me, these young people probably have a lot of free time to learn new skills at home since they do not have homework assignments to do. According to Nuria, “Our children are experiencing an active and determined solidarity capable of changing things to protect the weakest.” 

I really admire those who come out on their apartment balconies in big cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla to applaud medical workers. In this way, the local people are helping medical professionals fight COVID-19 by being supportive of them. Like the local people, I have to stay indoors and keep healthy for the sake of others and for these medical professionals. 

Things may get worse, but one thing I know for sure is that I am still learning new things in these difficult times. The people are my teachers. I have no doubt that we are going to get through this together. 

I cannot wait to wear a shirt that says, “I Survived COVID-19” with the local people. I cannot wait to celebrate our victory with these people. I cannot wait to hear young people say, “I am stronger than ever. I am more fearless than ever. I love serving other people more than ever. And I am more faithful than ever.” So far in this lockdown, in addition to noticing the negative newspaper stories, I also have come to learn from the local people to stay positive even in the most difficult situations, to be supportive of others, especially of those who are vulnerable, and to appreciate those who are still working out there on the frontlines, fighting for our lives and our future. Let us stay positive together.

Divine Word seminarian Hoang Nguyen is in Spain, fulfilling his Cross-Cultural Training, which is part of his religious formation. Currently, Spain has the second more cases of COVID-19 in Europe.

The joy, beauty and goodness of Christ’s peace: Glimpsing the face of God

By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

“Ministry is, first of all, receiving God’s blessing from those to whom we minister. What is this blessing? It is a glimpse of the face of God.”

These words of Henri Nouwen resonate with my experience in the Special Religious Development (SPRED) ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago. SPRED is a program of faith formation designed to meet the spiritual needs of people with intellectual, developmental and learning disabilities.

Recently, I became a lead catechist. As a leader, I stay next to the entrance and welcome our friends. Andrea is a tenderhearted girl who is friendly and sweet. Andrew is an observant, straightforward boy. Daniel, who is constantly enthusiastic, is animated and loving.  Leah, a quiet girl with a calming presence, has a contagious smile. Fred is a gentleman, polite and intelligent. Mary is a goodhearted girl whose gentleness and genuineness draws us closer to her. They are ages 11 to 16. They are on different levels in terms of their developmental and intellectual growth.

Our activity catechist prepares the activity room and fills it with sensory materials, such as paints, puzzles, sandboxes, musical instruments and coloring books. They help our friends get in touch with their senses. As the youth enter the room, they approach each other one by one. We shake hands and give warm welcomes. The catechists try to make all of them feel safe and loved.

On one occasion, I gazed at them from my seat while they were doing their chosen activities in silence. I was drawn to their calming presence. The love and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ was with us.

The sense of peace became deeper and stronger when we went to our sacred space, a room where we gather around the Holy Bible that is placed on a small table at the center. Next to it was a vase of fresh flowers and a lighted candle. Together with those objects before our eyes, the dim lighting made us feel the sacredness of our gathering.

Our goal that evening was to ponder our experience of peace. I showed two different images of snow-covered countryside. One was a painting, and the other was a photograph. We shared our personal experiences of how the snow during winter make us feel peace.

As I was showing the painting and photograph to each of our friends, I was surprised that a few of them touched the images. Perhaps their sense of touch was evoked in them by the images. As some of them touched the images, they thought they would feel the cold snow. In our sharing, we related our experience of peace with the sense of peace in our liturgy, when we go to church.

Our celebration in the sacred room gave us a deep joy, especially when we shared our thoughts and feelings. I stood and proclaimed the Scriptures from Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

We felt Christ’s presence in our midst when the Scripture passage was proclaimed to us. We opened ourselves to Christ speaking to us, because Christ Himself is with us.

Our sense of joy was infectious. We could not contain it in our hearts. We all stood and formed a circle around the Holy Bible. We held each other’s hands and expressed our feelings. Our hand gestures and body movements became an expression of our joy. We sang a hymn of thanks and praise to Christ with gratitude as an expression of our unity. Our friends’ disabilities did not hinder them from celebrating the peace of Christ. The peace of Christ brought us together and united us as a faith community that is grounded in trust, patience, kindness and understanding.

After our time for liturgy and catechesis in the sacred room, we continued enjoying the peace of Christ in our agape. The catechists used three tables to make one long one. They arranged the chairs. Mary placed the table mats. Andrea put the spoons on the table. Andrew prepared the pitcher of juice. Daniel added the cups. Leah set up the plates. Fred assisted in serving the food. Christ came to us through the Divine Word. Christ preached peace to us through the presence of our friends who were with us.

