Friday, July 26, 2013

Another Postcard from Antigua, Guatemala

I know there's hope for the future in our Catholic Church.

While studying Spanish here in Antigua, Guatemala, I met four seminarians from Louisiana studying at my school. All four are the ages of our two boys (in their early 20s). 

These young men invited me to join them in ministry at a nursing home in Antigua.  Interestingly, the Spanish name for nursing home translates to "Asylum of the Ancients."  And it quite literally is here.

As we walk the halls and talk with residents I sense so much aloneness.  Few have family who regularly visit.  Most are just spending their days waiting for loved ones to come and see them, who never or rarely do.

I met one man from Los Angeles who was sent back home to Guatemala by his family, who then took possession of his home in California.  He feels trapped in the "asylum for the ancients" and longs get out.  But due to his need of a walker and Antigua's famous cobblestone streets this is now just a pipe dream.

Many residents get so much joy from their visits with the seminarians.  Catholics are happy to receive rosaries the young men bring to brighten the days of the faithful. 

As we were returning from a visit one Sunday, one of the seminarians saw an older man on the street with a broad smile and familiar face.  One week earlier the man had told the young man he had too much to drink the night before and was hungry.  Struck by the man's candor, the future priest took the man to a nearby fast food restaurant and bought him a meal.

On this day, the man wanted to say "gracias" to the young man who immediately asked if his older friend had eaten recently.  Sheepishly, he said, "no," so, the young seminarian took him into a restaurant to buy him lunch again.  

Pope Francis calls us all to be attentive to the needs of the poor.  I witnessed first hand this in action.  

As I said, the Church's future is in good hands.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Another Postcard from Antigua

A Jesuit missionary once wrote about experiencing the poor: "First it breaks your heart. Then you fall in love. Then it ruins your life forever."

I heard Dean Brackley S.J.'s words haunting me at dinner the other night.

After weeks of eating the good, but simple meals prepared by our host family, I had a hankering for a steak. So, on a night we're on our own for dinner, my housemates and I all went to one of the nice restaurants in Antigua.

I ordered my 8 ounce steak medium rare. The others ordered delicacies of their own liking off the menu. As I was eating at my table facing an open door, I watched the faces of average Guatemalans peering in at a restaurant filled with only Americans. I realized none of them can afford to eat here. I kinda lost my appetite in the moment.

The average worker in Antigua makes $2,500 quetzales a month or $323 American. Someone doing well is making $10,000 quetzales a month or $1,295 a month in U.S. dollars.

The experience helps me to better understand Jesus' teaching on how hard it is for a rich man to get into heaven. More difficult than a camel threading a needle, right?

No matter our social status in the U.S. we are "rich" by the world's standards.

As a "rich" person in the richest nation on the planet, God commands us to share these blessings with the least of our sisters and brothers to show we are committed to the Kingdom. Whether it's sponsoring a family worlds away or giving regularly to St. Vincent de Paul food banks, these are the things Christ asks of us "to whom much is given."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How The Other Half Live

I had an unusual emotional experience yesterday when my Spanish teacher Isabel took me to the swanky Hotel Antigua to see the caged Guacamayas (large parrots).

The birds live on the neatly trimmed grass area next to a children's play structure that can only be found behind gates and walls and away from the average Guatemalan.

Inside on a hot afternoon day were dozens of American, European and wealthy Central American tourists. A few years ago I could have come to such a place without blinking.

But on this day the showy wealth in a beautiful, yet relatively poor part of the world made me sick to my stomach. I was surprised by this visceral reaction.

Perhaps God is showing me a new reality where all can play on the kids play toy and Guacamayas roam freely without cages keeping them from experiencing the real world. It's a place where there is no division between rich and poor. Perhaps God is showing me the Kingdom.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

San Francisco Church Y Vendedoras

This is my home away from home Catholic Church while in Antigua, Guatemala for six weeks of Spanish language immersion.

San Francisco Church is a Franciscan Order parish in the heart of town. It's one of the more popular sites for tourists because Central America's only Saint Hermano Pedro is buried there.

Because of the Franciscan mission to the poor, it's a church well attended by the local Mayan peoples.

The mostly female vendors (vendedoras) sell all sorts of Catholic gifts (rosaries, crucifixes, etc.) as well as beautiful fabric made by the indigenous population in the church square.

It's a tourist-driven economy that feeds many poor families.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Postcard from Antigua, Guatemala...

The things we Americans take for granted!

I've been in Antigua, Guatemala, for nearly two weeks and experienced my first warm shower the other day. Most days, showers here are lukewarm at best and brisk cold at worst. Somehow the two electrical wires that power the showerhead heater were clicking on all cylinders (hot water tanks are nearly non-existent in Guatemala). Nothing like a warm shower to put one in good spirits.

Later in Spanish immersion class, and using my limited vocabulary, I mentioned being happy to have had a warm shower that day. To which my teacher Isabel shared with me that her family only has cold water at her house. Her family is poor by Guatemalan standards (she lives at home with her widowed father and siblings) and most poor families here use only cold water for showers, washing hands, etc.

And to think I had been complaining.

There are so many luxuries we in the U.S. take for granted. Having perspective helps us to better appreciate the things we are privileged to have in our country and give thanks to God for this abundance of blessings. Having perspective also makes us more sensitive to the things others go without each and every day, pay better attention to the needs of the poor and help when we can.

I pray every day for you and your family.


Deacon Dennis

Monday, July 15, 2013

Back in Antigua, Guatemala!

Six weeks of Spanish language immersion in one of my favorite places on the planet: Antigua. Guatemala. Love this place!