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Saturday, 23 June 2018 19:13

A Pilgrimage Immersion Experience in Guatemala’s Western Highlands

Written by John Moritz
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John Moritz – Southeast Regional Coordinator, Northeast Florida Chapter

L-R: Affiliates Connie Centrello, Steve Barrett, Ann Carr, and John Moritz

Following MAC 2017, 11 of us journeyed via the Pan American Highway into the western mountains of Guatemala. Our trip took us first to the beautiful volcanic area of Lake Atitlan and the towns around the lake, where one of our guides, Sr. Bernice Kita, MM, spent many years in pastoral ministry. We traveled by water taxi from San Antonio Palopó across the lake to the town of Santiago Atitlan, where we saw the location of Fr. Stanley Rother’s martyrdom, and, perhaps more poignantly, the massacre of many indigenous peoples with whom he lived in solidarity. This was a prayerful and meditative time for all of us. Because of her close association with Fr. Stan, Sr. Bernice made this experience come alive for us.

Then we visited the mission site of our second guide, Maryknoll Affiliate Steve Barrett. in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city. There, street children who work in the marketplace from a young age are provided with onsite learning opportunities that complement rather than conflict with their necessary work time. This ecumenical effort offers fundamental educational opportunities as well as vocational training, within an incredibly holistic approach to becoming a fulfilled human.

John Moritz and Sr. Bernice Kita, MM

Next we visited the Maryknoll Sisters’ contemplative community in Lemoa. At the MAC, Sr. Helen Werner, MM, had delivered an insightful and inspiring homily. Sr. Bernice led us to visit the “summer school” program where recent graduates from Colegio Monte Maria (in Guatemala City) were teaching first- and sixth-grade students supplementary classes in mathematics and Spanish. This immersion experience for the young women is also an opportunity for local children to see
and get to know successful role models.

Valentina Castro and Sr. Theresa Baldini

At our luncheon visit to Sr. Connie Pospicil, MM, and Valentina Castro’s mission, we saw a joint public and private effort to improve the nutrition of children in the town. We were treated to a nutritiously balanced and delicious lunch (the same one that the children ate). Hanging on the wall next to their plates and cups were the children’s toothbrushes. It was encouraging to see that, in what by US standards would be considered a simple rural environment, people are quite advanced in their understanding of basic quality-of-life issues.

During our visit to Q’umarkaj, a Mayan archeological and historical site, some of us ventured down an escarpment to enter a cave, and some remained at the top. Some whose physical age exceeds their mental image of themselves wished they hadn’t gone down. The museum gave us a sense of the historical development of the peoples and the effects of foreign occupation.

Ursula Tupachi, Peru, and Mary Moritz
Srs. Helen Werner and Theresa Baldini, MM

We enjoyed the opportunity to enter into the past, as well as the present, of the peoples who inhabit the western highlands of Guatemala, both urban and rural areas. Everywhere we looked, we saw evidence of a people on the move. This is a country of merchants—people don’t beg, they are sellers, incessant in their quest for a sale. They seem to look forward; there is construction everywhere you look. We were told that family members working in the US fund much of the construction. We saw lots of small business and the ubiquitous multinational corporate giants.

Spiritually, the experience here reflects that of much of Latin America. The Catholic Church carries a lot of historical context while the evangelical/pentecostal churches present a sectarian Christian church vision. The Maryknollers are reaching far beyond the limits of their numbers as they invite a newness of consciousness that reflects an ever-evolving world. We are deeply grateful to our hosts who enriched us with a glimpse into their lives and helped us to create a sense of community within our small group of pilgrim visitors.

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