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

Injury-accident in Guatemala reveals region’s numerous ties with Spokane

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Sister Immaculata Burke was somewhat surprised when Father David Baronti’s four-wheel drive vehicle bounced into the gravel parking area in front of her convent in Novillero, Guatemala. Yes, she and Sister Marie Tolle were expecting Father Baronti. But he was nearly an hour early, and Sundays were not really days of leisure for the Spokane Mission padre. He had already done round trips to say a Saturday evening Mass at one village in the mountains, and had said two more Masses at different villages that morning. Beyond that, he had a fourth scheduled for that afternoon. And all this over unpaved, Alpine-like Guatemalan roads. Early arrival at the Sisters’ convent/clinic complex seemed highly unlikely.

The reason for the early arrival did not present an unusual situation for Sister Immaculata, however. Her life as a nurse in the Guatemalan Highlands had long since equipped her to accept the unexpected and to deal with emergencies in an unruffled, professional manner.

As Father Baronti helped a teary-eyed young girl into the house, Sister Immaculata’s medical persona surfaced. She sensed the urgency of the situation and immediately began calming the hurting patient and assessing her injuries.

Catarina Tulul was in pain from a serious accident. Her blood-stained blouse was still covered with glass fragments from the front windshield of the pickup that had given her a ride. Her shoulder hurt to the bone and felt like it was broken.

Father Baronti had happened on the accident shortly after it occurred. Upon seeing the victims of the pickup crash, his planned activities were usurped by the need to get the injured into medical care as soon as possible. With Catarina now in the competent hands of Nurse Immaculata, Father Baronti returned to the scene to assist others. In less than an hour he was back at the convent with another (bleeding) victim with lesser injuries, and with Catarina’s father, Juan.

Before the afternoon turned into evening, Sister Immaculata had eased Catarina’s pain, and cleaned and bandaged the arm of the second accident victim. She also assured Catarina’s father, Juan, that Catarina would recover without hospital surgery.

Though this event was “just another afternoon” in the lives of Father Baronti and Sister Immaculata, it was traumatic for the others involved. And, like many untold events that take place every day in the Spokane Mission area in Guatemala, it gives evidence of the subtle ways in which the Dioceses of Sololá and Spokane have bonded over the years. The ties that lie below the surface of this Sunday afternoon accident reveal a closeness that could only stem from a positive and enduring relationship.

A glimpse into the biographies and activities of those involved in the accident reveals an interesting commonality. Virtually all those brought together by the unexpected event share a service orientation that transcends national origin (i.e., whether Guatemalan or American) and is a compelling motivator in each of their lives.

Father David Baronti, the priest who happened on the scene of the accident, has served in Guatemala since 1975, when he became Spokane’s first permanent missionary. His dedication to the Mayan people is well known to the people of Spokane through his articles in the Inland Register and his talks at conferences and parishes in the diocese.

Father Baronti’s work in the Quiché language has brought the principles of Christianity into the homes of the poor. He changes the lives of others by living among them and serving their needs. The fruits of his labors to enhance the spiritual and economic well-being of the Indian people will last for generations into the future.

Catarina Tulu is a catechist and leader for one of Father Baronti’s youth groups. Her exceptional service to the people in her community resulted in her selection as one of the two young people to represent the Mayan Indians of the Sololá region at the World Youth Day meeting with Pope John Paul II in Toronto last year.

Catarina has ties to Eastern Washington through the support of Bill McMillan and other members of St. Mary Parish, Spokane; Holy Rosary Parish, Pomeroy; and St. Patrick Parish, Walla Walla; all of whom helped fund her trip to Canada.

As part of the trip, Catarina spent time in Spokane and traveled on a bus with the youth group from St. Mary. She is a principled leader in community service who has benefited from the presence of the Spokane Mission, and who is actively putting her faith into practice by reaching out to help guide other young people in her community.

Juan Tulu, Catarina’s father, worked with Sister Barbara Ford almost 15 years ago to help start the Adopt-A-Family (AAF) program in Guatemala. He became one of the first AAF field workers, identifying needy families and helping train them in crop rotation and land terracing techniques so that their corn production could be increased. As the AAF program became well-established, Juan moved on to other community service activities and to raising his family (including daughter Catarina) in the Christian tradition of service.

Sister Immaculata has been attending the “cry of the poor” for medical care in the Spokane Mission area for 32 years. From meager beginnings, where she had to convince natives of the value of vaccinations, she has developed health care programs and facilities that now include a Quiché-speaking doctor and clinics in three villages. Thanks in large part to help from the people of the Diocese of Spokane, a fourth clinic will soon be welcoming its first patients later this year.

Service has always been a way of life for Sister Immaculata, and the people she serves have responded with love and affection. When she was ill several years ago, concerned people walked many miles over mountains with 12,000-feet elevations to visit her in the hospital in Quetzaltenango.

The links that connect the Dioceses of Spokane and Sololá go back many years. And they can surface in unexpected events. However, these links share a common and identifying element related to the Christian virtue of service. Moreover, the links transcend national boundaries. Like true friendship, the ties between Spokane and Guatemala run deep and are strengthened with every passing year.


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