Friday, June 19, 2009

Mission Trip Summary, Pt 2

Dear Parish Faithful,

Buenas Tardes!

Miscellaneous Comments

I wanted to bring up an item of two that would further supplement my summary of our Mission Team trip from yesterday. In terms of "interconnected events," or "meaningful encounters," when we arrived at the Hogar, we were introduced to a long-term missionary by the name of Ben Logan. Ben is from an OCA mission in Nicholasville, KY (Southern Diocese). Ben was a retreat participant last September when Madre Ivonne was here as our guest and retreat leader. As we all were, he was deeply impressed by her presentation of the Hogar. That was the first time he met Madre Ivonne and, as the saying goes, "one thing led to another," and he is now spending the summer at the Hogar. For all practical purposes, Ben was attached to our Mission Team as a twelfth member and was of considerable help in our various work assignments. He is also accompanied us on our "outings" with the children. And he always appeared at the Bible Studies with his Greek New Testament!

Sadly for us at Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit, when Luke Loboda departed from the Hogar his final destination was his new home in Pittsburg, PA. Luke's wife, now Dr. Ashley Loboda, is doing her residency at a local Pittsburg hospital. So the Hogar was Luke's last "parish activity" with us. And Luke was an invaluable team member. In addition to his hard work, Luke was very good with the children. Madre Ivonne said that he accomplished a "miracle" of sorts in the swimming pool with some of the younger boys who were afraid to get into the water, but who trusted Luke and for the first time "made the plunge." We will miss Luke, Ashley and Noah and we wish them the best in their new home. May God bless them for, and with, many years!

Presvytera Deborah's niece, Mara Livezey from Detroit, spent her four high school years at a prestigious Russian-based ballet school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While at the Hogar she offered a one-hour presentation of her ballet skills and some basic teaching to the senoritas who thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Anne, Anastacia and Alexandra Taylor had to leave earlier than the rest of the team. On the morning of their departure, following Matins, Madre Ivonne openly complimented them very warmly on their educational level and their excellent behavior as young team members. Surprisingly and sadly, however, she also informed everyone that they may be the last team members under twenty years of age allowed. On a recent team, the young members unfortunately acted very rudely toward the Hogar children; and, contrary to the rules of the Hogar, they were "inappropriately dressed." This prompts two immediate questions: "Where was their team leader?" "Where was the accompanying priest?" This is a good example of how some must reap what others have sown. Actions have consequences. I am not sure that this has become an "official policy," but again Madre Ivonne informed us openly of Madre Ines' decision. The madres are fiercely protective of the children. They clearly will not tolerate any rude behavior towards them.

The number of ninos and ninas at the Hogar has been considerably reduced. There are now about sixty children. At one point in the past there were a hundred and fifty and above. This allows for greater attention for each child. Many children have returned home to family, or at least extended family, members. The older boys have been sent to Ak Tenamit (Alexander, the boy we tried but failed to adopt, is one of these boys), an educational and vocational school that trains native Guatemalan children for the future while helping them to appreciate their own Mayan cultural traditions. We certainly missed seeing some of our old friends, but we hope and pray that their lives have been changed for the better following their encounter with the love and support they all received from the Hogar.

The Healing Process

Presvytera and I have now known some of these children - particularly the senoritas - for six or seven years respectively. Thye have become our "amigas." Towards us they are always friendly, open and deeply respectful. We mutually look forward to seeing each other periodically and maintaining some contact. We have seen them grow up into sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year old teen-agers. Their deepest desire is to be "normal," and a great deal of "normalcy" now characterizes their lives, as much as that is possible in the settiing of the Hogar. This is their "spiritual oasis," but also something of a "golden cage," as Madre Ivonne acknowledges, shielding them from some of the harsher realities of life, concretly symbolized by the four fifteen-foot high walls that enclose the Hogar on all sides. Over the years, Madre Ivonne has become their "madre" in a very real sense. Yet, the healing process is long and arduous, marked by "ups and downs" that must be dealt with patiently, firmly, but with love. Madre Ivonne reminds us that below the surface, the senoritas have real "issues." None of these senoritas come from wholesome families in which they experienced the love of father and mother. Actually, they come out of broken households that we today would term highly dysfunctional. They are all "abandoned, abused, and/or orphaned." Some of their personal stories have a nightmare quality that we cannot quite wrap our minds around. At some point in their lives they have suffered from physical and/or psychological trauma. And yet they have ambitious plans for the future - marine biologist, doctor, teacher, etc. It is wonderful to hear them speak of this.

The lives of the senoritas - and the other ninos and ninas - are deeply and organically woven into the life of the Church. Thye are immersed in the daily, weekly and annual cyles of the Church's liturgical life in a way that is perfectly natural for them. They have a tremendous love and respect for the Church. This is evident even when they clean the church. For the Church is their primary source of healing as it is the primary source of strength, perseverance, commitment and love for Madres Ines, Maria and Ivonne. Christ is the Physician of their souls and bodies - as He is of ours. All of us are in the process of being healed and restored to fellowship with God through our lives in the Church. The more conscious and committed we are to that process, the more "real" it can become. Witnessing this healing process in such "hurt" and damaged children as are at the Hogar is profoundly moving and encouraging. BIG IS GOD!

A Mission Team Next Year?

This was our first Mission Team to the Hogar since 2006. Up to that point we had a team every summer since 2002. I also calculate that twenty-five current or former parishioners have made the journey to Guatemala. Perhaps we have reinvigorated our Mission Team commitment with this year's excellent team and our generous parish donations. Someone has already approached me and asked about next year! The "June slot" has historically always been offered to us, and I will find out from Madre Ivonne if that will hold up for June 2010. She usually makes the schedule in the early Fall and then informs me of the dates. You may want to let me know if you have any kind of tentative desire to be on the team for next year.

If I could answer any further questions, please forward them to me.

En Cristo,

Fr. Steven