Ron Covey – Houston Chapter
Since the death of Father Thomas Goekler, MM, in 2010, Caminando Por La Paz – Guatemala has been run by Maryknoll Affiliates, guided by the Affiliate Four Pillars. We believe that this is the only mission program originally established by Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers, or Sisters that is now run by Affiliates.
In the April/May, 2011, Not So Far Afield, we described our efforts to continue Father Thomas’ work. We constantly try to improve the program and to foster positive change in this small corner of the world—Paraiso II, Zone 18, one of the most marginalized, impoverished, violent zones in Guatemala City.
Education. Lack of education in the general population is one of the major problems in Guatemala; it leads to persistent poverty and violence and is undoubtedly connected to the US’s immigration issues. Although Guatemala does provide public education, students pay for books, school supplies, uniforms, etc. For the poor in society, those with a third grade education are considered fortunate. For these reasons, education is our primary focus.
We currently tutor 23 students who are still in school, plus another 25-30 others. Thanks to a grant we received from Cross Catholic International, we have been able to expand this program, not only providing educational materials, but also offering nutritious food prior to tutoring sessions. The latter has greatly improved our attendance rates. Our children now show up early, with their plates, and of course, better food makes for more focus and readiness to learn.
Spirituality. We now offer a weekly holy hour, held on Friday afternoons and led by a nun from the local parish. We begin it with a prayer or two and perhaps a hymn. The main activity, however, is to read and discuss the scripture readings of the next Sunday’s liturgy. Not only has the number of regular participants increased, but we have been blessed by people of the neighborhood, who, on their own initiative, are now providing light refreshments—perhaps a sign that our efforts to build a sense of self-responsibility are paying off.
During the past year, donors financed our two spiritual pilgrimages. Last December, we took a group of neighbors to Esquipulas, where they could encounter the “Christo Negro,” a black crucifix believed to be the source of many miracles.
In early August, we held our second pilgrimage, this time taking about 25 neighbors over the mountain to Antigua. In the morning we visited music and coffee museums, both tourist attractions. On this trip, we treated participants to lunch on a friend’s patio. In the afternoon, Edwin Bejarano spoke about the life of Hermano Pedro, a local saint who was canonized on July 30, 2002 by Pope John Paul II. After his lecture, Bejarano took us on a walk through the city, visiting various places that had been important in the life of Hermano Pedro.
Other Projects. We remodeled a neighborhood volunteer’s home—a small, single-room house with leaking roof and dirt floor. A key member of a growing group of neighborhood volunteers, she is a single mother with four children. Although the changes we made would not be considered much of an improvement in the US, we were able to divide the space into a small kitchen and separate living area. (We have been blessed as well, because she is one of the cooks who prepare the food we provide during tutoring sessions.)
Our second project was to improve a local soccer field, smoothing out the terrain and providing some shelter over the bleachers. We also painted the seating area and goal posts.
Lastly, after several years of planning and development, our third project is coming to fruition. We are now exporting coffee to the US. We have two goals: 1) to use the major portion of our earnings to continue our education efforts, and 2) to improve the lives of the coffee growers, who, after years of being paid poorly, can finally realize a more just wage. They plan to use the funds to improve their farming methods and, consequently, the quality of the coffee.