The Guatemala Mission
I have just returned from another mission trip to Guatemala, a place of hardship and miracles, poverty and blessings.
Since 1966, the Diocese of Helena has maintained a strong missionary presence among the rural villagers three hours west of Guatemala City.
In the early years of the mission, our priests, religious women, and lay workers immersed themselves into the lives of the Guatemalan people, enduring great hardships, and at times risking life and limb as they sowed the seeds of the Gospel among the people.
The fruits of their labor are everywhere.
Santo Tomás la Unión
Sixty years ago, Guatemala was virtually devoid of indigenous clergy, religious and seminarians. The two dioceses in which we serve now have their own native clergy, an impressive coterie of religious women, and over 100 seminarians. Four enthusiastic young priests have taken the place of Father Jim Hazelton, who singlehandedly pastored the parish and the outlying missions for over five decades. At the very mention of his name, the people at Sunday Mass erupted in sustained and thunderous applause.
Father Hazelton is a spiritual giant in Guatemala.
At Santo Tomás, young families are in evidence everywhere, accompanied by teenagers and droves of small children. As I gathered the young adults of the parish on Sunday evening, they warmly remembered and acclaimed the work of Father Kevin Christofferson, who organized and empowered this young adult ministry during his tenure in Guatemala. His is a legacy that will pay dividends for years to come.
Our clinic provides care to nearly 15,000 patients each year, many facing serious and life-threatening illnesses.
Butte native Sheila McShane has served the poor in Guatemala as a registered nurse and angel of mercy for over 30 years. In addition to providing primary care for the poor, Sheila has been an unrelenting proponent of preventive medicine, good nutrition and healthcare education for clinic patients.
At Clinica Maxeña, the eyes of the blind are opened by two teams of visiting physicians. Sheila has managed to secure a steady flow of life-giving insulin for diabetic patients, providing them with a new lease on life. Through her efforts, cancer patients are receiving the hope and help that was once an unreachable dream. Youngsters once disfigured by cleft palates now smile broadly and confidently. Young mothers are learning maternal skills, with special emphasis on nutrition and neonatal healthcare.
Clinica Maxeña now has its own Guatemalan physician, along with an indigenous medical director, and a small but highly efficient cadre of laboratory and pharmacy technicians.
The staff does so much with so little. Clinica Maxeña is truly a place of miracles.
Santiago de la Asunción
Long ago, Father Jim Hazelton recognized the import and impact of basic education in the lives of the young. Twenty years ago, he founded La Asuncion School, providing a passport from poverty to some of the neediest Guatemalan youth.
The school presently has an enrollment of 275 students who are receiving an education for little or no cost. The student body has a somewhat higher number of female students, who rarely have the opportunity for education beyond middle school.
The unemployment rate in Guatemala has been exacerbated by the mechanization of sugarcane harvesting and a highly competitive coffee bean market.
In hopes of creating new job opportunities for the Guatemalan youth, the school administrators are planning an innovative vocational curriculum that includes computer education, sewing and tailoring, welding and car repair, all highly marketable skills.
In September, 2017, Guatemala was shaken by an earthquake that left the infrastructure of our school seriously damaged. The convent occupied by eight Sisters of the Eucharist is no longer safe to occupy.
Carroll College’s Engineers without Borders, in conjunction with Helena engineer Michael Brennan, has provided the Diocese with a forensic analysis of the damage. We are taking immediate steps to stabilize the school and to repair the convent. Funds are desperately needed.
It is my hope that our parishes will respond to the needs of our Guatemalan students and Sisters during the upcoming Lenten season, so that we can provide both the Sisters and the students with a safe and secure environment.
I am so grateful to Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen for founding the Guatemala Mission in the years surrounding the Second Vatican Council.
The mission provides a direct and grace-filled connection for the people of the Helena Diocese with the Universal Church. I always return home with a heart full of thanksgiving to God.
In a word, the poor are wonderful teachers. Their deep faith, their love of family, and their reliance on the hand of Providence are lessons they teach all of us.
The Psalmist says in few words what I know in my heart: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Blessed be the Lord.”
Click for more on: Guatemala Needs For Lent
Click to donate to: Guatemala Repair Projects Lenten Appeal