By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Looking into the grinning, giggling faces of Guatemalan orphans wrapped in their outstretched arms, four area missionaries experienced the tangible rewards Christ promises in Matthew 25:40 … “Amen I say to you, whatever you do for these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”  

IMG_1760.tif

Singing and dancing was a favorite activity of the girls in an orphanage in Jalapa Guatemala served by area missionaries as part of La Misión Encotrandome con Cristo Guatemala Mission. Photo provided by Jennifer Giambrone  

 

Matthew 25:40 is the motto of La Misión Encotrandome con Cristo Guatemala Mission, founded by Father Robert-Joel Cruz, priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. The mission provides the necessities to the people of poverty-stricken Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala. Their project provides equipment to help provide clean drinking water, to help the villagers who would walk for miles down the mountain to get water from a running stream. The equipment also included solar panels, stoves, sinks, dry goods, live stock, citrus, trees as well as educational scholarships for children to continue their education.  

Three missionaries from the Diocese of Baton Rouge have participated in summer missions and a fall “mission prep” to prepare for the following summer’s mission: Emily Chauvin, a member of Mater Dolorosa Church in Independence; Jennifer Giambrone, a member of St. Anne Church in Napoleonville; and Eve Carmena, a member of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge. Serving alongside them was Brenda Bonvillain from the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese.  

The missionaries spoke about their experiences at a Magnificat Morning of Prayer on Feb. 7 at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge.  

The women stayed at a girls’ orphanage, Hogar de Niños, in Jalapa. They spent time with the girls and taught English to the Sisters of Martha and Mary, who took care of them.  

“They (girls) were dropped off at the orphanages. They might be abused by a family member and then thrown out of the house,” said Bonvillain.

 She encountered an 11-year-old girl who was pregnant and had a baby boy in December.  

But the “light” in the situation came from the girls and the Sisters of Martha and Mary, according to Giambrone. 

“It seems like everyone whom we came into contact with was filled with unexplainable joy,” said Giambrone. “I say unexplainable joy based on the dire circumstances (they faced). Many of us who were perhaps too attached to our worldly possessions would wonder what they have to be joyful about.  

“Yet the children at the orphanage and the sisters that cared for them – the children and adults in a remote village were in fact joyful.”  

“The simplest things – sitting and talking, singing, flying kites, learning English – brought smiles to the children’s faces,” Giambrone said.  

“Giggling and laughter were part of the sites and sounds we would hear throughout the day. Even when everyone was attending daily chores, which included washing clothes by hand. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the simplicity of life there.”  

And the missionaries learned to embrace what would have upset them at home, such as “the whimsical water game” of an unreliable water system that would turn off at any time – such as in the middle of a shower.  

“We washed our clothes on evenings that were not filled with the annoying distractions of television and we were not kidnapped into the virtual world,” said Giambrone. “Instead of technology we were treated to the sounds of laughter and girls playing and talking – the beautiful symphony of the sisters praying.” 

Carmena said the journey to the orphanage was late at night over windy, bumpy roads, but when they arrived the girls and sisters were waiting for them.  

“And they had the biggest smiles,” said Carmena, who described the love received at the orphanage as “the unconditional love Jesus gives to us.  

“And they gave it to us every time we’d see them. So there was a giving and receiving of love.”  

Carmena and the other missionaries were also drawn to the spirituality of the sisters.  

“At 7 o’clock in the morning we were able to go and pray with them. And we’d walk in and hear the guitar strumming and we’d hear the voices in Spanish. We didn’t know what they were singing, but it was beautiful. And it always spoke to our hearts. And we were praying to ourselves in English and they were praying out loud in Spanish. There was a unity in prayer we had,” Carmena said.  

She was also struck by the reverence shown in eucharistic adoration, when a nun would shoulder a heavy cross by herself.  

“She didn’t let it drop so that she was only holding up the top part of it. She was holding the entire cross. She stood there and it gave me such a great knowledge that she understood the cross of Jesus and how he carried it. The depth of that,” Carmena said.  

She said the nuns and children were exuberant when Cardinal Angelo Bardsley, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, came to the orphanage during a visit to the country to examine the cause for sainthood of two missionaries who had been martyred.  

“For two hours the children patiently waited. Then came the red-bottomed helicopter. And as it landed the excitement was just over the top. There’s not enough superlatives to describe what they looked like,” said Carmena.  

Even through the kind-hearted laughter over mistakes as each learned the other’s language, there was an understood affection that did not need translating, said the missionaries. </span id=”24″>

“We have to give credit to the Holy Spirit because he made it all work,” said Carmena.  

As part of mission prep the women had a chance to see the positive “snowball affect” the scholarships had on the lives of the recipients. They said they could see hope in their eyes that they will have a better life.  

The trip was also an educational experience for Chauvin. Leaving home for 30 days was one of the most difficult things she’s had to do, but she learned to depend on God and fell in love with the country and the people.  

“The Lord has not given me a gift of the Spanish language. When I go there I’m not knowing the language, but that’s OK. Because there is a universal language in this. It doesn’t matter if I can’t speak to them. They know I love them,” she said.   

For more information about this year’s mission and to donate, visit encontrandomeconcristo.org.