From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

First Communion celebration links Spokane, Guatemala

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 17, 2002 edition of the Inland Register.)

Tzamjuyub is not one of the more accessible villages in Guatemala. Nor are its people among the most well off.

But last month it was one of the most festive sites in the rugged mountainous area that stretches between the Pan American Highway, at an altitude of 11,000 feet, and the coffee and sugar plantations that flourish along the Pacific Coast.

The occasion for celebration was the First Communion of over 60 youngsters who had been preparing for the event since early summer. Preparation meant walking long distances over steep terrain to attend classes in Tzamjuyub. Classes were taught by a catechist trained by Sister Marie Tolle, a Sister of Charity of New York, who works with the Spokane Mission.

The students’ preparation culminated in early December with an open-air Mass, celebrated by Bishop Raul Martínez of Sololá. Father David Baronti, a Spokane Diocese priest who has ministered as a missioner in Guatemala for over two decades, engaged the children in questions and preached the homily in the people’s native language of Quiché.

The surrounding poverty did not dampen the enthusiasm of the hundreds of people who walked for hours to get to the celebration in the village “rectangle,” the strip of land 100 feet wide that may be the only quasi-level land for miles around.

Although Tzamjuyub is too poor to have a church, villagers had colorfully decorated the plaza in front of the Trade Center where the celebration took place. Flowers surrounded the area, fresh pine needles covered the dirt ground, and a large canopy had been erected overhead to screen out the hot sun.

A look behind the events reveals how extensively they were inspired and supported by Sololá’s “Sister Diocese” of Spokane. In addition to the Spokane-supplied priest (Father Baronti), and Sister Marie Tolle, who trained the catechist, Spokane parishioners supplied religious medals and holy cards to each of the First Communicants. Behind the altar was a large scroll of Our Lady of Guadalupe, supplied by John McHugh, a parishioner of St. Thomas More Parish, Spokane. And following the mass, the families celebrated with tamales and bread, courtesy of donors from Spokane.

Tzamjuyub is a small village; its facilities consist of a school, a trade center and two or three shops measuring eight feet by 10 feet. Spokane’s Our Lady of Fatima Parish supplied funding for the school, which was built several years ago under the supervision of Spokane’s David Dodroe. The Spokane parish continues to support its teachers and students today.

Tzamjuyub’s first electricity came from a Spokane Diocese project under which the Adopt-A-Family (AAF) program constructed the trade center. Later, AAF helped open the first store in the village. Many of the local residents have since benefited from carpentry and other training classes held in the trade center.

The First Communion celebration in Tzamjuyub reveals that Spokane’s long-standing support has profoundly influenced life in this remote and disadvantaged community. Years of work by priests, Sisters, and other dedicated individuals have helped build a religious, educational, and economic base for the community. Moreover, the impact of Spokane’s help has permeated the lives of the people.

The religious celebration was one of joy, a momentous spiritual community event. And for it, each of the First Communicants wore a finely tailored shirt or blouse, made in their community as part of one of the sewing projects. On their feet were new sandals, from one of their shoe-making projects. For some of the youngsters, this was very likely the first pair of shoes they had ever owned.

From a religious, economic, and social perspective, the First Communion celebration was truly a community event for the people of Tzamjuyub. But it was also another milestone for those who helped behind the scenes. Without Spokane’s long-standing support, the event would not have been the success that it was. Thanks go out to the people and parishes of the Diocese of Spokane who faithfully support our missionary efforts for the poor in Guatemala.

(Jerry Monks is coordinator of the Guatemala Mission effort for the Diocese of Spokane.)

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