A Pilgrimage with the Good Shepherd

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Being a newcomer to Canada I have experienced a lot of changes in my life in the last months. I had to say goodbye to family, friends, work, and well known places. “Goodbyes” are never easy; they can have different flavours like sadness, confusion, anger, guilt, and so on. But in those moments other flavours could come up if you also look at the “hellos” that are ahead: the new things that could enrich your life.

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Those flavours could include joy, curiosity, freedom, and excitement. It’s the experience of going out of one’s comfort zone and beginning a pilgrimage that could open the mind and the heart. That’s what JVC  (Jesuit Volunteers Canada) means to me: a journey to discover myself and the world.

One of the things that I have learned in these months is to trust God in that journey, thinking of him as a Good Shepherd. Is hard when you are walking without seeing the entire path ahead. I always want to be in control, to be able to predict everything and know exactly where I am going.

But the image of the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23 speaks to me about a different attitude: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

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It speaks me about an attitude of trust. Even if I don’t know what is ahead of me, or who I’m going to encounter, or where this path is leading me, I know WHO is beside me. There are some nights that are darker than others, at times there are strong storms and a terrifying howling of wolves.

In those moments the sheep has to cling to the rod and to the staff, it must remember that it is not alone, even if everything around it says the opposite. And suddenly, when least expected, the sun rises again, the green pastures and still waters are once again visible, and fear has disappeared.

For me, these internal movements are mixed with encountering different realities outside of myself (there are other sheep walking besides me). During these past few months I have had experiences that have opened my eyes to the journeys of others.

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Through contact with refugees I’m starting to be more aware of a world that is bleeding, a victim of the lashes of a violence without sense; a Jesus that is crucified over and over again. Because I grew up in a country that has suffered the consequences of war, it has been hard for me to have a broader view.

I guess it´s more natural to focus just on the problems that are immediately visible. Here, I’m learning to open my heart to the suffering of the world: suffering and desire for peace don´t have a nationality.

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In this journey I’m also reflecting on life and death. How contrasting could be the image of a beautiful red maple leaf (I’m fascinated by the colors of the fall) and the proximity of its fall and death?

When I look at them I feel so privileged, and that sensation is strengthen by the fact that their beauty is momentary. So I have to watch them as much as I can, with all my attention and energy. I want to enjoy every color, every shape, and taste the pleasant sensation that this produces in me.

I have to do that because they won’t be there forever, when you know you can lose something you appreciate it more.

This image makes me think about life and how death gives it a different colour. When I remember the reality of death I also remember that I have to live, love and serve intensely.  One of my placements has to do with this reality.

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Sometimes in one single day, I could share the energy and smiles of children in schools, the wisdom and loneliness of the seniors in an elderly home, and the suffering of the bereaved in a funeral home. I think those experiences are opening my heart to the human journey, its joys and its suffering, its misery’s and its greatness.

So for me this is a time of openness to the suffering of the world and to the beauty of life. A time of pilgrimage, trust, self-knowledge and discovering. And all of that comes also with great challenges: adapting to new cultures, communicating in a different language, adjusting to new temperatures, and so on.

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And there´s also the hope and joy of new opportunities, new faces, and new awareness. Changes can be very exciting, even if it’s not easy to leave what you consider your home. But in these months I’ve realized that home is not a physical place, it’s something that comes from inside.

Home is having my Shepherd beside me: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23).

 

Jose Alberto Cuervo Castro is from Bogotá, Colombia. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Clinical and Health Psychology. He has worked for five years in Colombia, serving people with chronic diseases, emotional struggles, and visual impairments. He has also worked in music and young adult ministries in parishes and catholic communities. Jose is passionate about working for the well-being of others and learning from different spiritual, human and cultural experiences. As part of the JVC program he works in two part time placements: Blessed Trinity Church (youth, visiting and funeral home ministries) and Becoming Neighbours (refugee ministry, companionship to refugees).

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