I am happy to share with all of you my first experience of the Spiritual Exercises. My name is Antonieta Perniciaro; I am from Venezuela, I arrived in Uruguay on July 22, 2018, as part of this migratory wave that is moving through Latin America. I left my country because of the insecurity and uncertainty I experienced there: in health, in food, in all aspects of daily life. I emigrated and had the blessing of travelling with my mother, Alicia, who is 74 years old and my son Samuel, age 11. I arrived in this country full of energy, with limitations but excited about a new beginning.

When you are in your country and in your comfort zone, and you imagine migration, you believe that everything bad that can happen to you has already happened, and you are going to leave it behind in Venezuela. It wasn’t too bad for me; I managed to have my documentation in time, the medical exam of my mother was successful, since she had had a heart operation some months before. Up to that point everything was going well.

We found an apartment, it wasn’t too bad; it needed some repairs, but I believed in the “contracts”, and so the months passed by. In the first month my mother became severely depressed. I could not leave her, because if she went out she would get lost in the street, but I had to look for work. So I divided my days between taking care of my son and of my mother and taking her to the doctor. He recommended that she attend some support groups for immigrants where they could offer her help that would facilitate her adaptation to this new country. The meetings were very far away, and I could no longer accompany her because I was working.

Thank God she found the Church of San Juan Bautista which I did not realize was so close by, but there were no morning Masses, so I had to wait until Sunday to attend Mass. She needed to have her daily Masses in the mornings, since at night because of the situation of Venezuela there was no safe option.

The “contracts” in the apartment were never recognized nor were they fulfilled, which forced the three of us to live in only one room because the other was uninhabitable due to the leaks and the humidity. Although I was not insecure, I lived in an agony of how to maintain my family, pay for an apartment that was falling apart bit by bit, as well as issue of the mental health of my mother. In the midst of this, my son was in a growth spurt, adapting himself to a new school and a new society, with its ups and downs. There was bullying, tiredness, lack of interest to the point that in the psych evaluations, due to the psychologist’s mistake, he was diagnosed with mental retardation and an IQ of 30. I protested, because it wasn’t true. He is simply a healthy boy who was trying to adapt himself to a new country which had different customs, and it had been very difficult for him to separate from his aunts and uncles. But I think that he is managing to adapt. I sought a second opinion, which motivated him to work, and with his teacher he is developing better both academically and socially. Now he has friends and loves to go to school.

During that time we were often without food or money, and very lonely. I asked for loans in order to finish off payments, and this took the burden off me for a while. However, at work the sales were declining, and for the month of February we only earned the base salary without commissions, which made my economic situation worse.

One day in the summer, they both found a chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus near our house, with the blessing that there were daily Masses in the morning; this saved us as a family. My mother became stronger and decided to tell the doctor that she was very depressed and about what she was thinking. She began treatment for depression, which impressed us because in my country they do not give medication for this (which I explain afterwards).

For my mother it was like coming home, to be able to rely on her daily encounter with communion, with daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the medication brought her peace. However, my situation was different. The lack of better economic opportunities made the situation worse, although now we were not alone because the Community of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart were with us. One day I dared to meet them; they welcomed me and treated me like family.

Tired and ashamed, in May I made the decision to return to my country because my situation was unsustainable both economically and morally. My self-esteem was devastated, I was becoming depressed, I just could not do it anymore. I remember that I went to Our Lord to ask him to get me out of that situation, and I told Him, “I am turning this situation over to you because I don’t know how to go on, only a miracle can alleviate this situation. But in my heart I felt hopeless. I was paying $15,000 besides the ordinary expenses and services and was earning an average of $21,000, but without commissions I was being paid $11,000.

I sent a message to the Superior, S. Daniela, telling her about my decision to leave; she asked me for some time. I waited and we spoke. My heart was so perturbed that I did not understand what she was telling me. She offered  me the opportunity to begin again, to be part of the Congregation’s program for helping immigrants. Today I am here, staying afloat, working hard, and grateful. Now that I can view it in retrospect, I don’t know how I supported my family those last 5 months.

I confess that it has not been easy to write what happened to me before the experience of the Spiritual Exercises, I still work on it because it is painful.

Coming to the Spiritual Exercises

Exhausted and resigned I arrived at the door of the St. Raphaela Mary Spiritual Center; they opened the door and told me to wait. The silence upset me. Then, they told me to go up to the room, leave my things with S. Daniela, and to bring the notebook and the Bible.

I had no expectations about the Exercises, I went trusting in love, and in need. I knew that God had a way of communicating with us, but I never imagined that his voice could be heard in the delicate pages of the Bible.

In the interview… there was weeping, feelings of anger and disappointment. My week had been very difficult: in my workplace they dismissed two workers due to bank fraud, (both Venezuelan, which tarnished the reputation of the immigrants in the company), the heavy workplace atmosphere boded more dismissals, this time not of immigrants. These last, for many months had stolen the profits from the sales, which reduced my income and that of many in the workplace to less than what was expected. Some might have considered it insignificant, but it was not. Our lack of food was not because I had not worked, but because they had stolen from me. I arrived exhausted. The only thing that remained in my head from what S. Daniela told me during the interview was, “light to see what is happening in prayer.”

They gave me points for the first day, beginning with Psalm 139 (138). At that moment I felt that it was necessary to give myself completely to it, because even when I had a roof over my head I was not at peace. I entered the exercises devastated and disappointed. After finishing the agenda, I share with you only one part of my final reflection:

“I came before you Lord, a stranger on the road, tired, dejected, and brooding, dirty, with an immense burden and shame, to give you an account of myself. At your feet and in the presence of your immeasurable greatness, I cried, I cried very much. Then a feeling of calmness came over me. I asked for your help in order to be healed, to be forgiven, and to find the way again because I am lost. I accept my burden, my anxiety without question, with a calm that enveloped me I set out on the way, now light and without confusion. Grateful, I love You.”

This exercise took more time than what had been asked of me.

The rest of the exercises were beautiful because I learned to listen to Him in prayer, to see the beauty in each psalm. In each prayer I felt that each moment that I lived, although submerged in desperation, He was always at my side sustaining me.

So passed the time from exercise to exercise, in a reassuring silence; to enhance my hours of exercises sometimes the sun shone and the cold dissipated.

I finished my exercises with this prayer, which I continue in my life:

“I ask Lord that you teach me to see you through seeing myself, to hear you through hearing myself, to love you through loving myself, to restore myself in you, to transform myself into you, not to flee from you and not to hide myself. You have accomplished great miracles in my life. I ask you, Lord, to lead me to bring your miracle into the lives of others. Reassure me, Lord, so that the tiredness will be light. Encourage me along the way. Bathe me in you to cover me, and protect those I love from all evil. You know me, and you know beforehand everything that will happen to me. I ask you to take control and to help me to sustain my family. Be my shepherd, my provider; I pledge my life and my strength to achieve it. Thank you.

Today my life is radically changed; I still try to improve my economic situation in order to have access to housing. I changed jobs; now I am at Radio Maria, in which I put my heart and all my strength in order to bring the mission of Mary to the audience of Uruguay and so to transform peoples’ hearts. I have received the greatest manifestations of love and affection, without expecting it, on renouncing my former job. I did not know the immense affection that I had sown in everyone; I give thanks for this.

To the Sisters Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, my eternal love and gratitude for accompanying me and showing me that God shows himself in our lives in every second of our days. I love all of them with all my heart. Thanks to God for making our paths cross. From all of them I have learned the great love that God and His Son have for us. I ask for help to see myself as he sees me. Thank you

Antonieta Perniciaro