Maria Cecilia Sierra Salcido is from Mexico and has been a Comboni Missionary Sister for 32 years. She has lived in many different countries. She shares her experiences with us. “The desert has become a sacred space for me.”
Everything is grace. Divine gratuitousness and beauty are values that define and guide my life and prayer. “Thank you” is the word that emanates from my depths when I contemplate his actions and feel part of his loving work. This sense of grace and gratuitousness immerses me, connects me with the divine, and prepares me to discover his traces in the world. Truly, God has lavished me with an excess of gentleness, mercy, tenderness, grace, and goodness. I began to discover the beauty and tenderness of God from a very early age. My awareness of his presence began to emerge when I was five, with my first Communion. At the age of twelve, I was a catechist, participating in missionary activities in Indigenous towns. My parents’ ranch, the land, the crops, the trees, and the animals emanated the divine for me.
I ecstatically watched the sunrise and sunset. Isaiah’s words of comfort in Psalm 138, and the person of Jesus in the Gospels have been dominant sources of inspiration.
Grace and the Spirit of God have led my steps to sacred spaces in Italy, the United States, Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and Guatemala. As a Mexican religious, I feel privileged and enriched by the affection lavished on me, the hearts that have welcomed me, and by so much cultural diversity that challenges and enriches me. I know that I was abundantly blessed. But living in the Holy Land is another level. I have been living in Israel/Palestine for a few months. The desert has become a sacred space for me. My ministry as a Comboni missionary is expressed in working in Bedouin camps in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho.
We visit families daily and promote education and development activities under a scorching sun. That’s why it comforts me to stop at sunset. With the evening breeze, the soul regains its calm and is renewed. Also, at night — in the quiet of our little chapel — remembering the encounters, the faces and the action of God favors communion. From that space, prayer reconnects me with people and their stories, dreams and resilience; with the flowers that bloom and resist the intense heat; with the beautifully shaped stones that yearn to tell their ancient history; with the caves and shelters, the goats and shepherds.
Having overcome the challenge of traveling up and down winding paths, of walking along lonely, tortuous, and narrow paths in the desert comforts and elevates the spirit.
The desert — its immensity and beauty, hardness and aridity — connects me with the ammas (wise women) of the desert. Bearers of the Spirit, they are inspiring icons in my longing for union and encounter with the divine. The beauty of the desert claims the heart: I will take her to the desert and I will speak to her heart (Hosea 2:16).
Feeling the constant call to interiority and recollection, my soul smiles happily and gratefully. Entranced by so much beauty and before such abundant grace, I only manage to sigh deeply and stammer a “thank you” that springs from the depths of my soul.