In early June, our abbot, Francis Michael, asked me to accompany him on a trip to our sisters' monastery in Humocaro, Venezuela. I was happy he asked, happy to go. It was a short trip -- a Thursday through the following Tuesday -- but rich with experiences.
It took a long while to get to the monastery. We flew to Caracas and stayed in a motel there. Early the next morning, we headed back to the airport, where we boarded another flight for Barquisemento.
One of the sisters picked us up at the airport and the drive to the monastery was about a two-hour trip. I was all eyes and ears. The farthest south I had ever been was Orlando, Fla. So this was my first foray to a southern country in another hemisphere.
The sister spoke English very well and chatted away as she drove, answering whatever questions we had and filling us in about many aspects of her country. I gazed out the car window as we drove along. So many things were old and run down. There were lots of old model cars; I saw a 1955 Ford and a Nash and Rambler.
There were lots of cars on the roads near the city. There were also a lot of people, off to the sides of the road. Some were walking, others were clustered in groups, still others were sitting inside open-ended lean-tos, selling different items.
I had to remember not to compare Venezuela with where I came from. But it was hard not to. As we drove further from Barquiesemento, the poverty became more rampant, more visible. There were homes -- shacks, really -- lacking any plumbing or electricity. Some had generators, which were run on propane gas.
We gradually began our ascent into the more mountainous area where the monastery is located. There were lots of kids were walking to school. Goats ran back and forth along the road. Lush green vegetation rose all around us.
We pulled into a town near the monastery, Humocaro, and drove slowly through the streets. A good number of men sat on the sides of the road. I wondered if they were out of work. Nothing looked new; the whole town had seen better days. Dogs scampered about.
We took a right turn and drove up a hill and into the main gate of the monastery. It is a beautiful place, clean and very well kept. It was not long before we were welcomed by the sisters.
They impressed me as such a wonderful group and, over the next few days, they asked after our every need. One night, a curtain rod came crashing down in my room. I was startled awake and told the abbot about it the next morning.
He must have mentioned it to the prioress, for it was not long into the day that there was a knock at my door and a sister greeted me. She spoke no English but was carrying all the necessary tools to fix the rod. She hummed as she stood on the ladder, wielding with dexterity the drill, the screwdriver, the pasty substance that sealed where she had drilled. I thanked her -- she smiled and said, "All good. Is OK."
And it was. The sisters asked me what I liked best about Venezuela and I looked at them and told them that it was them. The love and grace of God flow through their lives, and they so generously share it with others.
The world's poor cry out to those of us who have more. It can be overwhelming to ponder where to begin, what to do. The sisters reminded me, by how they live, that stability and kindness go a long way. I can see the sister on a ladder, smiling as she plastered the hole in the wall. A small but loving act, touching something of eternal wisdom -- moving toward the day when all is good, all is OK.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.