By Viet Quoc Hoang SVD
The yearly evaluation at Divine Word Theologate is a time for me to reflect on my goals, my relationships with others and God, and my life in the community. This is also a time for me to be grateful for many blessings that I have received from the Lord throughout the year.
I still need to improve. With the help of each member of the community, I might be transformed, enlightened, awakened and reminded to be who I am meant to be as I move on in life as a Divine Word Missionary.
As I reflect on my enriching and challenging Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in Paraguay, I remember how much I learned during those two years, especially about the custom of blessing and sharing.
The first six months in Paraguay were full of teaching and learning moments. For example, I learned about the custom of the 15-year-old girls’ coming out party to celebrate becoming a señorita. I learned about how Paraguayans socialize, especially in how to receive and give a blessing.
Spanish greetings, such as ¡Mucho gusto! (pleased to meet you), are often used with strangers or informal situations. Friends might use less formal Spanish, such as ¿Hola, cómo estás? (hi, how are you?), but more often they use Guaraní, the native language of the indigenous people of Paraguay when greeting friends and relatives.
The most common phrase is Mba´eixapa? which means “How are you?” The reply is almost always ¡lporã terei! (just fine or excellent), often accompanied by the thumbs-up gesture.
In the rural areas, it is normal to call out Adiós to a friend passing one’s house. For male religious and priests, people usually called us the Guarani word Pai. It is helpful to note that the word “Pai” is used to refer to both seminarians and priests. Also, when a woman or a man greets a female friend for the first time in a day, they usually kiss each other on each cheek.
Moreover, the custom of asking for a blessing is common among Paraguayans. They often greet respected elders, such as grandparents, parents, priests, religious, teachers and older adults, by presenting their hands in a prayer position, waiting to be blessed.
My first humbling experience of blessing occurred after a typical Sunday Mass. As I greeted people on their way out from Mass, one elderly woman walked toward me with her hands in the prayer position and asked “Una bendicion, Pai,” which means “a blessing, Father.” I was lost for words for a few seconds but then replied “Doña Carmen, que Dios te bendiga en nombre del Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo,” which means “Mrs. Carmen, may God bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
After the brief blessing, Doña Carmen walked away happily. I asked myself, “Who am I, at the age of 32, to bless an elder of 76?” Later that evening, I offered that particular experience in prayers and realized that it was God who gave the blessing and not me. I was only an instrument in that moment of blessing to show God’s love and mercy.