May 19, 2019

Last week we began a series of reflections by those who went on pilgrimage to the Dominican Republic last month. This week’s reflections are from Val Park:

Before I entered seminary, I volunteered at my home parish as a children’s catechist. A great lesson that has stayed with me from the years I spent teaching children was this,

“You don’t teach by what you say, but you teach by who you are.”

Why do I share this quote with you now? During our time in the Dominican Republic, we had an opportunity to make a visit to a community called Batey Libertad. Batey Libertad is one of the poorest communities in the Dominican Republic and what stood out to me right away as we entered there was the group of three or four-year-old little children running around the community without their parent’s supervision. As we stepped off our vehicle, these children approached us immediately, with curious eyes and joyful enthusiasm. One by one, the children began gathering around us, and soon, each of them would lunge forward into our arms to be held by us or to hold one of our hands. Some of us who were able had two children on each of our arms. I too held a child in my arms and was surprised by how tight of a grip he had on me. The child’s grip was so tight that after about half an hour as I began to sweat and my arms were getting tired I was trying to lower him down to the ground but he had no intention to let go, rather he held on to me even tighter. It was kind of overwhelming especially since there were many other children around me who also wanted to be held, but I could only hold on to this one child who would not let go.

That evening when we returned to the Jesuit center in Santiago, we had an opportunity to reflect about our day’s experience at the Batey. An image that kept running in my mind were the faces of the children who surrounded us, and most especially the child who held on to me so tight that I couldn’t let go of him for a long while. The child had left an impression on me and as I began reflecting about the experience, I noticed a certain warmth that I felt in recounting the experience. Something that dawned upon me was the fact that these children truly made us feel welcomed and needed. I realized that these children needed us, but in some ways, we needed them too. As a foreigner and an outsider, feeling a bit nervous about coming into a new environment, these children by holding on to our hands and lunging forward to be held by us, put us right at ease, and we truly felt a sense of belonging, this feeling of ‘I am valued and I am really needed here’. The children at the Batey weren’t saying those words to us but rather, they showed us, not with their lips, but rather, the holding of hands and putting their arms around our necks.

“You don’t teach by what you say, but you teach by who you are.”

The children at Batey Libertad, just by being who they are, taught a valuable lesson on the importance of welcoming. We all know that welcoming is important. We all desire to be welcomed. But it is one thing to speak about it, and as the children of Batey Libertad have powerfully demonstrated, it can be a totally transforming experience for our people when we live it.