“I feel that I am in the place that God has arranged for me, and I do not miss or desire any other” (1/2)
Marina García Álvarez's curriculum is very rich and an expression of her willingness to provide the services that the Congregation has asked of her. We started a long conversation with her and asked her to introduce herself.
I am Sister Marina García Álvarez, an Augustinian Recollect missionary. I was born in Riello, a small mountain town in the province of León, Spain, in a peasant family; and I am the youngest of four siblings. At the age of 12 I went to study, with one of my sisters, at the apostolic college that the Congregation had in Monteagudo, province of Navarra. I did my postulancy and novitiate there and I professed my profession in 1964. From there I went to the college in Granada, where I did my Juniorate and studies –with two intermediate years in Madrid– until 1972. While we were studying, we all gave classes at the college and did ministry in nearby neighborhoods, where there were many affected people living in barracks.
In 1972 I was assigned to Maracaibo, Venezuela, to the Colegio Santa Rita, where I worked for 19 years teaching and helping in the pastoral care of the Parish and nearby neighborhoods. The last two years of my stay in Venezuela I was in the novitiate in Caracas and from there, in 1993, I went to Madrid, to the general government. When I finished this service in 2005, I was sent to the Taiwan community, whose mission was to support the nascent MAR community in the interior of China. From 2012 to 19 I was in Spain, in Salamanca, Madrid and Granada, from where I was sent back to Venezuela, where I currently live.
Why religious and why Augustinian Recollect missionary?
God prepared the ground and the circumstances for it to be.
I had not met any religious in my town, but the town teacher, an excellent person, read us the stories of missionaries, in the magazines that the Holy Childhood published at that time. And those readings aroused in me the desire to be a missionary.
Providentially, my mother had two Augustinian Recollect cousins, missionaries in Brazil, (Monsignor Alquilio Álvarez, Fray Laurentino Álvarez), who did know the sisters of our Congregation there. When Laurentino returned to Spain on vacation, through the sisters in Brazil, he learned of the existence in Navarra of the apostolic college and informed my parents. So, we arrived in Monteagudo without previously knowing the Congregation.
Happy as an Augustinian Recollect missionary?
I feel that I am in the place that God has prepared for me, and I do not miss or desire any other.
Of the charism of the "Augustinian Recollect Missionaries", what aspect do you think has more appeal in society today?
The three features of our charism are very valuable, current and necessary since they respond to the profound aspiration of the human being. In our missionary activity we have the duty to share and promote fraternity and interiority at all levels as specific help to people to create a more authentic society in communion.
Perhaps what attracts the most is the missionary aspect, helping others, but since this can also be done without being religious, I do not think that today it is a "great hook" for vocations. Youth likes “experiences”. Committing for life scares them.
In Venezuela you resided in past times, and you have returned a few years ago. Can you tell your experience from then?
The Venezuela of the 70s and 80s was another Venezuela: free, democratic, with enormous possibilities for a promising future. A country with immense wealth, with the capacity and forecasts that everyone could have what they need. People lived with hope, because even the poor saw their situation improving from year to year and they could achieve their goals. We saw invasion neighborhoods being born on public land, with four-tin houses, which at the time were already made of brick and little by little they were having basic services. People lived in hope.
There was no shortage of basic products. Everyone could be mobilized at affordable prices; security was ok. At the College many extracurricular activities were held because people could attend, even at night.
Activities were carried out in which the companies or merchants of the area collaborated generously. We developed activities in a marginal neighborhood, where many volunteers collaborated, curing the sick, teaching literacy, catechizing, giving human promotion courses...
In the country we were five communities (two in Caracas, two in Maracaibo and one in Anzoátegui) that met in an assembly once or twice a year to schedule meetings and share experiences and help each other. It was possible because the resources existed.
It will certainly contrast that painting you have done back then with the one now
The reality is very different. There is a lack of what is necessary; salaries are ridiculous and prices at the international level; basic services, such as electricity and water, hospitals, do not work properly; it is a tragedy to get fuel… Mass emigration, which has occurred and continues to occur, leaves families fractured and without young people of working age; health and education professionals are scarce; productive companies were expropriated without putting them back into operation; Due to carelessness, lack of maintenance, theft and deterioration of the physical plants, many schools have not been able to teach...
This situation affects people who find themselves without the resources to cope with day-to-day life; situation that, in the short or medium term, is difficult to change. There is a great feeling of hopelessness, even in the young students.
But there is something that has not changed, and it is the welcome and solidarity of the people. And openness to the religious message and God's desire
Our goal is to sow hope and help them discover the closeness of God, who despite everything is by their side and on behalf of their families.
What apostolates do the MARs carry out in Venezuela today?
We are currently two communities: One at the service of educational ministry at the Colegio Santa Rita de Maracaibo, with a thousand students, from preschool to 5th year of high school, and another at the mission in the Llanosorientales, in the south of the State of Anzoátegui, where the community has served the San Agustín parish vicariate, with various towns, since 1988.
Can you dedicate yourselves to pastoral work in Venezuela without major obstacles for political or ideological reasons?
Today the government has not messed with private schools, in terms of content or the way of teaching. We have the freedom to choose the staff, to teach faith education classes, to hold various meetings with parents and access them through social networks. Although its socialist ideology is noticeable in public schools, we can be critical without taking risks. Gender ideology and its application in schools have not arrived here and what we do is prevent families so that they defend their principles, Christian and traditional values. As most of them have relatives abroad, they know the currents and are partly grateful that we are still safe here. Perhaps it is because looking for food is currently the priority.
In your pastoral or government work, have you worked together with the Augustinian Recollects and have you felt supported by them?
Practically since I was a child, I have lived close to the Augustinian Recollects. But where I have most felt and valued their support has been in the institutional aspect. For example, having in Rome Father Eusebio Hernández -bishop of Tarazona, Spain for a few years- in the Congregation for Religious, to whom to ask for advice on the renewal of the Constitutions; the proceedings of the attorney of the Order of Augustinian Recollects for the processing of documents; the promoter of the causes of canonization, etc. etc. And in my case, the support and experience shared with Father Javier Pipaón, then prior general, in everything related to the Chinese community.
In the experience in different communities and places, I have always felt them as brothers with whom to share and to whom I can turn in case of need, both spiritually and materially. It is very gratifying to know that there are older brothers who would lend a hand if there were difficulties.
How do you plan to live in Venezuela the 75th anniversary of your canonical approval as a Congregation?
We did the opening in a Eucharist with the teaching staff in January. Then on the day of Consecrated Life, in February, all the students were informed. An adapted prayer has been composed for the children to pray for us. Our history and charism are being deepened with the staff... and the topic will be on the School's networks.
In this context of the 75th anniversary, some teachers have gone to collaborate as missionaries in Holy Week with the sisters of the San Agustín Vicariate. And later we plan to hold a fraternal meeting with the entire Augustinian Family.