Lord Have Mercy

Last Thursday myself and 9 others embarked on a pilgrimage to…Canada! What’s in Canada you ask?

Well this:

St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal

and this:

Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre (Mary’s Mama)

But mostly this:

Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal

However before heading up to our northern neighbors, our first stop was in Stockbridge, MA at The Shrine of the Divine Mercy.   This was one of my favorite parts of the trip and I could have stayed there for days.

We met a young religious named Brother Thaddeus who brought me to tears as he lovingly recounted the origins of the divine mercy devotion and the shrine.  For those who are hazy on the details, here’s the cliffnotes version: In the early 1900’s Jesus appeared numerous times to St. Faustina Kowalska and shared with her the truth of his divine mercy.  He revealed to her that the thing that hurts His heart the most is distrust.  You may have seen the image associated with the devotion:

The Divine Mercy Image – “Jesus, I trust in you.”

The idea of mercy is something I have been struggling with lately so this visit came at the perfect time.  I’ve been asking, what exactly is the definition of mercy? Since one of the charisms of the TOR Sisters in merciful love, it seems this idea is important for me to contemplate.  I kept coming up short until I began reading Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Michael Gaitley. He put it very simply: mercy means to alleviate the suffering of another.   This is what God longs to do and He also asks us to help alleviate the suffering of others.

One of the main things that Jesus asked St. Faustina to do was to teach others to say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  When Our Lord was teaching Faustina how to say the chaplet, he said of it: “The souls that say this chaplet will be embraced by My mercy during their lifetime and especially at the hour of their death.”  He revealed the incredible power this chaplet has when it is said for those who are dying: “When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the sorrowful Passion of My Son.”  I could go on but here’s just two last quotes: “by saying this chaplet you are bringing humankind closer to Me.”

“My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you.  It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet.”

Jesus instructed that the chaplet should be prayed at 3 o’clock, but of course can be prayed at any time.  Consider taking 5 minutes out of your day to contemplate the divine mercy which God longs to shower upon us.  Here’s instructions on praying the chaplet with a rosary:

The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy – Stockbridge, MA

1. Make the Sign of the Cross

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2. Optional Opening Prayers

You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!

3. Our Father

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, Amen.

4. Hail Mary

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

5. The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified; died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

6. The Eternal Father

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

7. On the Ten Small Beads of Each Decade

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

8. Repeat for the remaining decades

Saying the “Eternal Father” (6) on the “Our Father” bead and then 10 “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion” (7) on the following “Hail Mary” beads.

9. Conclude with Holy God (Repeat three times)

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

10. Optional Closing Prayer

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.

Personally, I love singing this chaplet, so here’s a musical version(pardon the cheesy gospelness):



Me: “Guess where I’m going for Spring Break?!?!” Dad: “Please say anywhere but Honduras…” Me: “Uhhhh…” *mischevious grin*

I was just perusing through my posts and noticed that something very important was missing.  I am doing something major in one week and I failed completely to write about it.  I guess the excitement of nunhood has been consuming my thoughts lately 🙂

Anyway, every year my school offers the opportunity to participate in spring break service trips to various places around the country.  For the first time, this year they planned an international trip.  Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, of course I applied.

That’s right folks, in one week I will be traveling to central america once again, to Guatemala’s neighbor, Honduras.  We are working with a program called Students Helping Honduras and staying in El Progreso.  This organization recruits groups of college students to come for one week and assist in building schools and with various other projects.  Their main purpose to improve opportunities for children in Honduras.  They work on building schools, providing school supplies and also run a children’s home.

Since I’ve been so multimedia lately, here’s a video about a village they’re basically building from the ground up:

This will definitely be a new experience for all of us, as we’ll be working with a new organization and with other college students from around the country.  It should also be an interesting experience for me personally, since I have recently surrendered by desires to be a foreign missionary.  It will be more important than ever to listen to the still small voice of God during this trip.

The “G” Word

I want to have a really cool life.  You know those people who are introducedas having spent three years in the bush of the

I want to be her!

