A nine-day experience as Knights of Columbus working in Guatemala’s jungle
Members of the Knights of Columbus take an annual mission trip to the jungles of northeastern Guatemala in order to work among the people of that region. Under the leadership of the State Chaplain, 14 Knights and some teen sons, they spend the better part of nine days in the steamy jungles of the Rio Dulce region. In order to arrive there, it can take a full-day journey. With tools that they bring (and eventually donate), they build and restore tables, benches, and other equipment at the Father Tom Moran Vocational School. This is no easy task, considering the climate and location.
Named for the long-serving missionary of that region and originator of a program to better educate the local indigenous children, the school has become a true labor of love that is funded by the generous people from the United States, most especially Catholic parishes and Knights from Florida. Over the years, several of the Knights have given their time, talent and treasure to better the educational potential of what is fast becoming one of the most recognized institutions of its kind in that country. Enrollment at the school is currently over 500 (Grades 7-12), and the students are being well-prepared to work in both the teaching and eco-tourism industries of that country. It means they will be equipped to return to their own people in order to improve their lives, and to prepare future generations to do the same, while earning a decent wage to help support their parents and siblings in this impoverished land.
Each day in their program, after Morning Prayer, the Knights travel for a half-hour by boat from their lodgings to their work place on the heavily forested campus. On the way, they take turns leading the praying of the Rosary. When they arrive at the school’s dock, the trip’s not over. There’s still a 1/3-mile walk up a very steep hill to reach the school worksite. Accompanied by some of the students and school leaders, they work together to get the job done.
After a break for lunch, they return to their jobs until mid-afternoon. On one given day, they may join in the celebration of Mass at the school, where the students sing and play the Mass hymns on the marimba. On another occasion, after work they may travel by boat to a village on the other side of the river for Mass in a simple chapel. At the end of the workday, they return to their lodgings to celebrate Evening Prayer and Mass (if not yet celebrated). Then, after a dinner at a restaurant wholly staffed by the students from the school, they relax and reflect upon their day’s journey — and may even get in a game of cards. Soon, exhausted by their day’s labors, they retire.
The joy of the week is being able to work alongside the people in building up the school and the community. It’s not so much what the local people receive from us – (although we take time to distribute rosaries, clothes, school supplies, soaps, and even candy) – it’s also what we receive from these kind and welcoming people. They do show us their appreciation for what we bring, and they also teach us that all of God’s people can work together to help each other build up His Kingdom in our midst. For those who go, the Charity pillar of our Fraternal Order takes on a special, wonderful meaning as each gives to the other in ways that strengthen our fraternal bonds. No one returns home without being significantly touched by this interchange of love, unity and fraternity.
Msgr. Tom Skindeleski