By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
As part of the Society of the Divine Word’s formation process, missionaries in vows participate in the congregation’s Cross-Cultural Training Program, also known as CTP. Seminarian Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD is completing his CTP in Spain. Shortly after Easter, he completed an assignment at Santa Maria de la Granada parish in Niebla, a town with a population of about 4,000 in Southern Spain.
At the end of Easter Sunday Mass, the presider invited the congregation to sit for a moment. I nervously approached the lectern. I felt every heartbeat in my chest. I was about to bid farewell to the community of Niebla.
As I began to speak, a sudden silence filled the church, and I noticed the eyes of friends fill with tears. I had lived in the village for only six months. It was a short stay, but I’ve learned a lot. Life in this town is simple and quiet, a departure for me. Having grown up and studied in large cities, I am accustomed to places where people are especially busy with their own affairs. As I leave Niebla, I want to share lessons that the Nieblans taught me. I carry them in my heart.
Spend time and share presence with others through a family meal.
I can’t remember exactly how many generous invitations I received, but the Nieblans showed me why the region was named Spain’s Gastronomic Capital of 2017. They served local delicacies—white prawns, coquina clams, monkfish, sea bass and cuttlefish; strawberries, raspberries, oranges and asparagus, taken from fertile soil of the area; and jamon, Iberian ham, from the mountainous regions of the province. They whet the appetite with white wines, quality liqueurs, grape juice, vinegars and olive oils. I admire their spontaneity and appreciate the honor of spending time with their families. They let me know that they care about me and value my presence in their community.
Greet each other and share smile with each other.
“¡Hola!, ¿Que tal?, ¿Como va?, Hasta luego!” Members of Las Raíces, an organization of retired people, were good companions. They made a point to ask how I was doing and if I was enjoying life in the village. As someone who lived most of his life in a big city, greeting other people, especially strangers, is not a common practice. This simple gesture made me feel connected and valued by others. It reminded me that we are one loving and thoughtful community.
Fulfill one’s duty and responsibility in the family and the community.
Workers in Niebla are dedicated. In a small village like Niebla, it is possible to get to know the people working at the market, grocery store, municipal hall, restaurants and hardware store. In the community, each person fulfills their duty as a service to the community and the family. Each person’s vocation serves as a humble contribution to make our world a better place.
Tell and retell life stories and community narratives.
Niebla is a village filled with stories. Every place within village—Castillo de Niebla, Casa de la Cultura, Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Granada, and Rio Tinto–has a tale. Through these stories, I learned about the food, history, culture and faith of the people. The homes are filled with family photos. With those pictures, Nieblans narrate their stories with passion, enthusiasm and pride. As I listened, I felt the value and importance of the story to the person telling it. I sensed how the story transformed their lives. Our life experiences are a wise teacher.
Keep the cultural heritage and religious traditions dynamically alive.
As a municipality located in Andalusia, Niebla has a unique cultural heritage and religious tradition. During Holy Week, members of three Las Hermandades, or brotherhoods, lead community celebrations. The members of Hermandad de Virgen del Pino, Hermandad del Rocío, and Hermandad de Jesus Nazareno practice and pass on ways of the Catholic Church. Fiestas and other events, organized by the Ayuntamiento de Niebla each month, leave a memorable impression: La Feria Medieval in November, Los Campanilleros in December, La Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos in January and Semana Santa in April. Communal activities, such as musical concerts and community picnics known as Toston, bring the people together and pass along traditions from one generation to the next.
Spread the joy, love and hope in the community.
The laypeople in Niebla played an important role in their parish. I learned much from the various lay groups. Members of Lectura Creyent deepen their faith by studying the Scriptures each week. Cáritas assists the less fortunate by providing for their basic needs. Volunteers in Catequistas educate the children in the village and prepare them for receiving the Sacraments. The Pastoral de Salud visit the sick and elders in their homes once a month. The Fieles de la Santa Eucaristía attends daily Mass. These groups have fewer numbers than in years past, but they are dedicated in spreading the joy, love, and hope of the Risen Christ.
My experience in Niebla was an Emmaus journey. My new friends reminded me how Christians keep faith in the Risen Lord, even amidst scarcity and adversity.