Congo, working for the UN and starting their own organization?  I want to be one of those people when I’m older.  As my last year of college flies by and the “G” word approaches, I can’t wait to start building up that list of experiences.  I know that in my last post (I apologize for the severe lack of posting) I was all set to begin applying for the Peace Corps.  However, anyone who knows me knows I change my mind about my life plans every week.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am 99% sure that I am going to do some kind of service overseas after I graduate, but there are just so many options!

I have kept diaries pretty faithfully since middle school and I like to go back and look at them once in a while.  While doing this recently, I was reminded of my deep rooted desire to be a missionary.  I have felt a tug from God towards missions work for many years now and am finally realizing that I could be doing it in a year from now.  The fact that in a year I will probably be leaving the country and my family for at least two years is a terrifying and exhilarating thought.

As you know my faith is the most important thing in my life.  Part of the reason I am no longer interested in joining Peace Corps is because I would like to work with a religious organization which will support me in my faith.  The other reason is that Peace Corps volunteers are very independent and often isolated, whereas I would prefer to live in community with other volunteers and work as part of a team.  I am also thinking and praying about what exactly it means to be a missionary and how this would be different than doing a service program.

Here are some of the different organizations that I am looking at applying to:

Maryknoll Lay Missioners

Society of African Missions

Franciscan Mission Service

While the “G” word is somewhat scary, I am excited to see what God has in store for me!

January 5th – “Making the road smoother”

On our last day in San Lucas we literally helped “make the road smoother”, as Fr. Greg pointed out was our job on the first day.  We also learned some patience and that there is little sense of a schedule or hurrying in Guatemala.

Originally we were scheduled to work at the women’s center again but were met with confusion upon arriving there.  Apparently we had been sent to the wrong place.  Laughing off the miscommunication, we waited patiently to hear where we would really be working.  Eventually we were taken to the road that is being built up to the coffee fields to make access to them easier.  Our task was to move rocks to create a foundation for the road, then cement would be poured over those.  We created an assembly line and got to work.  By the end of the day, we had barely made a dent in the work but I know it made a difference nonetheless.

Our last night in San Lucas was a bittersweet one.  We would miss the homemade tortillas and special green sauce that was served with every meal.  We were dreading leaving the wonderful coffee and laid back atmosphere.  Having already experienced leaving Africa, I knew the depression that would come with going home and braced myself for the feeling of loss.  We took one last walk around town and held on dearly to all we had learned.

I think the hardest part of coming home is implementing everything you have learned and spreading that knowledge to every one at home.  I’ve tried to hold onto the sense of peace and enjoying every day that I experienced in Guatemala. This experience reinforced and renewed many things that I learned in Africa, which I needed reminding of desperately.

Gracias a Dios (Thank God)

Back in San Lucas…

Back in San Lucas, we finally got to get our hands dirty with some concrete service.  A wall was being built by the women’s center, so they put us to work helping with that.  We created columns to support the wall and all worked on different parts of that.  It was cool that we all created a part of something bigger.  That reminded me of the fact that we all have a role to play as part of the group and in the world in general.  As part of our reflection we’ve been talking about how we’re all connected as one human family.  We are all an essential part of this family and God needs each and every one of us to bring about his kingdom here on earth.  This is an idea I understand intellectually but haven’t quite accepted in my heart.  I’ve been struggling to figure out my role recently and where God is calling me.  For example, building those columns felt meaningless until you thought about the fact that it freed up the more skilled workers to do something more important and helped get that wall built a little faster and the women’s center opened sooner.  It’s all about perspective.

That afternoon we shifted gears and learned a little more about Guatemala’s people and it’s history.  A woman named Shona who helps run the parish programs talked to us about her experiences in San Lucas.  She has been living in San Lucas since before Fr. Greg came so she has experienced the incredible difference he has made first hand.  She talked about how poor and oppressed the people were before he came, especially the women.