Christ’s peace impelled us to serve one another during our preparation period, celebration in sacred room and sharing in agape. In that room, we get to know each other; we talk about things happening in our families, schools, workplaces and in society.

We experience meaningful and transformative relationship, the friendship built on the peace of Christ. We are one body of Christ, regardless of age, gender, race, education, ability or profession. Each of us feels accepted and loved. It’s our experience of mutuality in diversity and ability. The joy among us grows. We savor its beauty. It brings out goodness in us that shines upon our community. Together, we radiate the peace of Christ. With humility and confidence, we strive in our shared vocation to seek the grace of Christ—a glimpse of God’s face.

A marathon, a faith journey and the abounding grace of God

By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

It’s the beginning of a new decade. I like to spend time looking back and reflecting on the many things that transpired. One such event was my first marathon. During the race, the energy of the crowd was contagious. It motivated runners like me to persevere and reach the finish line.

A marathon is much like a faith journey. Both can make us question if we can finish the race. Both can fulfill a heart’s desire. Both are pursued from an inner call and can compel us to leave a beloved homeland (or a beloved couch).

When I decided to enter the Society of the Divine Word, I sought something greater than myself, something that at the time was unclear to me. I was sad to leave family and friends, yet the prospects also filled me with excitement.

Running a marathon is like the race of faith. Faith in Christ gives us the courage to go to unknown places and to be with strangers. On the marathon route, you also find yourself among strangers.

Following a friend’s suggestion, I wore a shirt with my name on it. I was surprised and elated by people who cheered me on, calling my name at the top of their lungs. The name on my chest made the people notice me, an average runner, small in stature, among roughly 45,000 runners. The loud cheer was like an energy drink that helped me finish the race.

Reaching the finish line was exhilarating, much like the way I imagine Zacchaeus felt when Jesus called him by name (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus’ small stature did not hinder him from seeing and meeting Jesus. As the chief publican, or tax collector, Zacchaeus was a wealthy collaborator of the hated Roman occupiers. He exploited his own people. Because of his ill repute, he hesitated to approach the Master. His effort to see Jesus clearly led him to change his heart and his life.

In one of Pope Francis’s homilies, the pontiff said, “Even today we can risk not getting close to Jesus because we don’t feel big enough, because we don’t think ourselves worthy. This is a great temptation; it has to do not only with self-esteem but with faith itself. For faith tells us that we are “children of God…that is what we are.”

I can relate to Zacchaeus. With a contemplative mind, I followed a path guided by Scriptures in a way that has been spiritually meaningful. During my silent prayer, I heard God cheering me on. God awakened my spirit and lifted me up from brooding caused by past injuries. God’s loving presence opened my heart and motivated me to start over.

In 2020, Christ continues to invite us on the faith journey. Like a marathon, it will not be easy. There will be doubts and confusion, discouragement and disappointments, frustrations and limitations, yet Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus offers us three ways to run the race called the Christian life.

First, when Jesus came to Jericho, passing through the town, Zacchaeus, due to his physical limitation, climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.

Let us persist, strive, and persevere to seek and find Jesus especially when he is passing through our daily lives. Jesus is present in people and events around us. A listening heart is a key to noticing Jesus.

Second, Jesus looked up at the sycamore tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5-6). Zacchaeus came down and received him with joy.

Let us deepen our encounters with Jesus by receiving and loving him with joy. The way to receive Jesus and express our love for him is by contemplating the Good News, especially in the sacraments, such as the Eucharist and reconciliation. We can deepen our encounter with Jesus by making a dwelling place in our hearts. Let the Divine Word remain in our hearts.

Third, Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” (Luke 19:8).

Let us manifest the love we have in our relationship with Jesus through acts of charity. Our relationship with Jesus will only be possible through interconnectedness and interdependence with others through acts of service.

The three responses of Zacchaeus to Jesus are examples for us to imitate. We do not know how the year 2020 will unfold. Let us prepare ourselves to face many questions, doubts and difficulties in our Christian faith lives. Let our hearts remain attentive to the call of Jesus. In other words: to run alone is a race, but to run with God is grace.

