Written by Hernán Goicochea
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
La Plegaria — or ‘the Prayer’— is a ceremonial blessing event held annually to celebrate the Lunar New Year. This year, the event began with a recap of the relief efforts Tzu Chi volunteers have brought to Latin American countries, like Honduras, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic in recent years. Followed by volunteers and leaders of the ceremony, Mariana Ju and Tina Hsieh gave poignant speeches in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
“This year’s theme was ‘Great education to benefit others; do good deeds to bring forth peace in the world,’ explained Mariana Ju. “The pandemic has taught all of us the importance of caring for the environment and respecting all living beings. We should lift our heads in repentance and bow our heads to express our gratitude.” Mariana’s speech shed light upon the significance of following a vegetarian diet, not only for one’s good health, but also as a means of coexisting with Mother Earth and all living beings.
Tzu Chi volunteer Tina Hsieh then expressed that, “The past year was a year full of anguish, either because of the coronavirus or the natural disasters caused by global warming. However, the footprints of the volunteers have not stopped. With wisdom and compassion, they have brought aid to 119 countries around the world.” The event then proceeded with the Year in Review video presentations, which showcased the relief efforts made by Tzu Chi volunteers during the periods of global emergency that occurred in 2020.
While the Year in Review videos were playing, volunteers and care recipients from different parts of the globe tuned in to the ceremony and sent messages through the chat box located below the screen. Moved by the efforts of volunteers, several care recipients even took the time to thank the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation for the aid they received in the past.
For Tzu Chi, it’s a long-held tradition to celebrate the Lunar New Year, and the celebrations are usually held in person and on multiple occasions by each office branch. Each time, volunteers hand out Hongbao — red envelopes — to their guests as a way to bring them good luck and prosperity. Within the world of Tzu Chi, such a tradition has a deeper and more spiritual meaning. These are a personal gift from Tzu Chi’s founder, the venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen, thus representing her most sincere blessings for all.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, the special event was held virtually through the Zoom video conference app. This also meant that bestowing the red envelopes could not be permitted. But it is as the Jing Si Aphorism states, “In the face of adversity, be grateful, for such opportunities do not come by easily,” so Tzu Chi volunteers did their utmost to make this event truly meaningful, indeed. The live broadcast made it possible to unite the global community of volunteers in Latin America and the U.S., enabling people near and far to celebrate together as one global family as they give the Year of the Ox a warm welcome.
“Although we are in different countries, thanks to today’s technology, we are united on this special day,” said Mariana Ju. In fact, during the online celebration, volunteers from 11 Latin American countries and three U.S. States — California, Florida, and New York — tuned in to experience the event. Among the Latin American countries were volunteers from the Tzu Chi offices in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. In addition, there were attendees from countries such as Russia and Taiwan, gathering at least 252 attendees online.
In addition to the Year in Review videos showcasing the relief efforts of Tzu Chi volunteers, there were also further presentations throughout the event: two Sign Language performances, one which was presented by volunteers from the different Latin American offices, and the other by the Tzu Chi dance team in the United States. Other presentations included photo exhibitions thanking Latin American volunteers individually for their great efforts. The event also featured a special dialogue by fellow volunteer Phil Huang, wherein he spoke about his motivations for becoming a vegetarian. But perhaps the most touching moments of all were delivered by the blessings given by Ms. Debbie Chen who is in charge of Latin American affairs, and those of Dharma Master Chen, who sent her love all the way from the Jing Si Abode in Taiwan.
Yet another profound and touching moment during the ceremony came when Tzu Chi volunteers presented their vows. Among them were Ramon Martinez from the Dominican Republic office and Jenyffer Ruiz from the Ecuador office.
In his speech, Ramon recalled that in 1998, after Hurricane George passed through the Dominican Republic, his community of La Ramona was devastated. They did not have a school, nor a place to study. So when Tzu Chi built a primary school, Ramon was delighted to finally have a place to get a good education. Moved by the love and compassion of all the volunteers, he decided to become a volunteer, too, and today he invites everyone to do the same. “It really is a very beautiful experience, to bring love through the foundation, through Master [Cheng Yen’s] teachings,” he said.
Jenyffer said that her motivation for becoming a volunteer came from the desire to help those suffering after the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador. As time passed and the teachings of Master Cheng Yen provided further inspiration, her motivation deepened. Little by little, she decided that her mission would not only be to bring economic relief to people who suffer, but even more than that. “We must remember that 55 years ago, Master [Cheng Yen] began with only one motivation: that of great love. Thanks to Master’s compassion and great love, thousands of people have been able to ease their pain in the most difficult moments. The mission is to change the chip; it is to teach people to be more supportive,” said Jenyffer.
After several presentations and video speeches, the online celebration came to an end with words of blessing from Dharma Master Cheng Yen followed by a group prayer. In her speech, Master Cheng Yen spoke about the importance of inspiring people to do good for one another, especially as a global family, in order to achieve true peace in the world.