The Many Roles We Play

By Frater Martin Herrera, SVD

The Many Roles We PlayOld Church in Bolivia

I arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on August 15, 2021, in the evening. I was greeted by two SVD conferers waiting to take me to the district Divine Word house in Bolivia. At six in the morning, we headed out for our 18-hour drive to Cochabamba.

After three months of language school in Cochabamba, I was sent to a new destination for the mission. Laja is the birthplace of Nuestra Senora de La Paz, colloquially known as La Paz, which is one of Bolivia’s two capital cities.

Martin_Herrera_Bolivia_2.jpgMost of the government's offices are located in La Paz. Laja is a small town with a church that dates back to the year 1545, before the foundation of La Paz. Laja is 13,451 feet above sea level and is cold most of the year. Foreigners and missioners often have difficulties with breathing, nosebleeds and headaches.

Despite the fact that Laja has a small population, the Divine Word Missionaries at Parish Immaculada Concepcion de Laja serve two parish communities (Laja and Tambillo) and 34 small chapels in the countryside.

When I arrived there was only one priest. I began to help as soon as arrived. I spent most of my time in the cemetery. The people have strong traditions; they honor and remember their deceased family members with Mass and blessings at certain anniversaries of the person’s passing: eight days, one month, six months and one year. Since there was only one priest, I helped to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word during many of these anniversaries and Sundays.

Martin_Herrera_Bolivia_3.jpgThe mission in Laja was not only preaching the Good News. As a missionary, we do many more roles than I ever expected. Since we serve poor communities, we could not afford to hire help. Therefore, as a missionary in Laja, I have become church secretary, cook, gardener, electrician, maintenance man, catechist, counselor, retreat director, and for the people automatically almost the parish priest. Because of my commitment to the community being very similar to what parish pastor would do, people will call me "father" (padrecito), they will not distinguish between seminarian and priest.

As SVD missionaries, we serve many of the communities that other religious or diocesan priests view as difficult and not sustainable. Laja, Tambillo and all of the 34 communities we serve fall into this category.

Harsh climate, having so many communities to attend, not having financial resources nor staff for support, and difficulties with the culture and language are some of the challenges that we face. With the Grace of God and the help of the Divine Word and prayers of all good people of good faith, we continue the mission that Jesus Christ has entrusted us to continue.

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