Find Christ in Guatemala
By Kevin Kelly
August 17, 2007
ST. JOSEPH - Until it is seen first hand, no book or magazine can
possibly tell the story of Third World poverty, a group of students
from Bishop LeBlond High School learned this summer.
"It was an opportunity to help the poorest of the poor,"
said Alex Kreidler, a senior. "That's where we encounter Christ."
"It makes you want to give more," said sophomore Cole
Weber. "You never knew how much you had until you saw them
do what they have to do just to get by."
|St. Joseph youth and their chaperones
pose with people from San Andreas Itzapa during their mission
trip to Guatemala in June. Photo courtesy Father Shawn Ratigan
Thirteen Catholic teenagers from St. Joseph - 12 of them Bishop
LeBlond students - spent a week in June working with the poor of
San Andreas Itzapa, a town in Guatemala that is a sister community
of St. Thomas More Parish in Kansas City.
Bishop LeBlond chaplain Father Shawn Ratigan first journeyed to
the parish as the newly ordained associate pastor of St. Thomas
More. He used his connections with the Kansas City parish to arrange
the mission trip for the St. Joseph youth.
Speaking for the group Aug. 7 at St. Mary Parish, where Father
Ratigan also serves as administrator, Kreidler and Weber said they
were grateful for the experience.
They were also overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Sisters of
St. Joseph, who opened their convent to the youth group and their
"They did everything they could to help us out and make our
time there better," Weber said.
This was no summer vacation. They worked hard to help people with
small home projects to make their lives better.
They will never forget the single mother of four, living with her
family in a dirt-floor shack with no place to cook a meal except
an open fire in the middle of the floor.
The woman's oldest son, 15, worked as a field hand. Her daughter,
13, worked as a maid for a wealthy family, and comes home only one
weekend per month.
The youths carried bricks, 40 pound bags of cement, and a small
stove up an incline too steep for a truck to the family's home.
Then they installed the stove and the exhaust chimney.
It was only a slice of daily life for the poor in San Andreas Itzapa.
"They have nothing," Kreidler said. "And there is
nothing they can do about it. But they keep going.
"We could help out as best we could," he said. "But
we couldn't help them get out of the poverty they were in. We could
only ease their pain a little bit."
Father Ratigan is already making plans and raising funds to send
another delegation of St. Joseph youth next year.
The students raised much of the money this year, working a garage
sale at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish and holding "jeans day"
fund-raisers at Bishop LeBlond. Father Ratigan said that Lisa Adams,
the mother of one of the students, solicited money from St. Joseph
Father Ratigan chipped in with a "No Bake Sale" at St.
Mary Parish. "I told them I wasn't going to bake anything,
just give me the money," he said. It worked.
Both Weber and Kreidler said they would like to return.
In Guatemala, Kreidler learned that "catholic" in Catholic
Church means universal.
"I think about it a lot," he said. "It's like a
new outlook on life, a new paradigm. It makes you think twice in
a good way."
One priest serves the town and thousands of Catholics for miles
around. The town's faithful took full advantage of Father Ratigan's
presence to celebrate daily Mass.
"That put everything into perspective," Kreidler said.
"We are all members of the Catholic Church. We all know the
Mass even if it was in a different language. We all have the same
love for the church.
"It was an inspiration to delve deeper into the faith,"
Kreidler said. "We can all pray more for the sisters down there,
and for persecuted Christians everywhere."