The most heartwrenching thing she talked about was a period of violence in 1981.  There was a ton of guerrilla warfare in response to the severe oppression the people were experiencing.  The Mayan people were coerced into helping the guerilla fighters who offered them land, houses and money.  Once the government found this out they targeted the Mayan people as a whole and began killing anyone who was even remotely suspected of helping the guerrilla fighters.  The families of these targeted people were often killed also.  Shona’s husband was caught helping the guerrilla, was captured and presumably killed.  She never knew for sure what happened to him and has to live with that horror every day.  She must have told her story a hundred times but still teared up when talking about her husband.

After her husband was taken, Shona and her children became a target also.  Despite this danger, she helped countless mayans during this time.  She told one story about traveling to rescue 11 orphans who were hiding in a church a few hours from San Lucas.  They had to pass through three military checkpoints on the way back and convince the soldiers that all these children belonged to Shona.  She literally risked life and limb for these children she didn’t even know.  The thing about her story that amazed me the most was her complete trust in God throughout everything she went through.  She kept saying, “Gracias a Dios” – Thank God.  It would have been so easy to blame God for all of the terrible events of that year, but instead she leaned on him for hope and strength.  I long for the courage to trust that completely.

New Year’s Weekend in Chichicastenango

The City of Chichi

We traveled to a city called Chichicastenango (Chichi for short) to celebrate New Year’s Eve and do some service at a school there.  It sits 6,000 feet up a mountain and we spent a good two hours navigating precarious turns and cliffside roads.  Sometimes the road was so vertical that I was terrified we were going to start sliding backwards.  On the upside, the height offered a breathtaking view of Lake Atitlan and its surroundings.  We stopped a couple of times to take it in and marvel at the beauty of creation.  Finally we reached the town outside of the city were we were staying for the weekend.

We stayed at a school called Centro Educativo Anunciata, in the girl’s dormitory.  Upon arriving, we were given a tour of the school and grounds.  The students range from pre0schoolers to the equivalent of ninth graders.  There are about 600 students total, include the 200 girls who board.  The school is specifically for marginalized indigenous children and the sisters who run it will actually turn away students who do not fit this criteria.  All the students pay whatever they can based on their family’s income.  Some of the students do extra chores or work at the school to pay for their tuition.

The most powerful part of the tour was seeing the chapel.  There were a bunch of beautiful murals painted by the

Chapel Murals Painted by the Students

students.  The main one, by the altar, depicted people from many different villages connected through the Eucharist and was a very powerful image.  The others showed the events between the Assumption and the Crucifixion.  While we were in the chapel, our chaperon began telling us about the most recent period of civil war in Guatemala. Religious men and women were being martyred left and right during this time.  They eventually had to close the school and it was occupied by the army.  The building that is now the chapel was used as a torture chamber.  As soon as I heard this, my stomach turned over and I was horrified just thinking about what had happened there.  But then I realized that something beautiful had been made out of this tragedy and that it is somehow appropriate for a church to be built on the blood of martyrs, sacrificed in imitation of Jesus.

My mind and heart full of what I had experienced, next we we took a walk into town, which slowly turned into a hike up the rest of the mountain.  As if we weren’t high enough already, we proceeded to climb to the highest point in Chichi called Pascal Abaj.  There is a Mayan altar there and we happened to come down upon a Mayan Priest performing a ritual.  The ritual was in thanksgiving for the old year and to welcome the new one.  I felt awkward, like I was invading his privacy, but it was interesting to see.  We were all standing reverently, when suddenly the priest’s cellphone rang.  We were all shocked and tried our hardest not to laugh.  To our surprise, he answered it! This broke the magical atmosphere and showed how much modern technology has invaded our world.  It was a perfect, ironic picture of the meeting of traditions and the modern world.

Our first night in Chichi was New Year’s Eve and the Guatemalans definitely know how to celebrate.  We had a traditional meal of tomales and a really thick, delicious hot chocolate.  After this we went to Mass, which I was happy to be able to experience.  We were literally the only white people in the church and a lot of people stared and pointed at us.  Since Spanish is not the first language of the indigenous people, sometimes the priest would randomly switch to Quiche, the indigenous language, during Mass, which made it all the more confusing.

