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Claudia A. Rojas Carvajal - Colombia, Bogotá


Norandina’s Marist ProvincePersonal experiences

Hello, my name is Claudia; I am an odontologist and I live in Bogotá in Colombia. I live with my parents and my sister, since my two brothers are Marist Brothers. I grew up in a Catholic home. My father, a former student of the Marist College in the town of Ibagué, is a hardworking and simple man and my mother is a woman who is very sensitive to the needs of others and is profoundly pious.

When I was young I studied with the Carmelite Sisters, while my brothers went to the Champagnat College of Bogotá. When we arrived at the baccalaureate, my older brother César joined the Remar group and started to spend his holidays attending different activities with the brothers and often a mission camp. As for me at this time, these activities were more an obstacle since during some special periods such as Christmas, he would abandon us to be with people we did not know.

Once we had finished our studies at College, César decided to start the Marist formation of the Postulancy and I started my studies in odontology at the Javeriana University. This was the time when my little brother, Beto, through the intermediary of the college started to visit a squatter district of very poor people to the south of the city. And even though that seemed strange to me that a young person would consecrate his Saturdays to this kind of activities, I approved of it and gave him my help in putting together during the week some materials that he could use on the Saturday during the recreation with the children of this district.

When I finished my odontology studies, I was invited by Brother Nestor Quiceno to visit the “La Paz” district and join the activities that the brothers were carrying out, especially in the sector of health as an odontologist. It was in 1991 and the brothers finished the construction of the CHAMPAGNAT COMMUNITY CENTRE. For me, a new life experience started. At the start it was very difficult because to be able to get to the district, you had to walk through the mud in times of rain and in summer it was in the dust.

The aqueduct was some pipes who used to lose water and leave it in certain points until we had to arrive with some troughs and the sewers were still a dream, thus the quantity of skin diseases that the children had was quite large. I will not deny that several times I thought of giving up and choosing another lifestyle for myself. But the devoted and decided work of the brothers, of some teachers from Champagnat College and of some people from the district who were fighting to improve the living conditions, were the best motivation for wanting to continue at this time and thanks to the spirit that I found I them, I started to understand what family spirit, simplicity of life and love of work meant. Today, when I look back on these years, I give thanks to God for having allowed me to discover this not only in others’ life witness but also in my own actions.

But not everything went well. It continued to be a squatter zone which was often threatened with expulsion. It was thanks to the brothers and especially to Brother Eduardo Botero that we learnt the power of prayer and especially the protection that the Good Mother continually has for her small children.

In my heart I still felt sorry that I had sometimes been an obstacle for my two brothers, César and Beto, to be close to the Marists, thus I consulted Brother Abdón Alvear; my idea was to make it known to families of brothers what their children were doing as Marists and the courageous pathway that they had taken.

We proposed to gather the families of brothers and to start telling them about the life of Father Champagnat, the Marist charism and the life of the Marist Brothers; and so what was to become the third Marist fraternity of Colombia was born.

With this experience and with the conviction that for many people the only thing that they expected was an invitation to belong to the Marist family, in 1999, thanks to brother Abdón, Provincial at this time, we formed the Commission of Marist Formation for Laypeople, in which with a group of brothers and laypeople we realised a formation experience. At the beginning we focussed on the conception of a formation plan for the laypeople of Colombia. But before the situation of poverty that so many of our compatriots experienced and the direct invitation given us in 2003 by the Brother Provincial, Laurentino Albalá, we understood that all this formation needed to be nourished by a project of solidarity.

At this time, the “We were born of solidarity and by solidarity we will be reborn” found more meaning than ever. Now, seven years after we started our journey, it is the solidarity projects and not so much the formation that brings together our laypeople in Colombia: there are twenty-two fraternities with some 423 people who through the Marist style, seek to be for those most in need the affectionate response of God the Father.

If today someone asked me why it is worth following Jesus in the Marist Spirituality, I would say because in the simplicity of life of so many brothers and laypeople, I have realised that the Marist life is not only for teachers but for you in your profession, in your work, what ever, that you are capable of giving love to many people who need it and especially to children and thus to teach them to be good Christians and virtuous citizens.

Because in Mary, Our Good Mother, I have discovered a close woman, a mum, a model and a motivation for all Marist women, so that we see in her the way to go to Jesus in service and in prayer.

Because in life and in the Communities of the Marist Brothers, I see the reflection of the first Christian communities where all is shared and all are equal; they are companions on the journey with whom we share our joys, difficulties, pleasures and the hope of seeing each day a world that is more human.

Because in times of difficulty that I have had and my family has had, the brothers have been for us a source of company and of solidarity.

And because in the Marist family, thanks to so many brothers and laypeople, I feel accepted by God.

When I am questioned about the future, it is inevitable that the image of our Provincial comes to my mind and my heart, he who day after day for the last four years has tried to consolidate the Norandina Marist Family. And his witness encourages me to continue to collaborate with him and with the Province.

It is my desire to be able to continue to launch a direct invitation to so many people. Because I know that it is the only thing that they need to put their gifts at the service of others, and as it happened for me, one day they will be able to arrive at Jesus though the Marist pathway.

Claudia A. Rojas Carvajal, Formation Team of Laypeople, Bogotá, Colombia
Norandina’s Marist Province