January 9, 2016

Hi all,

My name is Barbara Falcon-Mendoza and I am a sophomore at St. Mary's University in San Antonio Texas. Back in San Antonio I would volunteer at various organizations and met many people in need, but I never really sat down to listen to them. Instead, I was always focused on how I could help them, if they needed food or clothing--mainly material things. This trip has changed that. I've learned to listen to the people's stories, because sometimes that's all they need at the moment, or all I can give them for now: an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.

Today was our fifth full day of our LA immersion and we spent our evening at the Marianist Brother's house in West Hills, LA. I got to meet new people within the Marianist community and had time to reflect on all the things that have happened throughout the week. The main question we were asked to reflect upon was: "Where have you felt the holy spirit the most throughout this week?" My first thought turned to the people I've met thus far. Those who have taught me new things and have shared their stories with me. I never thought that these strangers would have such a great impact on me. These fellow human beings however are not strangers, but are in fact ambassadors of god, a term so often used by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, co-founders of the Catholic Worker Movement to describe the poor and homeless. Out of the handful of ambassadors of god, I had the privilege to speak with was "grandma" from the Union Rescue Mission located on Skid Row. We were giving the women free nail jobs and she approached me. At first I was hesitant because I had never painted my nails, let alone another person's. However, her sweet smile and kind voice made my hesitation fade.

Grandma is a 60 year old Hispanic woman from LA, who has been homeless for more than five years. Before being homeless she had a stable job, kind and bright kids, and a loving partner. Unfortunately, five years ago she lost her partner, or as she called him, the love of her life. His death was the trigger that led her to drug abuse and alcoholism. Grandma jumped from shelter to shelter in LA, until she ended up on Skid Row. After ending up in the hospital for a drug overdose and attempted suicide she learned that god had a greater plan for her: he wanted her to live. It's been two years since that day, and although she has not been able to leave Skid Row, grandma spends her time in church praying for all the people she meets on the streets and shelters, she even told me she kept a list, and that she would add me to it. At this point I was tearing up as I cleaned her old nail polish and nails. Instead of ruining her nail job I decided to turn her over to someone in our group that had more experience with nail painting, so I explained this to her and she simply smiled and said thank you. Before she left me she told me that she knew I would live a long happy life. When I asked her why she thought this and her reply was, "because you're always smiling. If you can smile through anything, you can get through everything." This woman shared her pain with me, the injustices she faced, but she was not resentful with life, god, or people. Instead, she prays for us all and wishes us happiness. Upon reflection, I know the holy spirit was present, because an ambassador of god graced me with so much love and kindness that I hope I can one day return.

Barbara Falcon-Mendoza
St. Mary's University
San Antonio, TX

Hi everyone,
My name is Kayla Nix, and I am a Junior at the beautiful Chaminade University of Honolulu. In March of 2015, I was honored to be among one of eleven individuals who made a commitment to become a Lay Marianist in the Hokupa'a community. The months following the commitment have been a learning experience, as I am becoming more in touch with my faith, but this LA Immersion has given me the opportunity to see what it truly entails to be a Lay Marianist. When I wrote my final commitment to become a Lay Marisnist, I had made a commitment to, "be a woman who is strong in faith, a faith of the heart inspired by love, by which I will persevere in hope. I commit to developing skills that lead to personal and community actions for the construction of a more just and human world, promoting human rights and human development. I commit to model Mary and respond to the needs of the world, as she once did through fidelity, equality, and solidarity, walking with her in humility and freedom. I commit to the power of the Holy Spirit, illuminating and transforming the life of others, where I can help guide those who are lost in the North direction through the glory of Hokupa'a, for the sake of the good news." When I made my final commitment, I wrote those words to indicate who I want to become over the years. Never would I have imagined that in less that a year, I was able to fulfill my commitment as a Lay Marianist.
Thus far in the LA Immersion, I have had the privilege to work with the most incredible organizations, which have taught me more life lessons that I could have ever imagined. Through every volunteering opportunity, my faith was strengthened, my efforts were given through love, and it brought me hope that these organizations in LA have the power to change the world. This entire trip has been filled with community growth, whether that be through the laughs we share at family dinners or the tears we shed from individual's emotional testimonies at the shelters. The skills that I have  developed from this community I will carry with me forever, as I am finally understanding what it means for a community to function, which I intend to bring back to my community in Hawaii. Organizations, such as Union Rescue Mission and Catholic Workers, have showed me what it takes to construct a more just and human world with the love and compassion they give each and every one of the individuals who walk through their doors. Catherine from the Catholic Workers and Dion from Union Rescue Mission portray the charism that Mary displayed, modeling, yet again, that through the continual efforts to bring smiles to faces who've had rainy days and stability with their efforts to never give up, I was able to witness the modern-day ways in which Mary would have responded to the needs of the world. Catherine and Dion displayed all characteristics; fidelity, equality, and solidarity, as they, too, would walk with those they are serving with humility and freedom. I was given the opportunity to model their works as I stepped foot in their shoes for a day, experiencing what exactly it takes to make organizations like Union Rescue Mission to function. With just a few short hours, I was able to experience fidelity, equality, and solidarity, as I served my fellow brothers and sisters in the rain, walking with them for a brief moment in time, developing the utmost humility for what Catherine and Dion do. The Holy Spirit has been illuminated these past five days, as with each experience I am encountered with, I see the Holy Spirit among each individual I encounter. Each encounter allowed me the opportunity to lead my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with warm food to fill their aching stomachs and a voice to finally be heard.
Hokupa'as illumination has shined brighter than I could have ever imagined, and I am forever grateful for the memories and lessons I have learned in Los Angeles, California. This was just a small glimpse of what measures need to be taken to live a life as a Lay Marianist, but I now have a wonderful representation of how to fulfill my commitment. The individuals I have encountered will forever have a place in my heart, and I could not have been blessed with a more perfect community to share this life journey with. I am looking forward to bringing back everything I have learned to Hawaii where the O'ahu community can tend to the needs of our homeless population and bring awareness to this pressing issue affecting millions of people every day. I wish to be the change in the world, and I will do so with the Marianist charism and the memories that will forever be kept in my heart from the 2016 LA Immersion.

Kayla Nix
Chaminade University of Honolulu
Pueblo West, Colorado    


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