Parish celebrates 25th anniversary of sister parishes Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008 -- 1:00 AM

OREGON -- Catarina in San Marcos, Guatemala, has been a sister parish to Holy Mother of Consolation Parish (HMC) in Oregon for the past 25 years. Recently, St. Ann Parish in Stoughton has been clustered with HMC and has become another sister parish.

Recently, parishioners from both parishes traveled to Catarina. Trying to capture the experiences of that trip was a difficult task, but below are the highlights.

OREGON -- Catarina in San Marcos, Guatemala, has been a sister parish to Holy Mother of Consolation Parish (HMC) in Oregon for the past 25 years. Recently, St. Ann Parish in Stoughton has been clustered with HMC and has become another sister parish.

Recently, parishioners from both parishes traveled to Catarina. Trying to capture the experiences of that trip was a difficult task, but below are the highlights.

The purpose

The initial purpose of our trip was to attend the 25th anniversary of the "Promotores Y Promotoras de Salud" (the celebration of the Health Promoters Program, the "Program").

Maryknoll Sisters Jane Buellesbach and Mary Lou Daoust (who are also medical doctors) were the founders of the Program. They thought it would be great if some HMC parishioners could be at the celebration because of the long-standing relationship between HMC and Catarina.

Early in 2008, there was a blurb in the bulletin about "anyone interested in going to Catarina for the celebration." After some e-mails, an interested (or was it interesting?) group developed and decided to venture to Guatemala and attend the celebration. However, we also wanted to do something worthwhile -- to help out, to be "useful" -- so the Sisters found us two projects to work on during our stay.

The Program

Twenty-five years ago, members of the Catarina community volunteered to be a part of the Health Promoters Program. It takes approximately one year to be a full-fledged health promoter -- taking only a couple steps at a time.

To begin, the volunteer takes off a couple days of work for beginning/basic knowledge and training in first aid. The volunteer then returns to his/her community to practice and treat first aid ailments in the community.

Lesson Two is in nutrition, then back to the community to treat and practice first aid and nutrition. Then on to the next steps of the Program (taking off work, learning and training, practice and treatment in the community) including, but not necessarily limited to: Session Three -- diseases caused by the water and environment; Session Four -- intestinal/gastrointestinal diseases; Session Five -- medicines and remedies.

The doctors told us that there are now three new conditions that are prevalent in the community: AIDS, diabetes, and childhood obesity. We were told that the primary cause for AIDS was husbands infecting their wives. The cause for diabetes and childhood obesity is changes in cultural lifestyles: less exercise/walking from more cars and scooters and changes in eating habits.

There were five health promoters from the original group celebrating 25 years of service. They became an integral part of the social, the spiritual, and most definitely the health and general welfare of the community.

To date, and also recognized at the celebration, were an additional 250+ health promoters who have been trained and are active in the Program throughout every village and town in the state of San Marcos. The five original health promoters, after 25 years of dedicated service, are now regular and key staff to Sisters Jane and Mary Lou at the local clinic.

The celebration itself took up most of Saturday. The five original promoters each spoke of their experience with the Program. There were very delightful skits depicting the health care conditions "before" and "after" the start of the Program.

Many awards, gifts, and honors were distributed to key people involved in the Program, including a beautiful banner given to HMC for its 25 years of support to the clinic and the community.

Mass was concelebrated by the bishop and two local priests. Dinner was served to about 600 people. It was a most rewarding, informative, moving, and spiritual experience.

The people

There are three groups of people to recognize. First and foremost, Sisters Jane and Mary Lou. All these years of "knowing" them through their letters in the HMC bulletin and hearing about what they do is no comparison to getting to "know" them, who they are, what they actually do. They have an incredible importance and impact on so many people in Catarina, in the church, medical, and secular communities. We could not have been more privileged to meet them and spend time with them.

The second group was the new friends and relationships in Guatemala. The people -- mostly poor by our standards -- were generous and joyful. They were willing to share what little they had: their time, their stories, their families, their food, and mostly their hearts.

They were gracious and grateful for not only our interest in helping them through HMC's generous financial gifts, but they were appreciative and thankful for the time we took to come to them, to their country, to talk to them, to care about them, and to visit and learn from them.

Last but not least was the group of traveling pilgrims: Quinn Smet, Brian Meyer, and Mike Donohue from St. Ann, and Jim Cisler, Gwen Walhberg, Maria Kluever, Marilynn Rebman, and Lisa and Caitlin Butters from HMC.

We flew from Chicago to Houston to Guatemala City to meet up with Sr. Silvia Pacheco, who collected us at the airport and who would be our escort throughout most of the trip. Sister Silvia was previously with Sisters Jane and Mary Lou in Catarina but is now the curator of the Maryknoll House in Guatemala City, where we stayed our first and last nights.

