Encountering Life in Cali

By Fr. Michael Obeng-Shang SVD on February 12, 2018

The  bright  sun warmed  my face as I  returned from celebrating  Mass at one of the parish  substations. The sound of the  bicycle tires humming over the pavement  and the low clicking of the chain lulled  me into a reflective mood.

As  I pedaled,  I thought of  my family in Ghana  and of my decision to  become a Divine Word Missionary.  The death of one of my sisters and  then of my father were painful times during  the early years of my extended formation. I persevered  with my studies and training and professed perpetual vows  in 2006. Ordination followed in 2007.

When  I received  my mission assignment  to Colombia, I wondered  how I would be able to learn  and become fluent in Spanish. My  friends and family members asked me  why I chose Colombia and not another  country. To their worries, I replied, “People  are living there; I can live there too.” And it  is true; I have encountered life in Cali, Colombia,  and accept the challenges and risks of working here.

In  spite  of my doubts,  I did learn Spanish  and arrived in Our Lady  of Mercy Parish in 2009. Divine  Word Missionaries began to serve the  parish in 2002. In addition to the main  parish church, there are two substations located  in the eleven suburbs of Cali that make up the territory  of the parish.

Unemployment  and poverty are  persistent problems.  Violence and drugs are  our greatest challenges. Sometimes  people are displaced because they have  been directly threatened or have moved away  from danger. Teenage youth are most affected,  but all the people of the city are in one way  or another.

This  includes  even me. One  Sunday afternoon,  I was about to enter  the parish residence. Suddenly,  a boy who was not more than fifteen  years old came up behind me and put a  pistol to my head. “Give me your money or  I will shoot you,” he demanded. He searched my  pockets and when his fingers touched my wallet, he  lost his concentration. I took advantage of that moment  by taking hold of his hand. We struggled, and I finally  took away his loaded pistol.

Afterward,  I went into  our residence and  prepared something to  eat. When I tried to put  food in my mouth, the fork  with the food hit my lips and  chin, but missed my mouth. I realized  that I was still shaking!

About  a year  later, I  learned that  the boy had been  killed. Violence creates  more enemies and revenge creates  a vicious circle that never seems  to end. Some family members are complicit  in protecting their own. Other people are immobilized  by fear and frustration. It is a very complicated issue.  

There  is hope,  however, because  the majority of people  are good. In our parish,  people of all ages respond  generously by sharing in pastoral  works and participating in efforts to  improve the wellbeing of the wider community.  I believe that a well-formed laity is a blessing  and an asset to a parish.

In  2010,  the Archdiocese  of Cali renewed its  emphasis on evangelization  by forming lay missionary groups  in the parishes. I am proud to say  that the group in Our Lady of Mercy parish  has passed the test of time. We began with more  than seventy lay missionaries and still have thirty  people actively involved. Each Sunday the lay missionaries  gather for prayer, reading the Word of God, and shared reflections.  Afterward they visit homes to speak about the Word of God and invite  the residents to Monday meetings where, together with others, people can  deepen their faith and commitment to the Christian life with prayer and the  Scriptures.

Our  Lady receives  a warm welcome  into many homes during  the months of May and October  through the Pilgrim Virgin home visitation  program. Families gather in various sectors of  the parish to pray the rosary and join in the  celebration of the Eucharist.

While  young people  are preparing to  receive First Communion,  first reconciliation, and confirmation,  we ask their parents to commit themselves  to the formation of their children and themselves.  The parents meet together once a month with pastoral  leaders and resource persons, such as psychologists, to  focus on the Catholic faith, personal relationships, the home  and family life, and Christian values.

Some  youth from  ages nine to  fifteen are even  eager to become catechists  so they can share what they  have learned with their younger  sisters and brothers. We have an  annual celebration to recognize and  thank our altar servers. During the year,  they look forward to assisting at Masses, and  frequently, our servers go with adult mentors to  visit the elderly in their homes. These activities  are times when we can encourage the children and youth  to think about the priesthood or religious life.

There  are many  couples who  have not had  the opportunity  to receive the sacrament  of matrimony. I am committed  to helping couples receive the  proper validation of their relationship  in the Church through that sacrament.

Buen  Samaritano  (Good  Samaritan)  is the name  of the parish  social apostolate.  The ten people who  are part of Buen Samaritano  are willing to dedicate part of  every Saturday to this special work.  They go through the streets of our suburbs  with a three-wheeled, bicycle-style cart, knock  on doors, and ask for help from the community.  Then on Wednesdays, some of the members go to the  food bank of the archdiocese to buy grains, vegetables,  or whatever the food bank has that day. These items supplement  what is received on Saturdays. About eighteen to twenty-five individuals  and families come on Wednesday to take home some food items for a token  offering. Every two months, a different group of people receives food from Buen  Samaritano.

With  all these  thoughts, my  bike ride to the  parish residence passed  quickly. I had a little  time before welcoming our lay  missionaries for their Sunday meeting.  Together with them and so many other people,  I continue to encounter life in Cali. We thank  God for his goodness to us!


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