After mass, the sisters at the school, treated us to some fruit and dessert.  We had another traditional New Year’s food – a hot punch with fruit such as pineapple, apple, coconut and raisins.  It was good, but definitely took some getting used to.  We sat around playing games and talking to the sisters as we waited for midnight to arrive.

As the hour approached, we crowded onto a small balcony to watch the fireworks that were already starting.  Of course, there are no laws regulating the use of fireworks so everyone sets off their own, which I’m sure is perfectly safe.  In Guatemala, it is a tradition to eat twelve grapes at midnight, which I think has to do with the twelve months of the year.  So at midnight, we all embraced, celebrated and ate our grapes, as fireworks went off from every which direction.

I need to add a note here that the fireworks lasted for at least the next two days – apparently celebrations are dragged out as long as possible in Guatemala and everyone looks for the littlest excuse to party.

The next day we woke up to a new year and finally got our hands dirty doing service.  Our task in Chichi was to paint the school’s two basketball courts which were becoming faded.  It seems like something small, but I’m sure the students spend a lot of time of the courts and will definitely be grateful that we freshened them up.

While we were painting the first court a family came and played soccer in the field next to us.  It was yet another example of how people here celebrate life and just enjoy every day.  They came over to talk to us and offered us a fruit called Nispera which came from their own backyard.  Later we found out that they had brought the fruit for themselves but gave it all to us, because they knew they could always get more.  The generosity of the poor is just so beautiful!  They are generally willing to share what little they have, especially if you are a guest.  Their attitude is completely countercultural in this world of greed, yet they are happier than most of us.  I just think we have so much to learn from the poor, about humanity and what’s really important in life.

We also tried another new fruit called Anona.  It tasted like Rastifari, which I had in Tanzania.  Trying new foods, especially fruit, is one of my favorite parts of traveling.

That night we went out on the town and visited El Hotel Santo Tomas where a group of marimba players were performing.  The marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala and very popular – the performance was excellent.  The hotel itself was something to see and like its own mini museum.  The original owners collected statues, paintings and artifacts from 13th and 14th century churches.  All of these items covered the walls of the hotel and were incredible to look at.  There was also an outdoor courtyard in the middle of the hotel which contained a garden overflowing with beautiful foliage.  We sat down amidst this beauty to share some chips and guacamole then headed back to the school for bed.

Our last day in Chichi was a Sunday, so we headed to Church in the morning.  We had been warned that some people might be performing Mayan rituals during Mass and they did indeed.  It was slightly distracting but they were very subtle about it.  There were slabs of stone in the aisle and about half way through mass an old lady went to kneel by them and start the ritual.  I’m still not sure how I feel about this being done during mass but I think it is good that they are able to combine Mayan traditions with the Catholic faith.  It says a lot about starting where people are at and not forcing a people to abandon all of their traditions when they convert to Christianity.

The town of Chichi becomes one huge market every Sunday so as soon as Mass was over we got lost in the crowds for a couple of hours.  As in Tanzania, this kind of environment overwhelms me and is not really my favorite thing.  Everyone is begging to make a living and its hard not to feel bad for all of them.  The children begging you to buy their wares was especially heartbreaking, especially the disabled ones.  I bought a few things and then headed back to pack up for the drive back to San Lucas.

Looking back, I think the weekend in Chichicastenango was my favorite part of the trip.  I felt at one with the people – especially during mass and rubbing elbows with them in the market.

Day 1: What is our purpose here?

Alright so I completely failed on writing about my trip to Guatemala, but here it is finally.  Although it’s a couple of months late, I hope you enjoy hearing about my adventure!

