GERMÁN (pronounced Herman) MAZUELO-LEYTÓN tells how from very simple beginnings in the 1980s, the Pioneer Association is now making an impact on life in his Latin American country, Bolivia.
On the occasion of the Centenary of the Pioneer Association I was invited to say a few words at a meeting of Pioneers from all over the world in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth in June 1999. I remember saying on that memorable occasion that the Association came to birth in Bolivia, when we became aware that there was a charism missing to the Mystical Body of Christ in our country, namely that of the Pioneers. Every time I reflect on the origins of the Association in Bolivia, I become more and more amazed by the fact that the Lord’s Hand has continually guided both its establishment and its continuation.
There were two previous occasions when I could have become a Pioneer. First, when John Murray, from the Concilium of the Legion of Mary, at my request sent me a brochure in Spanish about the Pioneer Temporary Category. The second was during a visit to Dublin in January, 1987. The late Fr Joseph Moran, OP took me to a place in the centre of Dublin on a Saturday morning where a group of legionaries were promoting the Association. It was not until 1994, on a blessed day in that year, that I wrote to Fr McGuckian SJ, requesting the establishment of the Association in Oruro, my home city, with the encouragement of my Spiritual Director, Fr Pedro de Anasagasti, OFM.
I have to admit that the impulse that led me to look for the establishment of the PTAA and to become a Pioneer myself had its origins in an earlier decision to take up fasting as requested by Our Lady at Medjugorje. It certainly was a grace, because as we know from theology, “actual graces are those that dispose or move us, in a fluid and passing manner, to work or to receive
something, that leads to eternal life”.
In God’s providence, a positive reply was not long in coming from Ireland. Once we had found a dozen prospective candidates we received authorisation to establish a Pioneer Centre. A few weeks later, we chose our first twelve members, coming from different church groupings: the Family Apostolate, Charismatic Renewal, Legion of Mary, and others, as well as some lay people not attached to any specific apostolate: our little select group! The first ones were chosen, not because they were known for their worldly wisdom but for their commitment to the things of God. Among our first twelve were two women, one from a school cleaning staff and the other an entrepreneur. It is clear to us that God is at work in what is happening so that from a simple letter to Dublin a whole movement has developed.
The Bishop of the time, without showing much enthusiasm for what he considered “an extreme position”, gave his permission. Fr Bernardino Santandreu, SJ signed the application form and the the pioneering work began in Bolivia. We first got to work on the translation into Spanish of all the fundamental writings of the Association and guided by them, we set about the promotion of the Pioneer charism. Seneca said that “it is not because things are difficult that we dare not, it is because we dare not that things are difficult”. Consequently, courage is an absolutely essential virtue for any baptised person who wants to work for the salvation of the world. So our first step was to counter-act a fear of failure especially under the guise of human respect among our little group. It was necessary to strengthen our members to ignore the taunts of their secular environment and even of their fellow-parishioners. This also entailed resisting intimidation and any embarrassment at publicly embracing Pioneer membership. A strong will with ordinary talent will do what it wants. The qualities of a genuine “elite”, as Fr Angel Ayala SJ says, are tenacity and character: “the will, therefore, is the great faculty to be trained for every kind of undertaking”.
Some 60 years ago, Pope Pius XII perceived that “the root of our present evils and its deplorable consequences is insensitivity to the spirit, in neglect of the will and in shallowness of heart” (Exhortation for a Better World, January 10th, 1952). Our Pioneer way of life tries to counteract this.
The visits of Fr Bernard J McGuckian in 2002, and of Seán Coll and the late Padraic Naughton in 2005 were an extraordinary encouragement for the Pioneers in Bolivia.
What surprised me and continues to do so is how enthusiastically young people respond when presented with high ideals. This is reflected in our country in the large number of juveniles and young Pioneers in our school Pioneer Centres.
One of the main achievements of the Association in Bolivia is that, in such a short time, it has come to play such a pivotal role at a national level in matters concerning alcohol and substance abuse. Local and national media which were initially indifferent and even contemptuous to our efforts now support us magnificently. At our Annual National Sobriety Awards on December 5th, 2011, the major television networks, newspapers and radio stations were present. Since the establishment of the PTAA in Bolivia, awareness of the problems of alcohol and substance abuse has grown at every level.
Certainly there have been difficulties over the years; envy, incomprehension, insults and attacks here and there, pressures as when a brewery offered to print all our pioneer texts and leaflets. In some lay associations, there is still a tendency to think that when some of their members become Pioneers, we have been” fishing in their fish-bowl”. The reality is that in becoming Pioneers, they become better and more reliable members of their own organisations.
Centres are being established in other Latin American countries. There is well-grounded hope for developments in Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Paraguay. I personally, had the privilege of visiting Peru where there is already evidence of positive results.It takes a lot of patience. The Pioneer leadership in this part of the world must be ready, if it is to give real leadership, to continue the journey without losing heart and to be ready to begin the pioneering work over and over again, if circumstances so require.