Messengers of Peace
On 16th July, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I had the honor to be in a small Colombian town, three hours south of Bogota called Villa de Leyva in the diocese of Chiquinquira. I was there accompanying the new Archbishop of St. Louis, Robert Carlson (Watch video on YouTube) and Fr. Luis Mesa, the co-founders of a religious congregation called the Mensajeros de Paz, Messengers of Peace, as they witnessed the first vows of the first female members of the order. It was quite a day for the women themselves, the Messengers of Peace and for the entire Church.
The origins of this new gift to the the Church in Colombia can be traced to the classic modus operandi of the spirit at work in the world: plans made that become plans changed (Watch video on YouTube). Mr. Luis Mesa, a Colombian immigrant to the United States had come to the end of a successful career and was planning a type of retirement. He had planned to combine well-deserved relaxation with a good chunk of time in Colombia giving back to his own people after a lifetime away from them. He consulted his friend, then bishop of Sioux Falls, Bob Carlson (Watch video on YouTube).
It went something like this: (Watch video on YouTube)
Mesa: So, I was thinking of splitting my time between California and Colombia. I’d like to do some more theological studies too, something I’ve never found the time to do while working.
Carlson: Mmm. I think the Lord is calling you to start a religious community focused on peace and service of the poor in Colombia.
Mesa: Really? And what’s the Lord calling me to do with my beach house in Malibu? Donate it to the bishop of Sioux Falls?
Carlson: Not exactly. I think the Lord may be inviting you to sell all you have – except the house in Colombia – and create a place of welcome, prayer, discernment and service to the people in Villa de Leyva, Colombia. You might pray about it.
Four years later – to the day – Luis Mesa lay prostrate befor the altar while the Litany of the Saints were sung overhead. Kneeling to have hands laid upon him, he emerged Fr. Luis and soon to be Superior General of a new religious order. He quickly completed the conversion of his retirement home - El Descanso (Watch video on YouTube) – into a place of welcome, prayer and service to the poor in Villa de Leyva. With a life’s worth of connections, and considerable knowledge from his years in Silicon Valley of how to get a job done, Fr. Luis and his spiritual guide, Bishop Carlson, developed the site to include a small chapel and a dispensary of food and other essentials for the elderly and the poor (Watch video on YouTube). Donning a grey habit, Fr. Luis welcomed the first brothers shortly thereafter.
Central to the life of Messengers of Peace is the importance of prayer, and prayer for peace. Inspiration for this can be traced to Archbishop Carlson’s Pastoral Letter (Watch video on YouTube) that he wrote to mark his 25th Anniversary as a bishop. In addition to a life of prayer, the Messengers gather groceries and other provisions for those who go without in the local town (Watch video on YouTube). They are rapidly becoming known as a place of refuge for those battered and bruised by life and in need of the healing hand of a God who is love.
So on 16 July 2009, the group welcomed the first group of sisters, admitting them to temporary vows (Watch video on YouTube). Within 24 hours the newly professed had moved into their retreat house (Watch video on YouTube), recently renovated with generous support Watch video on YouTube) from the United States. First order of business for the three new Mensejeras de Paz was the General Chapter (Watch video on YouTube), led by the delegate who had nominated by the local bishop as his representative: Archbishop Robert Carlson. During the Chapter, the first Council was elected (Watch video on YouTube). The Retreat house will continue the spirit of prayer for peace and accompaniment of those lost or abandoned. To help support themselves, the Mensajeros planted (at the Archbishop’s prompting) 150 coffee plants which, in time, might provide some income for the mission - as well as a cup of Joe (Watch video on YouTube).
The unabashed devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Watch video on YouTube) expressed in Villa de Leyva was repeated all across Latin America in those days. But the ”Mama Linda” who was carried in procession from the Carmelite Church that day had a special reason to rejoice in the “great things that the Lord has done.” There’s little doubt that the people of Villa de Leyva have opened their hearts to the Mensajeros. They, in turn, have done the same.