Website at: http://www.hogarafaelayau.org/
HOGAR RAFAEL AYAU
An Interview with Mother Ines of Hogar Rafael Ayau, Guatemala
Reprinted with permission from the October 2000 issue of The WORD,
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese
MOTHER INES IS THE ABBESS OF MONASTERIO ORTOXO LAVRA MAMBRE, A MONASTIC COMMUNITY OF THE ANTIOCHIAN ARCHDIOCESE OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA WHICH MINISTERS TO THE CHILDREN OF HOGAR RAFAEL AYAU, AN ORTHODOX ORPHANAGE IN GUATEMALA CITY. THE EDITORS OF THE WORD INTERVIEWED MOTHER INES ON JUNE 24, 2000, DURING THEIR VISIT TO THE HOGAR.
Mother lnes, how did you come to Orthodoxy? In 1971, after three years studying architecture in college, I entered a Roman Catholic monastery without my parents' blessing, and finished college by studying theology. These were difficult times in the Roman Catholic Church, with many changes from Vatican II. I was eager to learn the practices of monasticism, and began to read books such as Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Way of the Pilgrim, Cabasilas' The Life in Christ, but they were teaching liberation theology. I started praying the Jesus Prayer, and felt strongly that if the people of Guatemala would learn it they would come to know God.
My Mother Superior was a holy and wise woman who had loved me from my childhood. She sent me to study with Jesuits, first to Paris for two years then to Belgium. I went to Nicaragua during the war, where we were healing wounded people, to El Salvador, to the Philippines (where I met Mother Maria), back and forth to Guatemala. Wherever I went, I faced constant intellectual struggles over the liberation theology of the Catholic Church, but the Fathers and Cabasilas were with me. Finally, after sixteen years as a nun and having made my final vows, I was sent back to the Mother House in Paris, then encouraged to take a one-year sabbatical.
I went to Jerusalem to study theology, and was directed to a Byzantine rite monastery on top of a mountain in Galilee. Hoping this would offer a full liturgical and spiritual experience, I called Mother Maria, who had escaped during the revolution in the Philippines, to join me. At that time, we did not know the differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Then we were invited to attend a seminar at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambesy, Switzerland. After further studies in Orthodoxy and further trials, Mother Maria and I returned to Guatemala, and began a distance education program at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, which my father served as President. We were chrismated and tonsured as Orthodox nuns, but were attached to no community; soon after we met Mother Ivonne, a native Guatemalan who was teaching at the local university. She expressed an interest in becoming an Orthodox nun and joined us.
Finally, we met a Byzantine Catholic bishop who led us to the Orthodox Church in Venezuela and asked them to "adopt" us, because we needed to be in an Orthodox Church. An Antiochian priest in Caracas, Venezuela with whom I was acquainted contacted Metropolitan Antonios of Mexico, who requested that I visit him in Mexico. Metropolitan Antonios gave me authority to begin organizing a church in Guatemala under his omophorion, and we did so before Holy Week 1994. In August 1994, he visited and served Liturgy, during which he tonsured Mother Ivonne and appointed me Abbess. We later visited Ellwood City, PA and met Mother Christo-phora and the community of the Monastery of the Transfiguration, who adopted us as sisters and helped us learn more about Orthodox monasticism.
What philosophy directs the care of the children at the Orphanage? We accepted the challenge of the orphanage from the government because we knew we had the tools to treat the whole person: 1) Orthodox psychotherapy for the healing of the soul; 2) natural medicine for the health of the body; and 3) Neuro Net, which helps the neurological development of the children. Both Mother Ivonne, a biologist/chemist, and Sister Beatrice, a physician, were skilled in the practice of natural medicine and available to work with the children. We had experience working with Neuro Net through the school we had run in Guatemala City before opening the orphanage. Audiologist Nancy Rowe, who developed the Neuro Net program, was also willing to lend her expertise to help the children. We knew that God would work here, so we gathered all the tools we needed. It would have been selfish of us to say no when the government asked us to reopen the orphanage.
