…reflections on a video project i’ve been working on

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Ever since Cristina, Bella and I returned from Honduras earlier this month, I’ve been working away on a video that attempts to reflect on the heart of what Missioners of Christ really do in Honduras. But, as I started creating it and reflecting on the life and teachings of Saint John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, I realized that the more specific I got with things, the less I could explain it with words. It all comes down to love. Everything always has and always will. Thank you, Pope Francis for making me uncomfortably remember this.

What I mean by that is that we, as a society (all of us – subconsciously or not), have a hard time grasping things that aren’t results-based or empirically measured. It’s flat out how we’ve been bred in the 1st world….and through globalization, it’s spread everywhere. We simply struggle with the concept that Mother Teresa attempted to teach us, that “We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.”

It’s tough. It’s not fun, exciting or compelling to truck along and remain faithful when all of the novelty has begun to disappear. In fact, in my reflecting, I’d venture to say that this is one of the great problems of the current and past few generations (all over the world) and it is seen in religion – we just don’t stick with things anymore. Even less do with stick with things when they aren’t fun/exciting/affirming/fulfilling anymore. This will be one of the greatest crosses that post-modern man will have to overcome to remain free, to remain alive.

Case in point – one of the most significant struggles for the average participant on one of our 1-2 week long missions in Honduras, is that we don’t build or repair structures (churches or schools) or focus on any relief work (food relief programs, shelters, orphanages, etc). I can’t even count how many conversations I’ve had with someone who struggled with the idea that we spend a week in a remote mountain village in Honduras, visiting house-to-house, praying and living with the people in the given town. “But what about some sort of project that we can leave behind? What will the people have to remember us and to remember this trip?” There is a difficulty in not seeing any results or seeing the fruit of our labor. We’ve been trained to think that unless we can bring back pictures and videos of our labor, our work is uneventful.

This is simply not true.

Don’t get me wrong, those things are all good, beautiful and necessary. Christ has called us to provide these things and to be generous with our talents and treasures…..to the point that it hurts us.

But as Missioners of Christ in Honduras, we have simply not been called to that sort of ministry as part of our permanent presence in Comayagua. Although it happens, from time to time, just by nature of being someone’s permanent neighbor. I can remember when a hurricane hit the country and flooded a number of homes in our neighborhood – we stopped working on retreat preparations and we had to literally carry people to safety. This is part of life, even here in the US. But our ministry was not focused on that.

As Missioners of Christ, we’ve been called to simply love. To love til it hurts. To love even unto death. This means truly living  amongst the people of Honduras. This means being a fellow parishioner at our local church…..it means being a neighbor when the roof collapses or when a family member dies. It means playing soccer with friends after a day of school or even attending their 16th birthday party. It means eating in another’s home, even if there house doesn’t meet our sanitation standards. It also means embracing one another when cultures collide, or when a young father of 4 loses his job. The list goes on….as it should, but our call has been clear (although the practicals are FAR from clear) : LOVE.

Please, check out the rough draft of the video:

Return from Honduras

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Thank you all for your prayers! We just returned from our visit to Honduras….and wow, it was amazing!

Please see some of the pictures we took:

Our Godson, Juan Pablo, and his family, on the day of his baptism

Mario, Dina and little Juan Pablo, on the day of his baptism

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Juan Pablo on his way to the baptismal font!

Mom, dad and Godparents praying over Juan Pablo

Bella, enjoying her bath!

Bella’s cilantro-tiara

Bella and her Godmother with her new friend, Emily

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Cristina and Emily, a young girl with Spina Bifida in Honduras

Cristina sharing with the mom’s group in Honduras

Dina with Juan Pablo, our Godson

 

Bella, exploring Casa Guadalupe

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For 4 days during our visit, I helped out on a mountain mission to a village that had yet to host missionaries. It was so high in the mountains and so cold, that the villagers wore up to 2 coats at a time!

