First Communion

Fr. G. Chris Saenz
October 20, 2014

Relief and Welcome



Nayade Constanza Rocha Canales or “Naya,” as her family and friends call her, is a 16 year-old adolescent who suffers from spina bifida. Spina bifida, which literally means “cleft spine,” is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or meninges—the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord [source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website]. Naya’s condition has confined her to a wheel chair. Naya is an intelligent adolescent who dreams of being a teacher or a doctor who treats children and adolescents. She enjoys being with her family and going to school. She lives with her grandparents Rosa and Alejo whom she affectionately calls “mom and dad.” The grandparents have taken care of Naya since she was born. Naya has a distant relationship with her mother.

I first met Naya when I was assigned to work in the parish of Santo Tomas Apostol in Santiago, Chile. Naya was attending first communion classes in the Padre Hurtado Chapel. I observed her as an outgoing, joyful person who enjoyed participating in the chapel. I was curious about her life and faith. Naya agreed to be interviewed.

Naya, how did you arrive into the Padre Hurtado chapel?
Three years ago I told my parents that I wanted to do my First Communion, and I kept asking them when, when, when? Eventually, my mother Rosa took me to the parish we were living in. [Technically, Naya lives in another parish that borders our parish]. We joined the first communion program there, but one day my mother could not go to a class because I was having health problems. The parish told her that we could no longer attend the program because my mother missed one class. [In Chile, parents also are required to attend catechism classes]. I really wanted to do my first communion, because I wanted to receive the host, the Body of Christ, and I prayed so much for my family.

Naya and her Grandmother with Fr. Chris

Naya and her Grandmother with Fr. Chris

So what did you do? What happened next?
A year later our neighbor, Mrs. Isabel, who participates in Padre Hurtado chapel, invited us to join. She took us to a Mass. Columban Father John Boles was celebrating the Mass [Fr. John Boles was the parish priest at that time]. I really enjoyed it. There I saw good people. They were welcoming and greeted all who arrived. There was a sense of solidarity in the chapel. And Fr. John was very welcoming and a good companion to us, very inviting. We talked to Fr. John about my possibility of joining the First Communion program in the chapel.

What did Father John say?
Fr. John said in the other chapel [in Chile, a parish consists of several chapels or communities] there is a Special Catechesis program for people like me. That catechesis has only a year preparation. Yet, that chapel was farther away and my being in a wheelchair would make it difficult to attend the weekly classes. Fr. John said I could participate in the Padre Hurtado chapel, which was closer, but the preparation was two years. He left it for us to decide. We decided to join the Padre Hurtado chapel.

How was the experience of participating in catechesis?
With the other children we formed a good friendship. What I really liked was the works of charity we did in catechesis. We tried to help those who had no food or place to sleep. For instance, some mornings, as a group, we went out and handed out food to people who didn’t have anything. It was the first time I ever did something like that. It was a very good experience.

On the day of your First Communion, how did you feel?
I was really nervous but happy to be with my catechesis companions. Also, I was happy to receive Jesus. When I received the Body and Blood of Christ I felt a sense of relief and welcoming. I felt it in my heart and mind. Most of all, I had my family present to share the experience.

Now that you have received your First Communion, what do you want to do?
I always dreamed of being on the altar. I would like to be an altar server. I want to help you and the other priests on the altar. For me the altar is a great emotion of joy.

For you, what does it mean to be Catholic?
To be an obedient child. To respect all especially those who love you very much. Always take care of the other.

What can you say about the Columbans?
Columbans are very joyful priests and good people. They are very attentive to the needs of the other. What I like most about them is their support of children who really need help.

What message would you like to give to our readers around the world?
If you have children, please support them in what they need. If you have family who live far away, find a way to continue to provide and support them. Always make sure your family has what it needs.

[I asked her mother Rosa the following]
What was it like for you to attend catechesis?
It was difficult for me at first. I found it hard to express myself. But in time, the themes of the class touched daily life and I was able to share with the other parents. We discovered we had a lot in common.

Did you see any changes in Naya after catechesis?
Yes, before Naya was very impulsive and often grumpy. Now I see she is more serene and tranquil. Naya learned to listen.

End Note: We do plan on making Naya an altar server. I have asked the community to build a little ramp to the altar so Naya can go up to the altar. We will work out the logistics of what she will do. Naya is extremely happy to have this opportunity.