Speakers with altitude: how Catholic Voices Bolivia helped to explain the Pope

The CV Bolivia team at the end of the training: Romel Brun, Bernardo Pacheco, Stephanie Morón, Jack Valero, María de los Ángeles Ruiz, Andres Eichmann, Akemi Ponce Sakurai, Claudia Acosta, Mauricio Pacheco and Adriana Mendoza.

 

IT SEEMS incredible that last week, when Pope Francis was in South America, a team of eight Catholic Voices speakers who had only just been trained managed to appear in the media 45 times – in the printed press, as well as radio and TV.

The idea of starting Catholic Voices in Bolivia was a dream for me. After hearing about it happening in other countries, I prayed for at least two years that someone might make it happen here in Bolivia.

I never thought that I would end up being the one helping it to happen.

I had told a few friends about it, asking them for prayers and to consider helping out in the event it actually happened. But for a long time nothing indicated that the project would go ahead. Then 20 January 2015 arrived, with the rumours that Pope Francis would visit Bolivia within the year. At the same time contact was made with London to ask if one of the founders could come and help with the training of the eventual team.

I decided to take the first few steps, fearing the whole venture could fall flat any minute. We fulfilled none of the basic conditions for such a project to succeed: we had no financial means, no people, not enough time to get trained, no contacts in the media… My partner in CV, Mauricio Pacheco, is an architect involved in building projects, while I teach Golden Age Spanish Literature at university.

At the end of January I had a Skype meeting with Jack Valero, the first of many either with him or with Juan Pablo Cannata who also advised us from Buenos Aires. Juan Pablo was very involved in the launch of Catholic Voices in Argentina, has written about the Catholic Voices method and now acts as the Regional Coordinator for the project for the whole of Latin America. With their help I was able to get the project started.

Between February and April we put together a coordinating team drawn from different Catholic spiritualities. One of the early members of this group, Vladimir Montecinos, was asked a few days later to join the Communications Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of Bolivia (CEB) for the Papal Visit. Through him we came into contact with Jose Rivera (Executive Secretary of the Communications Commission of the CEB). Jose really liked the idea of Catholic Voices and from that moment on was very helpful to the project.

We then set up the interviews to select speakers for Voces Católicas Bolivia (VCB). We didn’t have enough time to make a public call so we went through our networks trying to ensure that people from different spiritualities and communities in the Church would apply. After the interviews those who were not selected to be speakers remained in the team as volunteers for other tasks. By the end of April our team of 14 trainee speakers had been formed.

The training started the first weekend in May, with a day and a half spent in the Catholic University of Bolivia. We followed an intense timetable which included watching YouTube videos from Jack and Juan Pablo as well as Skype sessions directly with them. We thought we understood well the reframing technique. But it was only in mid-May, when we took four hours to complete our own first reframe, that we really understood the CV method.

The second training weekend took place on 30-31 May. We covered several topics: the papal visit (with all the data, financial and organisational), the battle against poverty and human development, and women in the Church. For the first topic we had the help of Fr Ivan Bravo, Executive of Communication of the Archdiocese of La Paz; we collected data ourselves for the second topic, both from Caritas and from the Education Department of the Bishops’ Conference. We found out for example, that the Church runs 1503 free educational institutions in the country, including 211 for alternative education and special needs.

In the meantime, other things were falling into place. Donato Ayma, who was the official translator for Quechua and Aymara during the Papal Visit, helped us translate our memes and brief texts. Later he brought us into his radio programme in Radio Atipiri in the city of El Alto. With the help of the volunteers we opened our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The Bishops’ Conference asked VCB to train their spokespeople. This started with Juan Pablo Cannata via Skype and Jack was able to continue some of it during his visit in June. It went so well that we have been asked to keep training people in Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and La Paz after the Pope’s Visit. On 28 May we met with the official spokesperson in La Paz for the Pope’s Visit, José Luis Aguirre, director of SECRAD, who considers the CV method to be really useful. We agreed that people from the Archdiocese could share in the rest of our training.

In June things started to go faster. Our meetings became more frequent to ensure we covered all the neuralgic issues and completed our training. The final weekend was scheduled for 20-21 June which Jack Valero was coming from London to run.

Jack came a few days earlier to do some media interviews and give presentations. As soon as he arrived in Santa Cruz on 16 June we went to Archbishops’ House for a first activity, followed by a meeting with one of the donors to the project. The next day Jack had an interview with El Deber, the largest distribution newspaper in Bolivia, before travelling to La Paz.  On 18 and 19 June, Jack gave interviews on TV and radio in 8 different channels in the capital, as well as a  talk at the Catholic University and two presentations to groups of young people. He also had meetings with people both at the Bishops’ Conference and the offices of the Archdiocese. The CV course took place as planned on 20 and 21 June. They were days of a lot of activity and in the end eight speakers finished the course.

We spent the rest of June revising the topics and making contacts with the main media of the country. The first few days of July were manic and our Email and WhatsApp inboxes were chock-full of messages, as we awaited the arrival of Pope Francis in Ecuador on Sunday 5th and in Bolivia from Wednesday 8 to Friday 10 July.

We agreed that four of us would be in La Paz (where Pope Francis was welcomed but because of the altitude would stay for just a few hours) and four in Santa Cruz, where the Pope would spend the rest of the time. We did not mind not seeing the Pope directly; the important thing was to be at the service of the media, and to spend any available time studying his addresses and finding out what was going on and where, taking note so as to be able to comment on it when asked.

On 8 July Adriana Mendoza and I were on a national channel for 7 hours together with two well-known presenters, in a programme covering each incident of the Pope’s day and of the people around him (the President, the bishops, etc). We helped in the commentary and did what we could: apparently it went quite well because we very soon got a call from the same channel to go again. We went back in the evening, quite tired because of the accumulated tension – but that was just the beginning!

Meanwhile Bernardo Pacheco was on Radio Panamericana. The next day, at 4.30am, I was already on the way to the airport. On the plane I noticed a very well known journalist (Eduardo Perez Iribarne) and introduced myself, giving him a Voces Católicas Bolivia business card. He told me he was interested in interviewing us for a programme he has in La Paz. I also saw someone else with a waistcoat with the word “Press” written on it. I offered him a card and his boss, sitting next to him, who runs a programme in the USA, told me they would call us.

It would take too long to tell all the stories of those 48 hours. In both cities we worked at full speed, answering many calls from both national and international media. The Pope kept saying and doing wonderful things, which gave us many things to talk about, so much so that it felt difficult to choose what to comment on. It wasn’t just his words, but all the images he created so effectively: his gestures, his greetings, his stopping the car to hug some children or an elderly nun. It was hard not to be moved, as he brought so many caresses from God.

Voces Católicas Bolivia has only just begun. We look forward to training speakers in other cities of this country and serving the local Church in whatever way it needs.

(Andrés Eichmann is the coordinator of VCB)

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