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Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go

–The Clash

When I was up in the States for my vacation, I talked with some people about the overly-monastic nature of the friar life that I have found here in Camiri, where I live with two Italian friars. If anything, the situation has gotten worse since then.

When the meeting of the OFM International Council of JPIC came to Bolivia, I went up to help out. It was a great two weeks. “At last, I’m being useful again,” I was surprised to find myself thinking. In addition to those two weeks, I went up to Cochabamba to try (unsuccessfully) to get my I.D. card and to the Bolivian meeting of the frailes jóvenes (friars who have been solemnly professed for less than six years). But, those few days away caused the guardian to tell the provincial, our superior, that I “was never in the house.” (In Bolivia, where many priests have their family on the side, this is a serious charge.)

The guardian complained to me that the other friar in the house was also “never at home.” Why? Because he’s been helping the new bishop organize the diocesan library. The bishop’s office is 10 minutes from the house! But, because this friar was working at the diocesan office, he was “never at home”. The guardian is much more content when we’re in the house doing absolutely nothing than when we’re out of the house, even when we’re doing something useful.

The other friar loves to read and is Italian, and so is used to the situation. He basically just sits around now reading books.

This monastic “ministry of presence” kind of thing may be big in Italy, but it’s incredibly frustrating for me. I never wanted to be a monk, and didn’t join the friars to be one.

During my first two years in Bolivia, I worked in Cochabamba converting an old Poor Clare novitiate into a center of services for the poor. It was challenging because I knew almost nothing about construction. After renovating the place, I then became director of the center. It was fun working with all the groups with whom we coordinated (the soup kitchen, the medical and dental staff, the housing for burned kids, Al-Anon, and so forth), and trying to set a Franciscan character to the center itself.

But, now, I have found myself going from being very active to, for the last year and a half, sitting at idle. The internet here in Camiri is very, very slow, so I also find it hard to do the one thing at which I’m really good — helping different groups develop their web presence.

The biggest problem for a missionary is “culture shock” — that is, never being able to adjust to the fact that they are living in a different culture. I don’t think I have any problems living in the Bolivian culture — in fact, I quite enjoy it — but I fear that I am not able to get over my culture shock at the different Franciscan culture here. At the Bolivian young friars meeting, I heard myself starting my sentences, “In my province…” This is one of the classic signs of culture shock, when the visitor says over and over again, “In my country…”

All this has made me question whether to even bother asking for a different assignment in Bolivia. Perhaps a lot of my frustration has been with the Franciscan culture here. In a sense, I was formed too well by by own province. There are a lot of things that I think we do right that I find lacking here.

Anyhow, sorry to run on. I am considering my options. One would be to go back to Peru, and the other would be to go back to the States.

So, please, help me decide. Should I stay, or should I go?

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