Doing something bigger than me

Our community, from left: Sister Jacinta, provincial treasurer, from India; Sister Rita, superior, from Lebanon; Sister Rasha, from Syria; Nataly, from Jordan; me, Argentinian-American; Razan, a Jordanian aspirant awaiting a visa to go to Italy to start her novitiate; and, Sister Reyaf, who was in transit from her native Syria to her obedience house (Provided photo)

Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our sixth round of bloggers: Natalia Liviero is a volunteer with VIDES+USA serving in the Middle East, and Janie Rosko is a Humility of Mary volunteer serving within the Ursuline Ministries in Youngstown, Ohio. This is Natalia's first blog post. Read more about her.

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After almost 20 years in global business development for the private sector and 15 years of living by myself, busy with my work and graduate-studies life and only taking care of myself and my dog, I decided in early 2016 that my life needed a change.

I've always been concerned about global issues affecting our world, particularly human-rights violations, wars in the Middle East and the consequential refugee crisis, and the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict. I wanted to do something meaningful for others.

With that in mind, I took a week's vacation and flew to Washington, D.C., in June 2016 to see what was there for me. On the plane from Miami to D.C., the young guy who sat next to me happened to work in the humanitarian field. He suggested I do some volunteering with a Catholic organization or go overseas to work with refugees.

It was like being awakened from a long sleep. I'm a faithful Catholic. How didn't I think about it before?

He put me in touch with VIDES+USA. I was busy at work and could only apply in October. The application process had just finished, but Sister Gloria, the director, was very kind and gave me one month to go through the long and detailed application process. On the mission site option of the application, I wrote "Lebanon with refugees," and as second and third options, Jordan and Israel, respectively.

Close to the two-week VIDES formation camp in January 2017 in San Antonio, Texas, I still didn't know my mission site. During formation camp, Sister Gloria told me she hadn't heard from the Middle East province about my acceptance yet and thought they didn't want to receive volunteers because of safety issues.

The other volunteers brainstormed alternative places where I could volunteer with refugees. I even thought maybe Latin America was going to be a better place for me to touch other people's lives — I was born and raised in Argentina, so my native language is Spanish. I also prayed to God and asked him to take me to any place in the world where I could be of service to others and that would be meaningful for my future.

Two weeks after I returned from formation camp, I received an email saying I was welcomed in the Middle East province. I was going to work in Amman, Jordan, as development assistant to the provincial treasurer and in ministry to Iraqi refugees. Then, since I knew Arabic and Hebrew, I would go to Israel to work at a school and oratorio (youth ministry).

I was just amazed: I was going to volunteer in development projects for a nonprofit organization, something I very much like and a field in which I wanted to gain experience. I was also going to work in the humanitarian field with refugees, which is what I had in mind when I applied to VIDES.

By the end of March, I gave my month advance notice to my boss, resigning from my eight years with a wonderful American corporation. In early May, I left the comfort of my life in Miami to embark on a year of volunteering in the Middle East. The support I received from my bosses, my company, and from everybody else I encountered on my way to the Middle East meant I started reaping the benefits of being a missionary even before I left home.

I arrived in Amman on May 11 and stayed for about four months. The Salesian Sisters' house in Amman is the provincial house, a small community that oversees the general administration of the other houses in the Middle East province. The sisters are also responsible for one of the local parishes — the Annunciation or Weibdeh Church, which is a beautiful church that was once the seat of the bishops of Jordan. The community was made up of three sisters and a sweet and smart Jordanian girl, Nataly, who is living with the sisters until she finishes her university studies at Al-Quds College.

Church of the Annunciation, my parish in Amman, Jordan. On top of the church, the Virgin Mary receives the light of the Holy Spirit while the angel Gabriel announces the Lord's message to her. The church has an impressive work of mosaic, characteristic of the city of Madaba, north of Amman. (Provided photo)

May was the month of the Virgin Mary, so in addition to a daily rosary before morning Mass, there was a second daily rosary at 6:30 p.m. at our parish. It was a great opportunity for me not only to do my daily rosary, something I wanted to do back home but my busy schedule didn't allow, but also to learn the prayers in Arabic.

The sisters received invitations to events, and I was lucky to participate, as well. The day after my arrival, there was a big celebration at the La Salle School for the 100 years of Our Lady of Fatima, and I was grateful to be there and to experience the fervor of the Arab Christians for Virgin Mary. Jordan is a Muslim country that is considered part of the Holy Land, where many important events in the Bible took place, such as the death of Moses at Mount Nebo, where he saw the Promised Land before he died, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, known as the baptismal site of Jesus Christ. Because of that, Jordanian Christians have a deep connection to their religion and to Mary as the mother of God.

The view from Mount Nebo toward the Promised Land. To the right is Jericho, and the Dead Sea is to the left. Most likely, this is what Moses saw, according to the Scriptures: "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' ... I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it" (Deuteronomy 34:1-6). (Provided photo)

A week later, the Latin Vicariate of Amman belatedly celebrated the fourth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, and at the reception that followed the Mass, our superior, Sister Rita, not only encouraged me to meet the apostolic nuncio for Jordan and Iraq, Msgr. Alberto Ortega Martín, but also introduced me to many people whom I later met again during my mission in Jordan.

The day I arrived in Jordan, I went to our parish with the sisters to pray the rosary and found this card about the 100 years of Our Lady of Fatima in the book of songs. I was impacted when I saw it because I had promised to pray a daily rosary to Our Lady of Fatima the year before, but I failed. Yet on my first day of mission, she made herself present and reminded me about my promise. (Provided photo)

One of the people Sister Rita introduced me to — Sawsan, the manager of the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy — was crucial to my mission. I volunteered at the restaurant through May and June, serving food to people without homes and people who live in poverty, both Muslim and Christian, and assisting the kitchen by constantly drying dishes and utensils and putting them away.

During the last week of the month of Ramadan, I went with the Caritas drivers to different locations throughout Jordan to deliver food for the iftar dinners to the Greek Catholic schools that were serving food for the Muslim Syrian refugee children and their families. It was fulfilling to be among 200 to 400 refugees every day in an act of humanity, serving them food and talking with them. They showed their gratitude for my service, making me feel that what I was doing was meaningful to them.

At the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy in Amman, Jordan, with other volunteers who became my very good friends. From left: Fatima, a refugee from Iraq; Judith from Switzerland; and me. (Provided photo)

As an advocate for interreligious dialogue, volunteering with Caritas gave me the opportunity not only to show my humanity to our Muslim brothers and sisters as a Christian, but to portray the Salesian values of religion, reason, and love and kindness I learned at the VIDES formation camp.

[Natalia Liviero is a volunteer with VIDES+USA serving in the Middle East.]

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