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Our mission team

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Teammate Katie, contemplating God’s creation

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Teammate Katie with one of the joyful families from the village

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It seemed like every house was 30-45 minutes away from the next….

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Another view from the top

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A long-term Missioner, Vilma, sharing her testimony

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Katie and Ashley teaching Gladys (one of the villagers) how to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet

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The kids were so excited to come to our kids’ program each day!

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…but when they would arrive, they would try to act cool, like it was no big deal.

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Justin, a long term Missioner, would lead us in music

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The kids loved singing

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…and praying

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…and climbing trees

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Some of our friends on the mission

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The woman on the left had been through much suffering….but had an immense joy in her heart

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Tanya, one of the little girls from the village, making a commitment to follow Christ

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All of the kids from our program

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Katy, one of the little girls from the village, with teammate Ashley

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a big smile

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making funny faces

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the boys trying to act cool

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We took out a bottle of bubbles….which one of the older kids told me they had never seen before

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the kids chasing after the bubbles

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on our last night there, we had a MASSIVE (dangerously?) bonfire with the entire village

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Ashley loved brushing her teeth without running water

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On one of our last days in Honduras, we brought Bella to the Missionaries of Charity house….where the take care of the sick and dying, as well as orphans and children born with aids

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She loved the kids

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I think Bella thought that this sister was Mother Teresa….

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her only frame of reference is the image of Mother Teresa in our house

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Bella loved the food in Honduras

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Me with our Godson, Juan Pablo

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We let Bella take a SHORT spin on the back of the truck….

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She loved hanging out with the Friars

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Don’t know why she’s got her hand like that….

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Brother Gabriel scared her…..maybe it was his height…(he’s very TALL)

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The Poor Clares got special permission during lent to come out and see Bella in person….as they had been praying for her while she was still in the womb

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They might be cloistered….but they are SO JOYFUL!

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Bella with her Tia Diana and Tio Roger

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Bella hanging out with our compadres’ family

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Our compadre, Mario (Juan Pablo’s father) getting us some fresh coconuts from their front yard

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Our compadres’ grandmother (who is going to be 90 this year!) enjoying some coconut water

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Bella with her prima, Ana Cecilia

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Bella wanted a kiss….

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More Missions in Honduras!

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As the coordinator for all Young Adult missions to Honduras with the Missioners of Christ (www.missioners.org), I am blessed to be a part of such an amazing ministry that continues the transform the lives of thousands (yes, THOUSANDS!) of people from all over the world! God is good!

I wanted to take the time to pass along this blog post from a fellow Missioner, Nick Higgins, who was the lead facilitator of our New Year’s mission trip that took place from December 27th to January 5th. He has some pretty profound insight in to “the mission” and how we are called to respond! Check it out:

http://toloveandserve.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/the-sick-the-poor-and-the-blessed-winter-mission-team-arrives/

That post was about the specific mission, but check out his other posts to read more about what we do/live in Honduras and how we are called to transform (and be transformed) through serving the poorest of the poor.

Here are some pictures from their mission:

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This is how our teams live in the mountain village

This is how our teams eat in the mountain villages

This is a typical meal our teams eat in the mountain villages – tortillas, beans, eggs and cheese

 

This is how our teams travel in the mountain villages!

This is often how our teams travel in the mountain villages!

 

These are the relationships our teams build in the mountain villages

These are the relationships we build in the mountain villages

After years of “doing” these missions (and years of learning from our achievements AND mistakes…..and many times, the hard way!) we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about LOVE. We aren’t in Honduras to “fix” anyone or anything. We are in Honduras to LOVE and SERVE….and to let God do the rest. Our focus is on the relationships we build as we live, side-by-side, with the people of Honduras. Now, with living together comes all of the joys and sufferings that us humans carry – cultural differences, language barriers, subtle differences in the way we pray and worship, organization (and DISorganizational) issues, etc etc etc.

But, God continues transforming the lives of all those involved……and so, we continue. We try each day to remain faithful in this call to love and serve, while enjoying it along the way!