Silence

Silence_blog image_February 2020

By Jorge Zetino SVD

The words die Stille, das Schweigen, die Ruhe, das Stillschweigen, die Schweigsamkeit are nouns used in the German language to translate one single English word: Silence. The only other translation I knew of this word was in my native Spanish, “el silencio.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, silence can be defined as (1) forbearance from speech or noise—muteness, (2) an absence of sound or noise—stillness, and (3) absence of mention—oblivion, obscurity, secrecy.

I had never given so much thought to a single word before—regardless of the language. Until a couple of years ago, to me, “silence” was either just a word used to describe the absence of noise, refraining from speaking (keeping silent), or the title of a very long movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Scorsese’s 2016 film adaptation of the novel with the same name by Shūsaku Endō depicts the story of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in 17th century and Japan’s persecution of that country’s Christian community.

The meaning and my relation to this word changed in 2018. After arriving in Germany for my Overseas Training Program (OTP) as a young Divine Word Missionary in formation, silence went from being a concept, an idea, or the title of long movie to a lived reality.

Like the Jesuit missionaries in Endō’s 1966 novel, I too arrived in a foreign land, 4,245 miles from my home country to be exact, as a young Catholic missionary with no prior knowledge of the language, culture or traditions of my host country.

The first year of any OTP, or Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP), is known among Divine Word Missionaries as the “silent year.” Silent because one likely does not know the local language before arrival. Silent because even after beginning with the cultural immersion and language courses, one is not fully fluent in the language and not be able to express one’s thoughts and ideas on any given matter. Silent because one likely does not have family or trusted friends or confreres with whom one can openly and safely share the roller coaster of emotions experienced in the new environment.

We have a lot to say and ask but lack the vocabulary. We have a lot to share but lack a physical shoulder to lean on. The support of our friends and family is there, just one phone call away. However, after we hang up, we find ourselves all alone to shed our tears in silence, in an unfamiliar land that has become our home—or so we hope.

Before departing for my OTP experience, many SVD confreres warned me about the silent year. “When everything you know is taken away from you—language, culture, family and friends—you are left with nothing,” said an SVD confrere. “All you have is you, God, and all the silence and solitude of the first few months.”

During my first few months, many of my friends encouraged me not to be afraid of the silence but to embrace it and use it to my benefit. They encouraged me not to get frustrated for not being able to communicate what I thought and believed in full German sentences. “That will come later,” one said. Instead, “Use this time to listen, to listen to God and to listen to yourself,” another confrere said.

I followed the advice and tried to embrace this “silent year,” to take advantage of the opportunity given to me, not just to struggle with learning a new language and adapting to a different way of life, but also to look inward, to turn my attention within and learn to listen to God’s desires for me. Mother Teresa once said that “in the silence of the heart God speaks.”

It was not easy to appreciate the silence that the first months of this experience had to offer. There were days in which I struggled with it. But in those days in which such silence felt unbearable I was reminded of David Haas’s beautiful hymn “You Are Mine,” which says:
I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My Voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near

I’ve learned that silence is not only the title of Hollywood film or the title of a long novel; it is, among other things, a venue in which I can learn to listen to the desires of my heart, and equally important, listen to the voice of God within and around me.

Knowledge from the heart

Bookshelf by T Carson Nov 2019 to illustrate blog

By Joseph Huy Nguyen

Well-educated people are often judged by degrees, awards, and GPA, yet a high GPA does not guarantee that someone is more knowledgeable than others.

Indeed, knowledge is not only in the mind. Knowledge must be in the heart. The author of the Book of Proverbs wrote, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (Prv 13:3). Having knowledge in the heart is crucial, especially to make God’s love visible to people.

People who truly love learning will try to inscribe the knowledge they acquire on their hearts. They want to explore and do something with the knowledge they have learned. According to David Wilkerson, an American Christian evangelist, “Love is not only something you feel, it is something you do.” It is the heart that motivates us to show that we love what we learn.

The center

The ancient Hebrews considered the heart as the center of the human being. Without the functioning of the heart, the brain cannot work properly. The heart is the center of our life.

St. Paul emphasized the significance of love, “If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing” (1Cor 13:2). Having the knowledge of love is pivotal.

Transformation

Knowledge in the heart is the knowledge of transformation. During the Rite of Ordination, the bishop reminds candidates to “believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

Only through action can we transform people. Look at the scribes and Pharisees. They knew the law very well but did not practice it. Jesus told the people not to follow their example. Knowledge in the heart truly leads to action.

Humility

Knowledge in the heart is the knowledge of humility. The Book of Proverbs tells us, “The Lord gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prv 2:6). Jesus, who is God, invites us to learn from him because he is meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29).

