This morning we had a meeting with representatives from the cantons of Berlín. Every two months the Pastoral Team has a meeting with people throughout Berlín and the cantons. People from the Directivas (community boards) of the communities and sometimes other community members meet at the Pastoral House. There’s always a greeting, prayer, and reflection. Then for about an hour there’s a theme that’s discussed. Past themes have been people talking about their harvests, what organizations and institutions are working on with their communities, and sometimes they’ll have a guest speaker, like a police officer talking about how to keep things secure in the cantons. After that someone from each community represented will give an update on what’s going on in their community and the Pastoral Team will let the community know about upcoming projects and delegations.
I don’t normally get to go to these meetings because they’re in the morning and I have school. But I found out last night that I didn’t have school today so I was able to go to the meeting. The meeting wasn’t until 8:45am but people started arriving at 8:15am. Everyone got coffee and pan dulce when they arrived. I recognized several people. There were people from Alejandría, El Recreo, San Francisco, Río de los Bueyes, Virginia, Muñoces, La Llanes, Santa Cruz, San Lorenzo, San Isidro, and more. Eventually we all gathered in the chapel for the meeting.
Balmore welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. We opened the meeting with a song and Elida led us in a prayer. Jesús then read from a Bible passage and reflected on the meaning of it. He said that the people here at the meeting were all community leaders and spiritual guides; not just the Catholics, but the Evangelicals as well. Sometimes people in the communities don’t go to church and give excuses like, “It’s raining” or “I have no car” or “I don’t go to mass because they speak of political things.” When this happens the community suffers. We are the ones that need to put life into our church. We must also remember that we aren’t going to heaven alone but together with each other. We are all brothers and sisters from the same Father.
After Jesús finished his reflection we sang a short song. Then it was time for Balmore to present the theme for the meeting. Today the theme was democracy. He began by asking everyone what they thought were necessary to have democracy in a community. Several people spoke up. In order to have democracy the people in the community must have a voice and a vote. The leaders of the community (the Directiva) must work with transparency. And there must be unity within the community.
Balmore then spoke of other things that a community needs in order to have democracy. One thing their communities need is for people to participate in general elections and community meetings; people need and deserve to be heard. A second thing that a community needs in order to have democracy is to have the participation of young people and women in the community. Many times the people at community assemblies are almost all men. Sometimes communities tend to discriminate against youth and women within the communities. Jesús added here that discrimination happens here in Berlín; he and the Pastoral Team have seen it. He said that the mentality of not including women and youth is a reality.
An example of how to include young people in the community is in Alejandría. Almost everyone from the community’s water project committee is made up of young people. Something else important and different about this committee is that no one from the Directiva is on the committee. It is made up of fresh, new people who will have different ideas than the Directiva. The idea of getting different people is to get other people to be leaders of their communities.
A third thing that a community needs in order to have democracy is when institutions, the government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) respect the decisions of the Directiva and the community. It’s not okay for these organizations and institutions to put people into the communities to make decisions for the community. When this happens, it is not a democracy. Sometimes the people placed in the communities have bad interests or try to get the community to listen to them by buying people off. When decisions are to be made then the Directiva needs to consult a majority of people in the community to get their opinions to see what the community really wants.
A fourth thing a community needs is to be non-partisan. It is important that the Directiva not work for political or religious interests. The Directiva can’t listen to only one group, political party, or religion. Leaders should not be making those kinds of decisions. It’s not a democracy when we are working as individuals. We must be servants of the Lord in order to be leaders.
When Balmore finished talking we sang another song. Then the communities gave brief updates on what was happening. Las Delicias has a new Directiva that was voted in not long ago and a youth group is beginning to organize there. San Isidro has a women’s group that has been thinking of some things they’d like to do to help their community, like a natural medicine project. El Tablón centro continues to work on building a new church in their community with help from funds from Germany. Several of the communities that come to the meetings don’t have a partner church in the US (Santa Cruz, Colón, La Llanes, Río de los Bueyes, San Felipe abajo). But they are able to solicit the Pastoral Team if they need help with something and are able to connect with people from other cantons at the meetings.
Cecilia spoke shortly about the various projects that the Pastoral Team and partnership churches in the US have worked on recently with various cantons. Blanca informed everyone about the upcoming delegations and when the community meeting will be held in August. At the end of the meeting someone from every community present thanked the Pastoral Team for all their work. Altogether, it was a three hour meeting. 40 people came from the cantons, caseríos, and colonias of Alejandría, Bob Graham, Casa de Zinc, Colón, Las Delicias, La Llanes, El Recreo, Loma Alta, Muñoces, Río de los Bueyes, Santa Cruz, San Isidro, San Felipe arriba, San Felipe abajo, San Francisco, San Lorenzo, Talpetates, and Virginia.
When the meeting was over we all had lunch. Aminta, Idalia, and Margarita had been busy in the kitchen preparing lunch for everyone. We had chicken, potatoes, rice, salad, tortillas, and pineapple fresco. It was all delicious, especially after a long meeting. Everyone ate and chatted for a while. Slowly people began to leave and by 1pm everyone had gone. I’m glad I was able to make it to the meeting. It was good to hear how everyone was doing and see people I knew. Hopefully I can make it to another community meeting in the future.