Contact me if you are interested in participating on any of our missions to Honduras at Andrew.Pocta@missioners.org

The following dates are set for 2014:

Trip

Spring Break I

Spring Break II

Come & See

Summer I

Summer II

Winter

Dates

March 8 – 15

March 22 – 29

April 21 – 26

June 12 – 23

July 3 – 14

December 30 – January 8

God bless you!

Looking ahead in awe

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Our Christmas picture:

Christmas 2014

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There’s not much to say in this post. We have spending a lot of time in awe of our daughter and the Grace and Strength that Our Lord has given her…..especially in the last 2-3 weeks.

For a while we were worried that Maria Isabella was a little too attached or dependent on mommy and daddy, (we’re definitely happy about her having an attachment to us, her parents, but feared that her needing to be carried around would cause additional dependency) but have seen her break out of her shell in the past few weeks.

We sat talking on the couch one afternoon last week and it hit us. During a quiet moment in the conversation, we heard…..silence. Cristina anxiously looked around and our little ‘bug’ (as we affectionately refer to her – a term coined by her cousin Daniel, who couldn’t pronounce Isabella or Bella) was nowhere to be found! She had traveled off in her wheelchair, in to the bathroom to find her toothbrush!

This was the moment we had dreamed about (and I’ll admit, cried many nights about)……something we looked around and saw in our other friends with children her age…..exploring the world around them, playing with toys and examining the furniture/toys/decorations/etc. while their parents talked to other parents like us. For so many weeks/months, Bella was unable to do any of that……but now that is all slowly changing.

There is much work to do….and Maria Isabella’s toddler-potential has yet to be seen…..so we continue praying and working and pushing her!

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Show and tell

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This week, Bella’s physical therapist, Karen, (who has been a HUGE blessing to our family, and truly loves Bella) invited her and Cristina to the physical therapy class she teaches at Old Dominion University. (which also happens to be my parents Alma Mater)

As her class has been learning about different birth defects, Karen wanted to present Bella and explain the various therapies and exercises that are done in order to help Bella learn to crawl, “roll” and one day, walk.

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Bella and the Physical Therapy program at ODU

We don’t know where we would be or what we would do without Karen! What a blessing it is to have people who are so generous and who sincerely love Bella….we owe so much to all of her doctors and nurses (she’s pretty famous at our local Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters) What a gift it is to know that there are many who love and serve children with special needs…..God is too good to us!

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She’s smiling because of how much the Doctors and Nurses love her at CHKD…….and well, Elmo might be helping a little bit, too

Celebrating 10 Years in Comayagua, Honduras

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As Cristina and I have shared in the past, we owe a great deal of our lives and faith (not to mention having met each other!) to the time we spent serving as long-term missionaries in Comayagua, Honduras with our community, Missioners of Christ.

Missioners of Christ is a Catholic Christian Community centered in prayer and united by a Covenant that evangelizes, disciples, and sends forth youth and young adults on domestic and foreign missions to fulfill the Great Commission of Christ.

This video, although a little dated, is by far, the best short-explanation of what we do in Honduras:

As Missioners of Christ, our community provides ministry opportunities in the US from youth retreats to Catholic Underground events to intercessory prayer groups among our commited members. But, the greatest expression of this covenant is our John Paul II Center for Evangelization in Comayagua, Honduras, which houses roughly 20 long-term missionaries (both Honduran and non-Honduran) who volunteer for 2+ years at a time.

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Cathedral of Comayagua (Original Capital of Honduras)

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John Paul II Center of Evangelization

By the Grace of God and under the permission of the local Bishop of Comayagua (and the support and guidance of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, CFR) we are blessed to live-out a intense life of prayer and ministry, including a rigorous prayer life of daily Mass and Eucharist Adoration within our Two-Hearts Chapel.

