Monthly Archives: February 2014

My encounter with Antonia

My encounter with Antonia
(Minh Nguyen)

“Would you buy my knitted jacket, please?” The woman prisoner in her late 60 looked at me begging while she continued knitting. Our eyes met. My curiosity urged me to find out more about why someone wanted to sell something she was still working on. I was the last visitor leaving the prison before it closed down for noon recess I felt rushed but I still followed my instinct.

“Why would you want to sell something that you didn’t even finish yet?” I asked. “Oh, no, I am almost done, see? …only one more line. Please buy it. I will sell it to you for $1.50 less. It’s only $10. Buy it, please” she replied.

I looked at the jacket. It was white and beautifully done. I just preferred it in a different color. “I will do whatever color you choose later but buy this one please” she begged. “Why?” I asked. “Because I haven’t eaten in two days and this type of jacket takes me 3 days to finish. I need to sell this …I need money to buy food …I am hungry.” Her answer left me speechless. Here I was heading home for lunch and this woman would go one more day without food if no one bought her jacket. No more question or bargain. I found myself paying her and took the unfinished jacket home.

It’s worth it to know a bit about the prison system here in Bolivia and what led to our encounter. Besides separated men and women prisons, some prisons have mixed men, women and family with children under 6 years old. The prisoners are free inside of the restricted, constricted compound; they learn new skills, work and sell things to meet their ends. The government doesn’t feed them. Each prisoner receives under $1.00 per day to survive on and a normal lunch would cost $1.50. To worsen the case many times the government is late to send the money from one month to three months. They would starve inside without working or getting support from their family outside.

The “San Sebastian Women prison” is one of two prisons where I teach hairdressing and this is how I met Antonia. From this first strange encounter, we later became friends. She told me her life stories and taught me knitting. As our friendship grew, I finally finished the last line of that unfinished jacket to give to my sister in law.

To me it’s life giving when we are both giving and receiving. By offering my presence and letting Antonia know that I care and that she has much to offer, I raise her self-esteem as she passes on her life experiences and wisdom on to me. By mingling with the marginalized, God becomes more visible and real to me in everyone I meet, in their struggles and their sufferings. What I have learned is that God is already there with them and waits for me. How superior and arrogant I would be to think that I bring God to them. God of humility – I live and learn.

St. Ann. Phoenixville, PA.

Invitational, February 16, 2014

Speakers: Katie and Chris Reidk_c_reid (MKLM)

Location: 502 South Main Street
Phoenixville, PA.

Pastor: Rev. John Newns

Masses: Sunday at 6:00 pm

Website: Click here

Rural Chile Experience and Intensive Spanish Program

Rural Chile Experience and Intensive Spanish Program

CHFeb13_001Guide: Cecilia Espinoza, Maryknoll Lay Missioners

Location: Vilches and Curepto, Chile

When: February 8 – 26, 2014


Maryknoll Lay Missioners provides an intensive Program of Spanish language and Chilean idioms through classroom work, practical and cultural experiences to increase knowledge of terminology, vocabulary and cultural differences in communication. They will introduce you to Chilean rural life, history and culture through presentations, both academic and artistic, tours to different areas of interest and a living experience with a Chilean rural family to strengthen your cross-cultural competencies and language.

Interview from “The Tidings”, publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Last August while covering a couple of church dates in Los Angeles and hosting a returned missioner and FAB alum gathering, Sam and Cecilia were interviewed by a journalist of the news publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, “The Tidings”.

Click here to read the full article, published January 31, 2014.


St Patrick’s probably has the cleanest church, school, and dispensary in the whole of Bangladesh slum, all because of Mama Nemah. You will see her mopping floors, cleaning toilets, washing windows, setting up for Mass, teaching the nursery school children how to wash their hands, and washing altar linens. She has internalized the old saying, cleanliness is next to Godliness.

When she is not doing these activities, you will find her sitting on a long bench next to her cubby hole where she keeps all her cleaning supplies, reading her Bible, praying, writing in her journal, or counseling neighbors and friends who have come seeking her wisdom and advice. She is a respected elder in the community.

We were talking one day, and I was telling her what an inspiration she was for me. She laughed. I asked her to tell me her story: did she always have such a deep faith? She laughed again, then began to tell me her story:
“I was born in a good Muslim family, with good Muslim parents. When I was 14 years old, my parents arranged a marriage for me as is our custom. I did not know the young man or anything about the arrangement until it was all decided. My parents told me that the young man was Catholic, but not to worry, he had promised to become Muslim. That never happened, and it was I who was made to convert to Catholicism.

Twenty years later, and after baptizing and raising our 7 children in the Catholic faith, my husband sent me back to my parents, took our children to his parents home, and started a new life with a much younger wife. My parents told me it was God’s will that I should now come back to Islam. But my children were crying to me: Mama, will you abandon us and go back to Islam? I was very confused, but it was their need that gave me the sense of direction. I went and collected my children from my husband’s parents and told them we would find the way together. It was at that moment that I knew that I wanted to be Catholic with my children, and I promised myself that I would be a good Catholic, and help my children to be good Catholics too.

God helped us find the way. We moved into Bangladesh and I found work in a garment factory, had a charcoal and firewood business on the side, and enrolled my children in government school. My last born is now finishing secondary school. When the garment factory closed, it was at this time that Fr Dolan arrived and started St Patrick’s Church here in Bangladesh. I was hired as the cleaning woman. It has been the greatest blessing in my life.”

As I listened to Mama Nemah’s story I was even more inspired and felt the confluence of 2 spiritual traditions- Muslim and Christian- shaping her spirituality. True to her Muslim background, she turns to God in prayer often in the day, just as she must have seen her parents do, as a child. And because of her life circumstances, and true to her word, she has embraced the Catholic faith. What she is for me is a great soul, formed by 2 great religious traditions. She radiates the joy of the Divine that can’t be confined to any one religious tradition.

St. Michael. Vicksburg MS.

Invitational, February 2, 2014

Speakers: Katie and Chris Reidk_c_reid (MKLM)

Location: 100 Saint Michael Place
Vicksburg, MS

Pastor: Rev. P.J Curley

Masses: Sunday at 8:30 and 11:00 am

Website: Click here

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