Reflecting on 15 years with Maryknoll - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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December 2021 newsletter


John O’Donoghue, Bolivia


Physical therapy with Luis, who is mentally challenged and deaf

Greetings from Cochabamba, Bolivia!

After much anxious waiting, the rain has finally arrived. It seems every year now the rains are arriving late. It was hard preparing the soil for planting this year because the ground was rock hard. We have planted potatoes, corn, beans, onions, peas and numerous other vegetables, so we are hoping for a good harvest. We are lucky to have such fertile soil in our area. We have a small river that flows by at the back of our compound, and for some time we were pumping up water from the river to nourish our soil, but with each passing day our capacity to do so was reduced, so it was a blessing when the rain came.

Preparing for food distribution

The coronavirus continues to dominate our evening news. We are presently experiencing our fourth wave of the virus, and the number of infections is increasing daily. The vaccination rate here has improved, but is still very low at 38%. COVID has claimed the lives of more than 19,000 people in Bolivia, but people are worried about the continuous waves and emerging stronger variants. The wearing of facial masks has improved, but there are still areas where this is not so and many people are very lax in practicing social distancing.

The economy has been hit hard by COVID, and unemployment has increased significantly. We continue to do monthly food distributions, but we now have people coming to our back gate every morning looking for food. Our food stocks are running low, but we continue to do the best we can. So many people are desperate for food and work that the crime rate has also risen, which is very sad.

COVID has been such a shock to the economy that people here feel it will take years for Bolivia to get back on its feet. The new government under President Luis Arce is just not living up to expectations, and people are losing faith. Many are fed up with all the political bickering between the various political parties of government. The previous president, Jeanine Áñez, is still in jail awaiting trial on charges of sedition.

Recently we celebrated the Missionaries of Charity foundation day. Officially established by St. Teresa of Calcutta 71 years ago, the order now has more than 5,000 sisters working in 133 countries around the world. We had a very beautiful outdoor Mass, attended by over 150 people and followed by a small celebration. They do excellent work attending to the needs of the poor, and I am proud to be part of their team here in Cochabamba.

Physical therapy with a pastor who suffered a stroke

I continue to assist patients with their daily exercises. Everyone has now been vaccinated, which makes things easier, and we can work up close again. I continue to do a lot of physical therapy and in general supervise patients as they move about the compound and do exercises in our small rehab center.

I recently celebrated 15 years of service with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, a journey that has taken me to East Timor in Asia; Kenya in Africa, and now Bolivia in South America. I have enjoyed the variety of work from supervising a workshop where we made hand-powered tricycles, wheelchairs and specialized shoes for people with disabilities in East Timor, to working with women’s and men’s income-generating groups to empower them economically in Kenya, to direct, hands-on physical therapy with disabled patients here in Bolivia.

Best regards to everyone, and thank you for your support. It is most appreciated. Be safe during this difficult time of the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully we will soon have enough vaccine distribution to assist the rest of the world, especially the global South, so that everyone will be safe in the long run.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

I am so grateful for your continuing support of my ministry. During this season of giving, I would like to urge you to consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign. This new campaign 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.

A group of donors has already pledged to match the dollars raised by this campaign 2-to-1. That means that every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. This campaign will ensure that Maryknoll Lay Missioners will be able to continue to send and to support missioners like me in the years to come. Please pray for the success of this campaign and if you can, please donate at the “Walk With Us” button below. 


John O'Donoghue
John serves in a men’s HIV/AIDS Shelter with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Cochabamba, Bolivia.