September 26, 2023

Ana MariaI was born in Colombia, South America, in a Catholic family from Bogota. My first fourteen years were spent studying in a Franciscan school called Colegio Santa Francisca Romana. That is where I received much of my religious background. One of my aunts is currently a nun with this Franciscan community, which has its “mother house” in Rochester, Minnesota. What impressed me most about this Franciscan school was that the Christian belief was put into practice through real action. These actions could have an impact on the society where I lived (a country of vast contrast between those who have a wealth of money and those who do not have enough) because this community had a deep commitment to serving those most in need. Even at fourteen years old I questioned, “What is life worth if we are not serving each other?”

When I was fourteen my family moved to Florida, which was a great revelation to me, learning from the inside about this country which is not always popular with many Latin Americans. I was blessed enough to meet many wonderful North Americans who were involved in, and introduced me to, the reality of world situations. I visited the American Friends Service Committee and met with activists who were fighting against nuclear proliferation. With the help of a Congregationalist pastor and other young people we started a group called Peace for the Future. This pastor had a great spiritual influence on my life. He had been in Hawaii when the Enola Gay left to bomb Hiroshima. He dedicated his life to peace and from him and the Quakers I learned about non-violence and peaceful protests, as well as other effective organizing actions. It caused me great sadness that few young people my age (14-15 years old) had an interest in participation in global issues, as if it had nothing to do with them. These were not the type of young people I had been used to encountering in my home of Colombia. I felt sorry for their limited awareness, even about the racism so detrimental to their own country.

At seventeen, I left for France to study there and found a continent so old it seemed dead. The churches were very big but mostly empty, the young people had lost interest in everything. But while there, I met many Latin Americans and, from them, developed an interest in Andean music. Thus, I went to Peru and lived with the indigenous Quetchua people. From them I learned of their special relationship with Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and realized how pollution, deforestation and the resulting erosion, and unsustainable “reforestation” were destroying the Andes Mountains from Bolivia to Colombia. This was an incredible turning point in my life as I decided to commit myself to working for the environment, for it is the Earth that sustains all life on this planet. I was drawn to the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and his special relationship with nature.

I received my B.A. in Anthropology in Florida and headed for South America to see what role I would play in healing the Earth. I worked with the Ministry of Agriculture in Ecuador on some reforestation programs, but I found the burdensome bureaucracy to be an unnecessary energy drain from the focus at hand. Thus, I worked independently with various environmental organizations and with direct personal involvement with rural communities in projects of organic gardening, native species reforestation and economic alternatives to tree-cutting by the promotion of traditional crafts.

In my travels I have met with numerous religious leaders, many of indigenous religions, and from them I gained an understanding of the relationship of all spiritual beliefs and how the strength of that connectedness can work to bring healing to the Earth and to each other. I met with an Independent Traditional Seminole leader in Florida who has helped me to keep in focus the Influence of the United States on global consumption. I met with Kogi “mamas” in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia who believe that now is the time for the “younger brothers” (us) to grow up and begin to live in the “right manner.” In the Putumayo region of southern Colombia I met a “Taita” and with a drink called Yage (pronounced Yahay) I had a vision of the Creator encompassing all roads and all paths, so great was His spirit that we are all in Him. Today, my relationship with the Creator is more than a belief in His presence. I feel His presence in all the beauty of Creation. My prayer is:

Creator, I want to be faithful to you

As the foot is to the step

As the step is to the road

As the road is to You

In thought, word and deed.

(Colombian poet, Gonzalo Arango)

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