Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 29, 1999
Meeting God in the midst of suffering
Calgary woman blessed by arrival of Nicaraguan friend as she battles cancer
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
The opening song to a folk Mass in Nicaragua is called Christ the Worker:
"You are the God of the poor. God who is human and humble. God who sweats in the streets. God in the weather-beaten face. This is why I can talk with you, because you are the God working beside me."
Vallerie Ross of Calgary, a single mom with two teenage girls, can sing the words to that song in beautiful Spanish.
Ross grew up in Alsask, Sask. as a member of the United Church where the United Church minister combined their group with a Catholic group.
Ross said that was the first time she heard the word "ecumenical." This was also the time she heard about Vatican II and remembers her minister saying that "this was a big shift for the Catholic Church and it opened the door for many possibilities of a more ecumenical journey in the Christian world."
Ross was also influenced by interfaith people who set up Calgary Urban Project Society. CUPS, an inner city health facility for the poor in Calgary was set-up in the mid-1970s.
There she met a woman from Chile who was incarcerated under the Pinochet regime. The lobbying by the churches had gotten the Chilean woman released.
She remembers talking with this woman regarding her incarceration. "The woman asked her if she was a Christian. When I said 'yes,' the woman asked, what are you going to do about it?"
Ross went with her daughter Rebecca to Central America in the late 1980s. She was impressed by the Christian base communities. Their day to day living out of the Gospel affected her profoundly.
Ross said she felt like Jonah, "God what are you calling me to do here?" As Ross recalls, "I became Catholicized in the process."
Ross worked with the Sisters of Assumption with street kids who went out to work, selling tortillas and shining shoes. There was an orphanage where children who had no one to look after them. A number of people working in Nicaragua would take some of these kids home for a weekend to give them a sense of home life.
There, Ross first met her daughter to be. "We went home and started to form a relationship and two years later the adoption of Carolina, my eight-year-old daughter, was completed."
The Rosses had struggles like any family with two strong-spirited girls becoming sisters.
Ross attributes their present solidarity to the shared experiences in Nicaragua that developed their values.
But no one has a tail string on life, not even if they are trying to do what God wants them to do. Nine months ago, Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I did the whole journey - surgery, chemotherapy and radiation," she said. "This disease attacks you physically and psychologically."
Ross says it has been hard on Rebecca and Caroline - a threatening time. In better times Ross felt the presence of God and felt whole with the universe. Ross says "she prefers that feeling."
Ross says, "when people emailed me, brought me food, lit a candle for me and prayed with me, I knew there was a God in all my pain and doubt."
Ross admits cancer turns some people away from God and brings some closer. At one of these critical moments on her journey with cancer Ross came to a clarity that God was still in her life and loved her and her daughters.
"I still feel I am in the storm but I feel the presence of God more these days than the absence of God," she says.
As Ross was burdened with her sickness, many miles away in Nicaragua, three women in the Nicaragua government who Ross affectionately calls las mujeres maravillosas (the three marvellous women) did the paper gymnastics so the Canadian Embassy would let Juanita Castro come to Canada to look after her.
Juanita is a poor domestic in Nicaragua who worked in the Ross household when they lived in Nicaragua and became a dear member of the family.
She came to Canada after a friend of Ross's purchased the plane ticket.
Juanita stayed with them for five months. She brought her soul food, her laughter and sense of humour which the Ross family truly needed and which Ross believes revived them.
Juanita herself was not in good shape as she had open sores on her legs because of varicose veins.
"We took her to CUPS and got most of her legs cleared up." Ross asks, "Do you know the first thing she did when she got back to Nicaragua? She went to a church and prayed for me." Tears stream down Ross's face as she says "I miss her."
Ross says during her dark days an image of Jesus rocking her by the sea in Nicaragua gave her courage as she saw the ebb and flow of life and its interconnectedness.
She also remembers her mother being there with her in the early days of the cancer, the love of her girls and three marvellous women who enabled Juanita to look after her.
Now Ross is recuperating and speaks of the possibility of being involved in life again: "God took me from my little place in Alsask, Sask., to Central America and brought the heart of Central America in the presence of Juanita to nurse me back to health."