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Greeting from Santiago, Chile to you all in Athenry. Though thousands of miles separate us, we have been very close to you these last few weeks. Your parish priest will, no doubt, tell you about his visit, in general to Chile, and here am I, fulfilling a promise made to him, as he jumped on the plane to write about ‘our neck of the woods.’

I’ll begin by telling you, that we are a group of four Presentation Sisters living on the edge of big, squalling, smoggy Santiago, that has a population of 14 million, half of whom live under the official poverty line. The neo-liberal system of economy is also well in place here, and this means, as you well know that the poor get poorer, while the rich get richer.

But to get back to “San Esteban Martir”, that’s the name of the parish where we work, it has a population of 40,000 not that these are all “Catolicos a su mauera” – that means they do their own thing, but in practice, as far as any public expression of faith is concerned, it means they do nothing!

We work in the parish – it’s not exactly organised like Athenry parish, as you may well guess! There is much more active participation, not just on Sunday, but all during the week as well. Each Chapel, and there are four, has lots of “sallas” or meeting rooms, I suppose you’d call them, and these are in use for Catechetics, Baptism, Marriage preparation, youth and pre-adolescent, Solidarity and Prayer Groups, CCB’s – or basic Christian Communities, Ecology, Women’s groups, workshops, personal development, Senior citizens….

And right now we’re celebrating the “Mes de Marie” – or Our Lady’s month, that you have in May, and when that finishes, on December 8th, we start preparing for Christmas. The “Novena del Nono Jesus” attracts the attention of lots – lots of children and their parents, and on Christmas Eve they’ll all dress and we’ll have amount of dramas. From now until Christmas, also, the Solidarity groups will be working hard trying to help the less well-off neighbours, and particularly at Christmas we are all more than well aware of those who have nothing to eat.

And where are we in all this? We’re with the people, we accompany the people; that means we prepare leaders who run the groups and workshops, organise activities and generally run their own Church.

We love working like this with the people, but it’s tiring and exhausting work. Whereas we can be called on at any hour of the day or night, our main work begins at about five and can go on until midnight or after. That doesn’t mean that we are always working.

Monday is our day of rest, but if and when visitors, like Tony arrive, we drop it all and run to meet them.

Carmel Raftery, a native of Woodlawn, Ballinasloe, lived and taught in Presentation College from 1967 – 1975.

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Written by Sr. Carmel Raftery

Published here 08 Mar 2023 and originally published Summer 1998

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