December 2022 newsletter
Louise Locke, Bolivia
As we approach Christmas and I contemplate the spirit of the season, I find myself reflecting on the meaning and experience of joy. I think about Mary, pregnant with Jesus, who, even in the midst of considerable hardship and persecution, due to her “unwed motherhood” status, uttered one of the most joyful and heartfelt expressions of love in her Magnificat — “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
I also find it meaningful during this time of year to gaze upon a crucifix while listening to the words of the well-known Christmas song Mary Did You Know? “Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?”
Both of these images speak to me about the nature of joy. It doesn’t depend on what the eye can see or the body experience. It is a movement of the heart and a knowing that while things may seem outwardly tragic, difficult or unbearable, we can find joy and peace even in the midst of them and also bring joy to others.
These thoughts lead me to reflect on the life of one of the recent residents of the home for disabled men where I minister; the home is run by the Missionaries of Charity.
Armando was abandoned by his parents at the age of 4, sent to live in foster homes until the age of 18 and then abandoned once again to the unforgiving streets of Cochabamba. He made his bed in an ATM kiosk and depended on the generosity of others for money and food. He had experienced violence, neglect and trauma during his life, which had resulted in significant physical and psychological illnesses. He needed a lot of love and care. He was only 21.
As my colleague, John O’Donoghue, and I interacted with Armando on a daily basis and listened to his story, he told us that he used to work in Cochabamba’s main square and that he knew the mayor personally. He struck us as being very childlike but at the same time intelligent; somewhere along the way he had learned to speak perfect English.
We weren’t sure if what he was telling us was true, but we knew that listening to him with love and empathy was critical. We also knew that he brought with him a Mickey Mouse costume because he used to wear it to entertain the other residents. But we didn’t have any idea of the significance of it. After a few months of living at the Missionaries of Charity home and being in and out of the hospital because of his severe health problems, Armando died. John and I thought it was such a tragic waste of a young, vibrant life and assumed that there would be few to mourn him.
Surprisingly, shortly after his death, a news article with his face and name popped up in my social media feed that gave us much more information about his story. It turns out that what he had told us was absolutely true: He used to dress up as Mickey Mouse and entertain the people in the main square. Armando was beloved for the joy and exuberance he brought to everyone he encountered, especially to the children. The tragic circumstances of his upbringing were also known, and he was, indeed, officially recognized by the mayor as a “good will ambassador” of sorts.
As I reflect on learning about his amazing story, I am struck by Armando’s response to his dire life circumstances. He found a way to forget his own hardships, transcend his circumstances and focus on bringing joy to others. As one of the local columnists observed, “Knowing Armando’s story gave a different meaning to my life. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with small problems, and he taught me that, even if life hits you in the worst way, there is always a smile, … we must not stop dreaming and loving our neighbor.”
In a sense, Armando’s short life gave me a good example about the nature of joy. He gave of himself to others from his heart, in spite of his tragic life, and died seemingly unappreciated and abandoned, but that was not the end of his story. His kindness, exuberance and ability to bring joy to others were remembered with great love and admiration by the people of Cochabamba, and I feel blessed to have met him.
This Advent and Christmas season, may you experience the joy that transcends what you see all around you in this hurting, divided and violent world. And may you bring that joy to others.
Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Now and through Dec. 31, thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!