Stand Firm in the Faith - Nerisa Taua & Living in Diverse Community - Shelbie Weightman

“Stand Firm in the Faith” - 1 Corinthians 16: 13

Talofa! My name is Nerisa Taua. I will be a senior at Chaminade University of Honolulu studying English and Environmental Studies. The past few days I've spent with students from other Marianist Universities has been wonderful. I've met a lot of great people during our visit to Skid Row, LA Catholic Worker, Good Shepherd Shelter, Homeboy Industries, and other places. Participating in this LA Immersion has allowed me to be surrounded by environments that I have never been exposed to before. It has made me more aware of the homelessness in Los Angeles and the great works of the Catholic Church. 

Today, we went to the Spanish mass at Dolores Mission, Venice Beach, and visited volunteers of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). Dolores Mission was where Father Gregory Boyle first began his ministries. I had trouble understanding what was being said during Mass because it was Spanish. However, I was sitting next to Mo who helped translate some things for me. I had a very familiar feeling when I was sitting in Mass. A feeling of belonging. I saw how families, especially the children, were involved with the church. It made me miss home, American Samoa. The music, people, and decors reminded me so much of my church back home.

After Mass, Father Mike gave us a tour around the church and showed us two important, original artworks. The first one was a painting of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. This was my first time hearing about his story. In 1980, Archbishop Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence. Archbishop Romero stood by his faith and beliefs. He knew that he was targeted by many people, especially Salvadoran Soldiers. Still, he continued the works of the Lord. The painting of Archbishop Romero contained many symbols and hidden messages. My favorite part of the painting was the smoke from the candle moving into the form of Jesus being crucified. I didn't see it at first until Father Mike pointed it out. The other artwork was a wooden cross with colorful paintings on it. It was a representation of “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt.6:10). Jesus’s crucifixion was represented by a peasant whose blood from the spear-pierce wound was flowing through the flourishing crops. Similar to the Romero painting, the cross painting contained a lot of symbols and hidden messages. Both of the paintings were beautifully made. The hidden messages opened my eyes to the issues going on with the world concerning religion. Christians in different countries are being criticized or executed for their beliefs.

The story of Archbishop Romero reminds me of Sister Meena Barwa. I learned about Sister Meena during Chaminade University's Women’s Retreat. She is one of the victims of the worst anti-Christian violence. Sister Meena was repeatedly raped and beaten by several men all because she was Christian. During an interview, Sister Meena said something that left a lot of people, including myself, speechless. The interviewer asked Sister Meena “What spiritual sense do you make of what happened to you?” Sister Meena replied, “I have thought about that, I have prayed and meditated about that...I believe that there are certain kinds of sufferings that Jesus Christ, because He was not a woman, could not experience with his body. And I believe that God gave me the grace to complete the sufferings of Christ in order to save the world”. This is how strong her faith was. Archbishop Romero and Sister Meena are just a few of the many martyrs around the world. I pray and hope that my faith will stay as strong as theirs.

When we were at JVC, it was great to see how passionate young people can be when it comes to service and God’s work. The Jesuit volunteers, Sam, Kirsten, and Erin, seemed very passionate in the volunteer work they do. After asking a few questions about JVC and receiving answers, I am thinking of applying for JVC or Marianist PULSE. 

Our time at Venice beach was much needed. We had a great time playing volleyball and playing tourist. The sunset was beautiful. It reminded me of how beautiful God’s creations are. Pope Francis mentions in the Encyclical how we must live by citizenship and not dominionship. This means that because we are made in God’s image, it doesn't give us the right to to do whatever we want with God’s creation, such as trees and animals. Instead, we must be citizens and take care of God’s creations. Being at the beach made me realize how content I am with life thanks to God and His creations. 

I am grateful for this Immersion experience. I know God has brought me here for a reason. I wish it could go on for the whole summer and not just one week. I lift everyone I have met and seen in my prayers. I hope to share my experience with everyone and raise awareness about homelessness. 

Nerisa Taua
Senior, Chaminade University

Compared to previous days, Sunday, May 21 was much more relaxed. We did some sight seeing and immersed ourselves in the community in a different way, other than service. We started our day off by attending Mass at Dolores Mission. It was a quaint little church, and the mass was spoken in Spanish. This was a new experience for me, as I have never attended a mass in a different language. Only a few people in our group speak fluent Spanish, while others know a little, and some know close to none, yet the people in this community welcomed us into their church with open arms. 

After mass, we grabbed some tacos, enchiladas, and taquitos from the children selling them outside the church and brought them to a house that is part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). I hadn't heard of it before this day, but after listening to Sam, Kristen, and Erin, talk about their experience, what they do, and what JVC is all about, I found that the concept really interests me. I feel that it’s something I would like to consider being a part of after I finish my undergraduate education. The four pillars of JVC are community, spirituality, simplicity, and service. There are houses throughout the nation and even in other countries, usually 5-7 people live in a house and immerse themselves and serve in the community around them. The basic necessities of living in the house are covered by JVC, such as water, electricity, and food. Other than that, they are given $100 a month as a stipend that they can spend on whatever they'd like, such as cell phone service or entertainment. Each member of the house is a full-time volunteer at a specific place in the community in which they live. They also participate in community events and activities.

After eating our lunch and talking with the people in the JVC house, we headed over to the popular Venice beach. It was about a one hour drive, which wasn't unexpected considering that most places we go are an hour drive with LA traffic. However, we then spent another hour or so just driving around trying to find parking. This wasn't the ideal situation, and our patience was tested, but eventually we were able to park and walk over to the shops and the beach. While at Venice beach, we played some volleyball, as well as walked along the shore and explored the shops. Venice beach was much bigger and more crowded than I had expected, but I enjoyed my time walking around the touristy location.

I would like to end this post by talking about a few things that I have been reflecting on a lot these past few days. Six days ago, 15 people from three different universities spread throughout the United States came together in Los Angeles, CA in order to serve the community. The fact that I have met many new faces from both Chaminade and St. Mary's, and that our group has become so close in just a matter of days is astonishing. Not only have a I gotten to know each of them individually, I have also learned about their  cultures and traditions. Immersion trips like these are strange because people come together from all walks of life for a week or so, become close friends, and then leave and go back to the lives at home that they had before the trip began. I'm not looking forward to the goodbyes we'll have to say in a couple of days, but I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have met these new friends and to have experienced LA in this way. 

I think coming to LA with the intention of serving others and seeing the parts that aren't as "pretty", is important. This is because people often associate LA with celebrities and beautiful weather and diverse landscapes. Although it is true that LA offers these things, it is also filled with many other aspects that people don't often think about. Having the opportunity to experience these areas as well is something that I am thankful for. Los Angeles is a very diverse city. I have talked to many people who have come from places all over the nation, and the world. Whether I was talking to a volunteer at the Hippie Kitchen, or the homeless guests that were sitting in the garden, I realized that each person has their own story and had a unique background and view of life. It's interesting to think that most of the people I have met while in LA I only talked to for a short moment, and after that moment, I most likely will never see them again. That being said, their experiences and stories they shared with me will remain with me in memories forever.

Shelbie Wightman
Sophomore, University of Dayton


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