Early on the second morning after breakfast in our 10-passenger van (chauffeured throughout the entire trip by Jim Cisler), we followed Sister Silvia to Nahuala, home of Diego, a 14-year-old boy whom Brian Meyer sponsors.

By taking this little out-of-the-way route versus the coastal road, we were witness to some of the most beautiful mountain landscape imaginable. Arriving in Nahuala, we met Diego and his family, but more powerful we saw the first meeting of love, emotion, and gratitude between Brian and Diego and Diego's family.

Spending a week in community with fellow sisters and brothers in Christ is rewarding, memorable, and most of all, enjoyable.

The projects

The two projects during our stay in Catarina were:

Ditch digging -- Five of us were ditch diggers. It was to be a ditch 60 feet long, 20 inches deep, and 12 inches wide. It would be a ditch in which to lay PVC pipe from a latrine to a septic tank.

The latrine had to be situated by the well so that when one used the facility, one could go to the well, drop the bucket in the well, pull up a pail of water and pour the water into the "toilet" to transport the waste to the septic tank (that's what you would call a Guatemalan sewer system).

However, before the actual digging started, weeds had to be cut (with a machete), cement broken and removed (with hand tools -- to find the pipe coming from the septic tank), fences (trees) removed, and we had to remember to drink water. It was hot and the work was difficult.

Alfonso, our foreman, worked very hard. He worked us hard and he and his family became dear friends. After a few days, we became very aware that Alfonso is a very dedicated, prominent, and respected member of both the church and secular communities.

Kitchen building -- Four of us were kitchen builders. A separate structure needed to be built for the kitchen. The first day a roof was built (with hand saw, hammer, and nails) which would also provide studs for walls to be added later. The second day, a cement floor was poured by mixing cement, sand, and gravel.

The home owners were three children left on their own because their parents had died from AIDS. The children are Lucrecia (Luki), 12; Frederico, 10; and Anabely, 8. Luki is now assuming the parent role for her two younger siblings.

Lisa and Caitlin spent two days talking and interacting with the kids and at the end of those days, Luki asked if they could go "home" with us.

How will these children fare? Will Luki be able to finish her education or will she be too busy being a parent? What will they need to do to live and survive?

The pleasures

The hospitality of the Sisters, Jane, Mary Lou, Silvia, and Jeannie (another Maryknoll Sister), was over and above anything we expected and was much appreciated.

Meeting and visiting with the people of Catarina and throughout Guatemala was inspiring and definitely at the top of the list of pleasures.

Other pleasures: the opportunity to travel through the beautiful country of Guatemala; the 25-year anniversary celebration of the Program; witnessing the meeting of Brian, Diego, and Diego's family; a half-day trip to the Pacific Ocean with Alfonso and his two daughters; breakfasts together at the tiny restaurant across from our hotel;  and last but definitely not least, the building of new friendships both at home and in Guatemala.

The pain

First and foremost are the three children for whom the kitchen was built. Leaving them to fend for themselves will forever be painful in our hearts and minds.

Secondly, getting the full impact -- face to face -- of the things we take so for granted and perhaps even abuse here in our comforts of the United States, such as potable water, the convenience of having hot and cold water at the SAME time, depositing your used toilet paper into the toilet and flushing it away, and stable and dependable electricity.

We visited an HIV treatment facility/hospital where only the sickest victims of the disease were residing. The ones who were thought to be "not so bad" were treated and sent home with medications to administer themselves.

We also visited an immigration "safe house." This is a complex where someone who did not "make it" across the border was sent for a simple meal and a bed to rest until they were released to again face the meager means of work, financial stability, and survival. The maximum stay at the safe house is three days.

Now that we have seen, visited, learned, and have the knowledge that all this really does exist in much of our world, it makes tolerating it a lot more difficult. It should kickstart us to doing something about it. Get involved. Care about all of our brothers and sisters in need.

The plan

Is there a plan? Sure -- by more awareness and knowledge of the world's injustices; by knowing all the talent, treasure, and time we have and examining how well we spend and use them; by building relationships of all kinds with all God's children whether near or far; by giving care, kindness, love, and financial support; and by forever reaching out to others -- that's the plan: God's plan.

We can begin in many, simple ways: keep someone who is in need or has an illness in your prayers or spend some time with that person; learn more about Catarina, Guatemala, and other Third World countries; contribute to local food pantries; contribute to Catarina, Catholic Relief Services, or a charitable organization of your choice. You can go to to find reputable organizations.

Let the Holy Spirit be the guiding light and driving force for all of us.

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