August 1, 2014 by Alex Johannigman
The morning was spent with another round of house visits. I’ve been getting more comfortable with these as time has gone on and I’ve been picking up more and more Spanish words. I went from being completely lost in conversations a week ago, to having some idea of a couple key points of the conversation today. The woman we visited today is a lot younger than many of the others that we’ve spent time with, but she is completely bedridden due to a serious illness. She told us that “I can’t do much, but I can pray for souls in purgatory.” Even though she would like to be able to go out and live a normal life, she still finds purpose in the life that God has given her at this point in time, and feels like she is fulfilling God’s call for her to immerse herself in a life of prayer. Sounds a lot like our Pope Emeritus!
The afternoon and evening were spent with three of our new Chilean friends, Marco, Kathrine, and Barbara, in Santiago. We took the Funicular of Santiago up Cerro San Cristóbal to see the beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary that overlooks the city of Santiago, much like Cristo Redemptor overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro. As we were boarding the funicular (a train that takes passengers to the top of the steep hill), we got to talk to a group of school boys who were going to take the same train up to the zoo. Marco joked about how he didn’t speak Spanish because he was Austrailian, so he couldn’t understand what they were saying… all while speaking in a very obvious Chilean accent. Halee also blew them a kiss and they all loved it. It was one of the more ridiculous moments of our entire trip.
The view from the top of the hill was beautiful and we could see the whole city. It was the first time that I was able to truly appreciate just how massive Santiago is. In addition to the statue, there was also a church which featured statues of St. Teresa of the Andes and St. Alberto Hurtado, the two great Chilean saints whose tombs we had visited earlier this week. Pictures will be able to speak louder than my words, so I’ll just leave a couple of them here for you to see.
After descending the mountain, we got to experience some typical Chilean foods that we had yet to try. First we stopped by a bar for a drink known as Terremoto, which is made with Pipeño (a type of sweet fermented wine) and ice cream.
After the Terremoto, we found a restaurant where we could get a huge order of Chorrillana, which is a dish that includes fries, steak, sausage, onions, and eggs. It took all 5 of us to take it down, and I’ve decided that I will definitely be attempting to recreate it at my home in the near future.
Upon returning to Maipu we celebrated mass at the parish. The mass was offered for the intention of the missionaries from the United States with Christ in the City, and Father Hernan even mentioned us each by name during the homily as examples of living out the faith.
Today was our final day of home visits. We spent our morning with a man who had a very heavy accent, which perhaps was a way for God to humble me just as I was beginning to gain more confidence in my Spanish. The afternoon was then spent at our friend Barbara’s home, where we ate pizza and played several rounds of “Spot It!”, a card game that we brought from the States.
In the evening we were able to join Pan Para Mi Hermano for a street walk in Santiago. Their ministry does almost the exact same work that Christ in the City does by building relationships with the homeless and challenging them to improve their lives and grow closer to God. The people that we met on the streets have many of the same struggles that we encountered in Denver. Drug addiction. Alcoholism. Feeling trapped in poverty. One major difference that we discovered when talking to some of the volunteers with Pan Para Mi Hermano was the frequency of encounters with people afflicted with mental illnesses. It was pretty common to meet people with a variety of mental illnesses that made them unemployable in Denver, but they said that it was much rarer to meet people in Santiago who were aggressive, violent, or had serious cases of depression.
My final day in Santiago. It was hard to start the day realizing that I would not be ending it there. The morning was spent beginning the construction of a Marian grotto in a park a block away from the parish that members of the community have been working on restoring. We got to carry a lot of bricks from the parish to the park, and then helped mix concrete. Concrete mixing in Chile was much… different from how it is done in the States. We took a pile of dirt, poured the concrete mix onto the pile of dirt, mixed it up really well, and then poured water onto the pile of dirt/ concrete mix. Then we just shoveled the concrete mixture into a wheelbarrow and used it to assemble the bricks. I realized that in the USA we definitely have a tendency to do things more cautiously and in an more organized way than we necessarily need to be.
Our final afternoon was spent in central Santiago eating lunch and shopping for gifts for ourselves and our host families. Adam recommended a Chifa (Peruvian and Chinese fusion) restaurant where we enjoyed a very filling last meal together in Chile. It was particularly memorable because I made the mistake of eating a red pepper which burned my mouth for a solid 5 minutes, and was able to encourage the others in my group to do the same.
I really wanted to bring home some Chilean wine for myself, and decided to honor my host family, which loves drinking tea, with some Celestial Seasonings tea made in Colorado just about 25 miles from my former home in Denver. We also got a closer view of the tallest building in South America which was right next to the 5 story shopping mall where we ate and gift shopped.
After shopping we checked in on the progress being made on the grotto that we had helped with during the morning, and then I packed my bags for the airport.
My time in Santiago was incredible, and I gained a lot more from it than I expected I would when I arrived. It was my first international trip where I felt like I truly immersed myself in the culture and got to know the people of the country I was visiting, rather than just jumping from place to place with a group of American tourists or pilgrims. My Spanish improved, but more importantly, I gained an understanding of what life is like for Chileans by building relationships with them and asking questions about their lives, values, and experiences. I look forward to the day when I’m able to return to Santiago, whether that is 1, 5, or 20 years from now.