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Two Hearts Chapel

Our Servant Leader in Honduras - Carol Restaine

Our Servant Leader in Honduras – Carol Restaine

We frequently collaborate with the Missionaries of Charity, who happen to also live in our neighborhood in Comayagua

We frequently collaborate with the Missionaries of Charity, who happen to also live in our neighborhood in Comayagua

We also frequently collaborate with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal CFR, who happen to live next door!

We also frequently collaborate with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal CFR, who happen to live next door!

Among many many ministries (from feeding the poor, hosting various American medical brigades alongside the CFRs, gang-ministry, prison-ministry, youth ministry, scholarship and financial sponsorship, etc.) that our long-term volunteers are blessed to live-out, the Lord has slowly led us to a focus on pure evangelization. While we live and work with our neighbors in our neighborhood on the outskirts of Comayagua (a growing agricultural city infused with a metro feel) we are very committed to serving the priests of the mountain parishes or “aldeas” where the villages are so many and so spread apart that they are only able to be visited by clergy once a year or two. As you’ve heard, Latin America is still deeply rooted in Catholic culture….it’s the Catholic Faith that has been rocky. Various factors have caused a giant gap between formed Catholics and cultural (sometimes innocently superstitious) catholics…..which has only enabled the somewhat convenient mass-conversion of Latinos to different faith traditions and churches, especially those brought down through the thousands of American missions that go down each year, with good intention, to help the poor and bring many to Christ (even though they were already with Him, they just need some formation, encouragement and resource! Sigh….)

Towns and streets are named after Saints and feast days……children are named after the Holy Family and little girls carry the name of Our Lady in her various apparitions, namely “Fatima”, “Lourdes” and “Guadalupe”. I’d have to say, the most bizarre encounter was during a house-to-house visit to a newly converted protestant family in which the mother, named Fatima, tried to convince me that Our Lady was “no good” and that it was a waste of time to even think of her. Sadly, this is motivation for us who have been blessed with so much, to go and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) …. for to those who have been given much (US!) much will be required. (Luke 12:48)

Here’s an example of just how important Catholic Feast days are to Hondurans: (Yes, that is a wooden box with a bull-skull strapped to the front of it….and those are REAL roman candle fireworks strapped to the side. And yes, those Roman Candles are pointed towards the crowd!)

As I mentioned above, the communities are humble and prayerful but lacking in formation and the tools to defend their faith. Add in to the equation a healthy amount of folks that can’t read or write and you can only imagine what might happen if a foreigner from another church arrives with a different message…..claiming that the only way to salvation is through reading “the Word”. I’m not bashing or criticizing the attempt to spread the Word of God….that would be ridiculous. But, the memory of an elderly mountain villager in Honduras telling me -

“Andrew, my whole family has left the Catholic Church for another church down the road that was built by very loving missionaries….but now my son tells me that unless I learn to read and learn the Word of God in the Bible, I will not be with Jesus and go to heaven. I’ve gone to mass my whole life and I pray the Rosary and receive Jesus in His Body and Blood….but I’ve never gone to a day of school in my life and I can’t read or write. How will I get to heaven?” 

Now, that is an extreme example….and I can’t say honestly that in the last 8 years of serving on-and-off in Honduras that I’ve encountered that situation again….and I realize that the protestant missionaries didn’t teach them that perverted theology…..but the point is that through good intentions, there has grown a mass confusion about how to love God and even more profoundly, how to worship Him. So, as you can see, it impacted me….and through this man’s (and the vast majority of the Hondurans) simple approach to prayer and Christ Himself, my love for the Sacraments grew ten-fold. Which is why this mission is ESSENTIAL….to bring priests – to bring the Sacraments – to those who are without.

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A typical house in the mountains of Honduras

Fr. Ken with 3 generations, Daughter, Mother, Grandmother!

Fr. Ken with 3 generations, Daughter, Mother, Grandmother! They lived in one of the most remote villages we have ever visited….and said that it was the first time they had ever seen “white Catholic missionaries” They fed us the little and last of what they had….as if we were kings.