In awe of God

St. Augustine, a great scholar of the Church, recognized the restlessness of the heart until it rests in God. St. Thomas Aquinas, a great philosopher and theologian, conceded that he could not explain everything about God who remains a mystery forever. St. Therese of Lisieux chose the little way to love God, and yet, she became a great saint of the Church.

St. Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the source of all his teachings came from humbly kneeling before God in prayer, which he called “Theology of Kneeling.” We are so small in the vastness of knowledge. We should be humble about what we know, for we can never know everything. Only God can.

How do we achieve knowledge in the heart? We turn information into transformation. We must take what we know in our heads, put it into our hearts, and generate action, so that people can see and believe. We must be transformed first in order to transform others. In the process, we are required to be humble before God, the all-knowing Transformer. We depend on God, who is the source of all knowledge.

Crucial questions

We should ask ourselves three questions. The first one is whether the knowledge we have is the knowledge of love: Do I truly love learning? Do I wholeheartedly treasure what I learn? Am I willing to take action, using what I learn?

The second question is whether the knowledge we have has the power to transform: Do I allow myself to be transformed by the good things I learn? Do I try to become a witness of God’s love for others through what I learn?

The third question is whether the knowledge we have is the knowledge of humility: Am I humble enough to recognize that I am not the best and I cannot know everything? Am I humble enough to acknowledge my limitations in order to rely on God?

St. Arnold Janssen, the founder the Divine Word Missionaries, wrote, “I would be glad if the Lord would send to our Society priests who are able to achieve something in academic fields. But they must be good men; otherwise, I would prefer to do without.”

If we are well-educated with high degrees without being good people, can we move people’s hearts? Only knowledge from the heart has the power to move another person’s heart. We need knowledge, which leads us to love, transformation and humility.

Joseph Huy Nguyen graduated from Divine Word College in May 2019. Currently, he is a novice at Techny. From August until next summer, he and his fellow novices are in formation, discerning God’s call to the religious life. This reflection is adapted from the 2019 Divine Word College commencement speech that he delivered as class valedictorian.

The excellence of love

Vespers blog illustration

by Deacon Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

A week before the profession of perpetual vows—the ceremony in which my confreres and I pledge to live in poverty, obedience and chastity for the rest of our lives—I had an opportunity to reflect upon 1 Corinthians 13. I asked myself two questions: When did I learn about the religious vows? How did I first learn the ways of living out the vows? These two questions led me to recall three regular occasions when I was a child.

Poverty

My family lived in relative poverty in Manila. During family mealtime, my mom taught my brothers and me to put only a small serving of food on our plates. We learned that the food must be shared. After everyone received a portion, then and only then could we take another serving. My brothers and I shared not only with food but also clothes, school supplies and shoes. Through this family condition, I learned about poverty.

Obedience

The second occasion was doing household chores. My mom was dependent upon me to maintain orderliness and keep the house clean. I cooked, prepared our table for meals, swept and scrubbed the floor and did laundry. When my mom went to work, she told me the what needed to be done. I paid attention. I even wrote her instructions on a sheet of paper so I wouldn’t forget anything. I learned obedience.

Chastity

The third occasion was taking care of my younger brothers. My mom taught me to love my younger brothers by taking care of them. When they were little children, I changed diapers, bathed, fed and played with them. I brought them to and from school and helped them with their homework. I spent most of my childhood taking care of my brothers. We developed a brotherly relationship. I learned about love.

False promises

Life changed when I became a young adult. I sought independence. I demanded freedom. After high school graduation at age 17, I walked away from my family.

After finishing university studies, I earned a good salary as a teacher. I could buy almost anything I wanted. I became self-serving with no need to worry about sharing. I had my own place. I managed it according to my own way.

I met many people in the teaching field. Some of the people whom I thought of as friends had questionable values. I ignored my inner voice that warned me because I longed for acceptance and a sense of belonging. I found myself trapped in unhealthy relationships. I cultivated shallow connections.

An authentic life

Fortunately, my life changed again at age 30. I entered the Society of the Divine Word with a strong desire to leave my old life behind. Formation has led me to a deeper understanding of the religious vows and to a stronger conviction to live out my life according to God’s holy will.

I have learned a meaningful life in the state of consecrated celibacy through personal friendship with Christ, living faith, fraternal sharing in community and selfless dedication to be committed to our vocation. In our community, we strive to form a true brotherhood, where every confrere can feel at home, form deep friendships and find fulfillment in his work and development of his talents.

