11 March 2013
Our team of 19 arrived in El Salvador just before sunset on Sunday evening March 10, 2013. The group was very tired after a full day of travel, hauling luggage, and a two hour drive from San Salvador to the Juan Paulo Segundo (John Paul II) Retreat house in Teotepeque, La Libertad.
It was the first time the mission team has housed a group this big and it is the largest group I have taken so I assigned Jen Jackson to be the teacher and keep us all together. Turns out she's as good with adults as she is with the youth at St. Joseph. Our team has bonded very well already after all of these months of meeting together and we are very much feeling the support of our parish who sent us off with a nice mass, blessing from Fr. Martello, and each day we open a new envelope with a letter and prayer from our prayer-partners in the fifth grade. What an amazing parish St. Joseph is.
It was great to see Fr. Johnny Ostrowski happy as always and Fr. Mike Stalla is also here working away. The team didn't get settled in until after midnight. They are staying at the Juan Paulo Segundo (John Paul II) retreat house which was built with support from the Diocese of Cleveland. It's a humble abode but right in town with a nice view out the back.
I'm typing this from the balcony on top of the Rectory in Teotepeque. The priests have made it into a really nice patio and the most breathtaking view of the valley, mountainside and Pacific Ocean. Across the valley you can see Chiltuipan where we will visit on Wednesday to see Sr. Rose.
As I mentioned the group was exhausted, and admittedly I was exhausted. I kept hinting at the group that they didn't have to get up that early if they didn't want to... I soooo wanted some sleep, but they are ambitious. We didn’t get to bed until way after midnight and morning was very early. My resolution as I went to bed was to bear the cross of tiredness the next day and not take it out on any of my unsuspecting missionary team members. It did feel good to be back here, driving up and down the dirt roads, smelling the country air and seeing some friendly faces like Dalia, Celio, Donlito, and again my brother priests.
We at breakfast on the patio of the retreat house, open air and a nice breeze. Dr. Ohliger wanted to volunteer at the clinic so he took three of our group with him, all nurses, one of whom his wife Wendy. They spent the day actually seeking patients, diagnosing them, and believe it or not they walked away from the clinic prescription in hand if need be... even better than our clinics! They were most touched by their translator Nelson who was so attentive and caring as he translated between the patients and our team. They described the look on Nelsons face when he would listen to what the people would relate and what Dr. Ohliger was trying to relate to them. He truly cared about the people, and though he was nervous because it was his first time doing this for a doctor and nurses he really helped our team care for and above all relate to the people. They treated some for ear infections, stomach pains, and high blood pressure to give you some examples. They were most moved actually when they left the clinic and noticed the kids walking home from school... many holding hands, smiling, there was a purity, love, genuineness, innocence and purity that just radiates from the children here.
The rest of us drove an hour or so standing in the back of a pickup truck to Mizata. It was a nice drive along the coast, through a couple of tunnels in the mountains, and lower in elevation. The name of the Church was "Virgin Mary of the Candles" (translated)… she is the patroness along with the Patron Saint Michael the Archangel. We spent the day repainting the Church which was a huge job, but as they say many hands... and there were 15 of us as well as a few Salvadorans that helped us tape, trim, brush and roll. I really didn't think we would get it all done in a day, but we did. The group worked hard, in a very hot church, but above all really got to know the people.
Fr. Johnny O encouraged us all to not focus so much on getting the job done, but to get to know the people... they are a relationship based culture. So he said if someone talks to you..."Put your paintbrush down and talk to them." I was glad to see the group did this, even better they invited the kids to paint with us and before you know it "whistle while you work" we had kids and paint all over. I put one of the boys on my shoulder to get the tops of the windows and the group is convinced I was just trying to get out of painting... hmmm.
We crossed a hanging bridge and had lunch by the river at the Youth Center which was built by St. Hilary in Fairlawn. And then finished up in the afternoon and drove an hour to have mass in Metayo at "San Antonia" church.
One of the most beautiful moments was when George who is a retired man in our group and as he said never fathered a child was handed a child before mass. There was a lady in the front pew holding an infant who couldn't have been two months old and just thought he would want to hold her baby so she turned around and placed the child in his arms. You could see the joy on his face... the funny thing is he said later he was missing the baptism of his grandnephew to be on this trip and here he is now holding this little baby in his lap. That's just something you don't see in the states, and only in a country where people are as warm and vulnerable as El Salvador.
The antiphon for morning prayer today was "You who stand in his sanctuary, praise the name of the Lord." We stood in his sanctuary all day cleaning, painting, working, and praying and I know that each one of us was praising God in our hearts. Today the Body of Christ was cared for, both in the clinic, as well as the Church building in Mizata. What a privilege it is to be so close to the Body of Christ, to encounter Him in the poor, to repaint His Dwelling place, and have been poured out for him in a long day of service.
Buones Noches - Padre Miguel
PS - the internet is pretty slow... so photos when I return...