I could spend hours upon hours explaining what God has asked us to do in Honduras…..but you truly have to see it to believe it. We’ve learned that it’s really ALL about the relationships….that we can’t arrive to Honduras as “intelligent” and “well-formed” foreigners ready to “make a change” or “do good for the poor”…..but rather do as Mother Teresa felt called to do in Calcutta – to live and pray as the people did, walking together as brothers and sisters.

This is exactly what we aim to do (although we fail, often) – to raise up leaders in Honduras. The funny thing is that while we spend all of our energy in forming, “discipling” and evangelizing in Honduras, we always end up receiving and learning MUCH more from them than what we give them. This is the beauty and blessing that is, what us Missioners of Christ call, “The Mission”. Coming face to face with Christ Himself and learning to love Him while He strips away our selfish, materialistic, superficial “1st-world” selves so that we can allow Him to love us.

One of the remote villages in the mountains where a priest is only able to visit once a year

One of the remote villages in the mountains where a priest is only able to visit once a year

Hiking from house to house in the mountains of Honduras

Hiking from house to house in the mountains of Honduras

Currently, I’m blessed to serve as the Coordinator for all of our Missioners of Christ adult missions to Honduras throughout the year. Currently, we are preparing to send down a group of 25 adults on December 27th for a 10-day evangelization mission in the mountains.

Our preparation incorporates an intense 7-week formation program based on “Redemptoris Missio” or “MIssion of the Redeemer” by the late Pope John Paul II as well as various cultural and logistical lessons that we’ve learned in the over 10 years that we’ve lived in Comayagua.

Please contact me at Andrew.Pocta@missioners.org if you are interested in knowing more about our missions throughout the year, or if you’d like to just know more about our community and how you could get involved by sponsoring one of the many children in our neighborhood in Honduras.

Check out a video we put together in celebration of 10 years of having lived in our neighborhood. You’ll see clips of each “class” of long-term missionaries that lived and worked with us throughout the years:

All Saints

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I’ve decided that since a whole year has passed….it’s time to get things back together for this blog!

What a year….since last October…..what a year! For those of you who have been following – it’s been quite the eventful 12 months! Last we checked in, we were making the move from New York City (then NJ/PA for a few months) down to Virginia Beach, Virginia. Due to financial difficulties after the In-Utero surgery that Cristina and Maria Isabella underwent for Spina Bifida repair, followed by Maria Isabella’s “2nd birth” via C-Section……we decided it was best to spend a year living with my parents, in a small room over-the-garage. Heck of a way to spend the 1st year of marriage! Don’t get me wrong….we were/are grateful for the opportunity….but it’s worth adding that God truly has a sense of humor. Sometimes Cristina and I jokingly regret doing this during our wedding mass!

Still, there is so much to tell since we’ve been in Virginia Beach…..from multiple ER visits, brace fittings, Spina-Bifida clinics, a birthday party (interrupted by an ER visit in the middle of the cake-cutting!) to wheel-chair fittings and even us purchasing a house!

Throughout all of it, however, God’s presence and Grace have guided us. That, is for sure. Even in our darkest moments, when we’ve been unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel…..He has been there….and He has sent us the right people and opened all of the doors for us to go through. (and closed the doors that would have sent us on the wrong path)

Please see our pictures below!

We continue to beg for your prayers and now that things seemed to have settled down (and us settled in to our new home!) to update our blog more often!

May God bless you and may Our Lady continue to intercede for you!

In Christ,

Andrew, Cristina and Maria Isabella Pocta

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With our realtor, Bob Smith, closing on our new home!

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A 1 year reunion of our Ronald McDonald House roommates – all mothers and children who underwent In-Utero surgery for Spina Bifida Repair at CHOP!

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Our little munchkin…..mooching off of mommy’s dinner! Who said babies don’t know how to manipulate?!

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Trying on Aunt Carol’s glasses!

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Did we mention that Mother Teresa is CONSTANTLY following us around?!

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Mother’s group celebrating All Saint’s Day!