Our shared mission calls us generously to place time, talents, work, and community goods at the service of our missionary task. By virtue of the vow of poverty, we strive to bind ourselves to a simple lifestyle. It enables us to accept our dependence on God and become inwardly free and detached from all earthly goods and honors. We become available and open to God and others.

In a world where so many seek to impose their will upon others, we seek to learn our vow of obedience in order to uphold unity in community. Our obedience unites us, helping us to focus on our Society’s missionary goals.

Through Christ’s love

As I look back and reflect on my past, I am able to heartily echo the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”

“I solemnly promise you—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—to live for life chastity, poverty, and obedience, according to the Constitutions of the Society of the Divine Word.” With joy and gratitude during the perpetual vows ceremony, I uttered those words.

The love of Christ urges me to be prudent, worthy and responsible in carrying out missionary service with joy and gratitude. Through Christ’s love, each of us is able to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.

Faithful friends: Rooted in Jesus

Faithful friends_blog photo_Sept 2019

By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

Friendship is a fundamental and essential aspect of any human relationship. I can’t imagine a life without friends. They help to make our lives happy and meaningful. While it is easy for me to get along with people, I do not develop friendships quickly. It takes time for me to trust and allow a stranger to become part of my life.

Many people use social media as a channel to build and develop relationships. Some people use Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Instagram and LinkedIn to keep in touch with their friends. I am sometimes saddened when I see friends engage in arguments on social media. One cannot deny that a large quantity of friends online does not guarantee that a person has true friendships.

Some people consider social networks as a testing ground for true friendship. Many individuals who build online friendships echo the view of CommsBreakdown blogger Steve Ash, who believes that “far from making us less sociable, the online world is actually creating an ability to connect and engage with the rest of the world that’s never existed in any previous century. It’s more than possible for a person to have a network of friends that’s truly global, breaking down geographical, cultural and social barriers to build friendships across the planet.”

On the other hand, online friendship cannot replace the genuine intimacy of real friendship. I have a small circle of faithful friends. Each has a unique and valuable quality that people desire in friends. The qualities of faithful friends described in Sirach 6:14-16 depict the individuals who comprise my circle of friends. As the Scriptures say, “Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth.”

Faithful friends are like sturdy shelter. They are like strong pillars that we hold onto when we feel helpless and alone. They welcome and comfort us during times when we face life storms. Faithful friends provide spiritual sanctuary when we experience misery and sorrow. They are reflections of Christ’ love, his gentle and consoling presence in our lives. I recognize Christ’s protection through faithful friends who stand at my side in difficult times.

Faithful friends are treasures. They are priceless. Together, we enrich our friendships by discovering and sharing our gifts and talents with each other. Faithful friends are not perfect. Like us, they have their imperfections. We accept them for who they are, the way God wants them to be. These friendships are paths that lead us toward closeness with Christ. Christ provides the missing pieces that we and our faithful friends cannot give to each other in friendship.

Jesus is our greatest friend. He is the model and guide of how to be a faithful friend to others of different languages, cultures and beliefs.

Faithful friends are a life-saving remedy. If you are like me, your life sometimes gets off track. I have made wrong decisions and terrible mistakes. Faithful friends do not abandon us. They help to restore the goodness and kindness they see in us. They do not tire of reminding us of humility, forgiveness and reconciliation. Faithful friends have the courage and honesty to tell us of our failures. They are lovingly frank when we are unfair, arrogant or full of pride.

Having a circle of faithful friends is a way to a deep and intimate encounter with the living Christ. When I became a religious missionary, I learned the meaning and essence of friendship more profoundly. It is the friendship in Jesus. In John 15:13-16, Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

Friendship in Christ is eternal and filled with love. Jesus is the faithful friend who seeks and finds us untiringly, most especially in times of adversity, affliction and misfortune. Friendship in Christ is built on a strong foundation that protects and sustains us; it is the priceless treasure that no amount of anything else can balance; and it is a life-giving relationship that enables us to seek, find, and share our friendships with others.

Jesus is the source and motivation for building a dynamic, healthy and lasting relationship with friends. Pope Francis reminds us, friendship is one of life’s gifts and a grace from God.

While it is sad to geographically be away from my dearest friends due to my missionary life, I am grateful for the many new friendships with the people I have met in different countries with diverse cultures, beliefs, traditions and values. Through the various social network platforms, my faithful friends and I live out the promise that Jesus told his disciples, his friends, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).