By Johanna Cajina, FC 17 Costa Rica
Whenever my community members and I meet new Costa Ricans for the first time, their first question is usually, So do you like my country? While all four of us reply in unison with a very cheerful and firm, Yes, I always nervously await their next question. With some of the most beautiful natural scenery all around us, others might have difficulties narrowing down their favorite place here in Costa Rica. In my case, I have known the answer to this question since our first week, yet I am always skeptical in sharing it with others.
My favorite spot is where I catch my 9:10 a.m. bus every morning to work. There is no scenic view of the mountains that surround Alajuela or any historical monuments. On the contrary, it is the very opposite of what one might consider their preferred spot in the city. Here, only three main things stand out; a street that leads to downtown, a small park with benches to wait for the buses, and a cemetery across the street. When I sit down on the concrete benches of the park, I feel part of Costa Rica. The main street is always buzzing with street vendors, car horns, buses going to near and distant places in Alajuela, school girls gossiping, people running, and others just going on with their day. You just can’t help but be eternally grateful, and at times in disbelief, for the opportunity to learn about and to be part of this culture on a daily basis.
Despite feeling so in tune with the Costa Rican culture, the main street divides the park from the General Cemetery of Alajuela. One of my community members, Erin, once shared with us that here they bury the homeless, the unclaimed, or simply those with no resources to buy a burial plot. Then after five years, they are exhumed to make space for others, and are reburied in a common grave. Such visible contrasts of life and death, or riches and poverty, are all around me. As I continue to reflect on the emotions of powerlessness that these disparities create in me, I am reminded of the first lines Henri Nouwen’s book Gracias. He dedicates it to, “Those who bear witness of the suffering Christ in Latin America.” In my experiences so far, the suffering Christ is multifaceted as He can take up the form of street beggars to even the girls at my worksite. Sometimes, I wish that I didn’t have to see the suffering Christ everyday.
Yet, as we begin this new Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are called to do the exact opposite. We are called to not turn away and ignore the poor, but rather to live out that mercy every day. We have been reminded that for the next year, and hopefully beyond that, we must show love, kindness and generosity to those we encounter. FrancisCorps has already laid the foundation for us to constantly seek this mercy and for those of us serving in Costa Rica and Syracuse, we could not have asked for a more appropriate invitation than to reflect on how to show compassion in our work sites, communities, and beyond.