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Marist Bulletin - Number 98


Laura Beatriz Arenas, from Chile, a volunteer in Comarapa, Bolivia

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Br. Lluís Serra

Laura Beatriz Arenas Bovet works as a volunteer in Comarapa, Bolivia, a city of about 4000 people, capital of Manuel Mª Caballero Province in the Department of Santa Cruz. She’s a member of the Marist community that includes Brothers Karlos Aguirre, Bonifacio González and Andrés Eulate, and also Carlos Ares, a volunteer from Spain. She teaches at the Gabriel René Moreno Faith and Joy colegio run by the Marist Brothers, which brings together 1000 students and offers them, in addition to the standard curriculum, courses in farming and animal husbandry.

I hear you’re retired.
Yes, I retired in January of this year. I was a teacher at the Marist Brothers Academy in San Fernando, Chile.

How did you wind up here?
Last November Brother Pedro Marcos, the current Provincial of Santa María de los Andes, spoke to a group of teachers about the volunteer program. I listened carefully to what he said and then we all went to the chapel. I asked myself, “What am I going to do next year after I’ve retired?” I went to Brother Pedro and told him, “When I retire, I want to head for Bolivia, Peru or wherever. I’m ready to go wherever you send me.”

An answer befitting a saintly brother… But you have a family of your own. What did they think?
Their two basic questions were “Where?” and “When?” Where? Bolivia. When? I asked Br. Pedro for a month to say goodbye to my family. I’ve been a single mom for the last 25 years and I have three children, two of whom are married, a daughter 31, and twin sons, 30. I have two cute granddaughters 11 and 8, and a year-and-a-half old grandson. They gave me their blessing.

And so you’ve come here to Comarapa, Bolivia.
Exactly. I traveled with Brother Pedro, arrived in Cochabamba, and the following Monday was in Comarapa. I didn’t know what I was getting into. Brother Karlos was good at preparing me little by little for the things I was to do. I’m teaching religion to 7th and 8th graders and have a 7th grade homeroom. In addition, I live with a few teenage girls and help out in the boarding school. I pray with the brothers and participate in their community life.

A good example of shared mission...
Look, in Chile people talked about shared mission, but as far as I’m concerned it was pure theory. The nice texts are all behind me now; here I’m living the real thing. The community is excellent. There are three brothers, a Spanish volunteer who’s here for one year, and myself, from Chile. I never imagined things would turn out this way. We share our morning prayer, attend Mass, have lunch together – I’m just like another brother.

You live with a few girls in a house across the street.
I live with four girls. Sara had a baby when she was 15, so I’m somewhat of a mom and a grandmother at the same time. Lidia used to work at a karaoke bar, and María Eugenia, 19, a catechism teacher, has been looking after her brother since her parents died. She helps me a lot. I found living here very hard at the beginning. The only thing I know how to do is show them my loving care, and that makes me really happy.

Do you ever regret having come here?
When we have our disagreements… - but I’m committed to being here for a year, and no matter what, I’ll be here. Really, without being indispensable, I do feel I’m helping a lot.

(Without waiting for another question, Laura begins sharing some thoughts about her personal life.)
I’ve received so many things from God…! Ever since I separated – the truth is, my husband abandoned me – I’ve always been convinced that God is the only person who will never let me down. I was deeply wounded when my husband left us, but it didn’t lead me to stop loving people. I looked at my children and nothing else mattered. My parents helped me a lot. My mother was very devout. I have seven brothers and sisters. Earlier I was a novice with the Immaculate Conception Sisters. My ambitions clashed with my family loyalties. I had one foot in the convent and the other in our home. My father respected my freedom, but even so he used to shed tears for me whenever he passed by the convent. I have quite a rebellious spirit and in the end I refused to be tied down by all the rules.

But now you fit in well with this community…
Yes, we are building a very enriching community of prayer and action. The director is an incredible person. As a man he sees things from one perspective and I as a woman see them from another, but we come to a consensus. Living in community is challenging but I couldn’t imagine living in a better one than mine. For Mother’s Day they were so thoughtful and presented me with several CDs of Kairoi. I feel their great love for me. They’re like my children. We have a good community plan, which according to Br. Antonio Peralta is a very ambitious one.

Please tell us a bit about the plan…
We feel our community is being called to live a Christ-centered life, beginning by being a welcoming family, in solidarity, and displaying a simple lifestyle, sharing our everyday experiences, especially with the people closest to us and those entrusted to our care and kindness. We never skip prayer... I consider that a key point and it’s our strength. There’s a lot of understanding … if I don’t get up in the morning because I went to bed at 4 a.m. We accept each other as we are. Even though there are five of us from three different countries, we get along very well.

But you’re a woman in a men’s community...
I’m just one more member – they don’t even notice I’m a woman.

Why did you come here?
I was prompted by the tremendous gratitude I feel for the Marist Institute because of its educating my children when I was going through difficult times. The Marist Brothers turned out to be my spiritual family and helped me with material support. I’m proud of my children. One of my sons is a computer engineer, the other a surgeon, and my daughter teaches little children.

What are the qualities a person needs to work as a volunteer?
Generosity. God supplies the rest. I have really felt God’s love for me.

Is it going to be hard to leave all this?
That’s up to God. I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about the future. All I know right now is that I’ll be here for 2003. In 2004, I plan to accompany one of my sons who’ll be doing postgraduate work in Spain, and in 2005 I’m looking forward to going to Germany with groups of young people to take part in World Youth Days with the Pope.

What does Marcellin Champagnat’s presence in your life mean to you?
I went to Father Champagnat’s canonization, thanks to the fact that half my fare was paid for. Ten of us took part in a raffle but the man who won donated the plane ticket to me because he was able to afford the trip. God writes straight with crooked lines and I’ll never figure out why He loves me so much.
I cherish the memory of the moment when the Pope declared Marcellin to be a saint. I admire Marcellin as a man and a saint. A man of great vision, who created so much out of so little, with so much kindness, so many personal gifts. I’m a fan of Father Champagnat and because of him I’ve come to know Mary. My devotion to her used to be childish. Now it’s maturing, and especially it’s is giving me the courage to speak out on behalf of our Good Mother. Experiencing Mary as a mother fits me to a tee. Like she did, I thank God for the incomparable gift of being a mother. When I became a mother for the first time, I couldn’t imagine that my daughter was a part of me.
I admire Marcellin’s worldwide appeal as a saint. His outreach has affected people everywhere. And he has achieved all this as someone from a little country town (just as I am). Any other way and his project would have disappeared in no time at all. He was so resourceful and enterprising.

What qualities do you admire in people of Bolivia?
They’re artists – they have an exquisite sensitivity when it comes to art.
They’re a down-to-earth and warmly welcoming people blessed with a wonderful disposition. I like them and what they do.
I have no idea about their political aspirations. I’m interested in people. I know they’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities.

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