(Editor's note: Hogar Rafael Ayau was originally founded by Rafael Ayau, the great-great-grandfather of Mother Ines, in 1857. It had been taken over by the government of Guatemala in the early 1970s, and then closed for several years. On the feast of St. Herman of Alaska, August 9, 1996, Hogar Rafael Ayau was turned over to the Antiochian Orthodox Church of Guatemala by the First lady of Guatemala, and received by Mother Ines.)
When a new child comes to the Hogar, we care first for his body. He may be filthy from head to toe, and will go to the infirmary for cleaning and anointing. Next, we provide good food and security, which "cools him down." Then we begin a Neuro Net program to stimulate the brain. Both aggressive and submissive behavior are symptomatic of lack of brain connections.
When the first group of children (115 of them!) arrived at the Hogar, we did not talk to them about spiritual matters right away. They started coming to church on their own, and we began discussing spirituality after they had been in the orphanage for nearly one year. In those early days, the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA provided for the children's needs - food, clothing, icons. We believe it is important for the children to know where their help comes from, so they do not take it for granted, so they learn to thank others, and so they learn gratitude for God. This is important for the soul.
What methods of discipline do you use with the children? We believe there is no "hidden sin." Everything we do affects the others. For this reason, we insist on the children being forthcoming about what they have done. The children develop their own ability to understand what is good for them and what is good for the community. We explain sin in terms of sickness, since the children cannot understand sin but can relate to being sick. Furthermore, for children, guilt is implied in the word sin, but not in the word sick. We teach them that they have to open a wound for it to heal, and have to bring their illness to the doctor. The doctor is Jesus, and they have to bring their sicknesses to Him to be healed.
We address discipline problems in church. We look for the cause of the problem, and try to reason with the children. We also try not to let anything pass by us, and receive daily written reports from the teachers.
Discipline in church is different than the discipline in school. The children are not obliged to come to church, but are invited. Those in church do not want to be bothered or distracted, but want to pray. We tell the children if they want to be bothersome, don't come! If they are bothersome, they are asked to leave the church. To pray (to pay attention) is hard work. Sometimes the children are given a treat after a service if they have prayed and paid attention.
Because the school and church are both right here at the orphanage, we can be flexible. The schedule of church services accommodates the needs of the children, and their school schedule is also built around the liturgical schedule. We have Matins and Typika each morning and Vespers and Compline each evening. On Sundays and Feast Days we serve Hours and Divine Liturgy.
What is the future for the children of Hogar Rafael Ayau? Currently, there are 150 children at the Hogar. We presently have thirty children who are in the process of adoption, and thirty more with abandonments from their biological parents but not adoptive parents. The children who stay at the orphanage longer than others are here because it is God's will; they need the resources of the orphanage. Recently, people in the United States have been working with us to establish the Archangel Raphael Charity Fund. This fund will be used to assist people who want to adopt children from the Hogar but do not have the financial means to do so. Through the Archangel Raphael Fund they will be allowed to pay the costs of adoption [$15,000-$18,000 US] over time. We need donors to this Fund. We need adoptive parents.
Mother, it seems that many of the boys here want to be priests. Many of the girls also want to serve the Church. Are you supplying the Church in the Western hemisphere for the future? The children have come to love the Church. They know that it is the Church that has brought them out of hell. We sometimes remind the children where they came from. We need to remind them so they don't repeat the mistakes of their parents, not to make them feel guilty. Guilt doesn't help them. We show them God's love, God's mercy rather than guilt. We use reason, teach them that they must lead orderly lives. We also remind them of the value of families.
Our children accept that they are different from other children. The basic trust (of their mothers and fathers) has been broken. They have suffered so much that their hearts have become stone. They need to love others in order to learn to love God. How will they learn to love God if they have no one to love? We tell the missionaries who come to the Hogar to let the children love them. This creates a little opening in their hearts. Because the missionaries are Orthodox like they are, the children see them as "safe." The nuns [five, including Mother Ines] also try to be free from administrative work as much as possible so we can have a presence with the children. The children need to be loved. This is our mission - just to love them. Our work is very healing for everybody.
Mother Ines, thank you for sharing your story and your vision for the children of Hogar Rafael Ayau with the readers of The WORD.