The streets of San Lucas

After a breakfast of eggs, black beans and coffee, Fr. Greg, the Parish Priest, talked to us about their mission and the people of San Lucas.  He came to San Lucas about fifty years ago and has been there ever since, creating programs and projects to raise the people out of poverty.  Because of all of his experiences, Fr. Greg has an incredible amount of wisdom and knowledge about poverty.  I was captivated with his stories and could have listened all day.  One thing that I’ve thought about before but never really seen in action is what he called expressed-felt need.  This means that the people will tell you what they need and listening to those needs is the best way to help them.  He also revealed that many poor people know exactly how to solve poverty and have even thought about it extensively.  They just need to be given the resources and power to put that into action.  Fr. Greg has allowed this philosophy to guide all the projects and as much as possible has locals plan and run them.

The part that struck me the most was when Fr. Greg talked about the core of Social Justice, which in his opinion is to recognize that every person is made in the image and likeness of God.  Recognizing this helps us remember the inherent dignity of every person and the fact that every person is entitled to certain basic needs.  This has been a personal mantra of mine for the past couple of years so I was excited to hear someone so wise confirm my thoughts.

He said something else that I definitely needed to hear – one component of living social justice is being patient with yourself and the people you are serving.  Sometimes I get so impatient to go to Africa and just start saving the starving children, but right now is my time to learn, experience different cultures and for God to prepare me for the work ahead.  I’ll have to keep this phrase in mind.  One other thing he said was our job is to make the road smooth for others to walk on, as an analogy for empowerment.  We also need to walk alongside them on the road, not in front of or behind them. I’m still trying to understand how to go to a place and be one with the people, rather than be idealized and seen as a savior.  It seems that only comes after being with a community for a long time and building trust, as Fr. Greg has.

After lunch we went on a tour of the projects that the Parish runs.  First we went to the Women’s Center which is currently being built.  It’s actually been under construction for a number of years because it’s not the top priority of the mission.  This frustrated me at first but then I remember Fr. Greg’s warning about patience.  Eventually the center will be a place for women to gather, learn new skills and hopefully be empowered.  Currently, most women spend their days in the home, isolated and oppressed.  Men can go out at night and socialize, but women have no outlets for socialization.  It is widely known that many women experience domestic violence in San Lucas, but their isolation makes it hard to fight this.  Hopefully, the Center will begin to bring these injustices out into the light.

The next stop on the tour was the health clinic.  I was especially interested in this because of how much time I spent at the health clinic in Machui.  San Lucas’s clinic was definitely more up to date and high tech.  They had more equipment, such as an x-ray machine and more room.  They bring in a team of doctors from the states twice a year to perform free operations, which has definitely saved many lives.

The last place we visited was the parish farm.  Our tour guide, a long term volunteer, gave us a brief history of the land problems.  For a while most of the farmers existed under a sort of feudal system.  The mission started giving people their own land to break the pattern of subsistence living.  The main cash crop is coffee and they started a fair trade system with the farmers to help them make a better profit on the coffee.  Coffee trees are started at the Parish farm and then given to farmers to grow.  They literally asked how much the farmers needed to make on coffee and bought it from them at that price.

Later in the day, we walked down to Lake Atitlan, which is the center of life in San Lucas.  The people drink from and

Lake Atitlan

bath in its waters and most unfortunately, it is also where all the waste goes.  As in many developing areas, the unsanitary water is the root of many health problems.  The Mayan people have a beautiful story of how the lake was created.  They say that when Grandmother God was finished creating the world, she shed a tear because it was so beautiful and that tear created Lake Atitlan.  I thought that was a beautiful description of how much God cares for an loves his creation.

As in Tanzania, the joy of the Guatemalan people is astounding.  We saw one scene today by the lake which captured this perfectly.  There is a playground on the lakeshore and there was a family playing on the seasaw.  Grown men and women were having the time of their life and screaming with laughter.  They exuded simple joy and were happy just to be together.  Then a little girl came over and was showing us all the different ways she could go down the slide and my heart just melted.  These scenes left me with the question that continually burns in my heart: why is it that the poor have such joy, such a love for life?

After a day full of learning about San Lucas, I headed to bed pondering all that I had learned and what it meant for my life.