Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Guatemala mission: ‘Money doesn’t affect happiness, but a community certainly does’
by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff
(From the Sept. 9, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Father David Baronti, a priest of the Diocese of Spokane, has served the people of Guatemala for over 30 years. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)
One million people in Guatemala speak only K’iche,’ a local tribal language. It is the most-spoken language in the small country, but there existed no K’iche’ translation of the Roman Missal.
But Father David Baronti, a priest of the Spokane Diocese priest who has served in Guatemala his entire career, did not let that stop him. Father Baronti, who has a doctorate in anthropology and linguistics, simply sat down and invested the thousands of hours necessary to translate the Missal into ‘K’iche’ so that the local people could read it.
Father Baronti was in Spokane recently for a brief visit. He stopped by the offices of the Inland Register and agreed to a quick interview.
Father Baronti has been serving the people of Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, through the Spokane Diocese’s mission for 29 years. He began there as a deacon, and once he was ordained, he continued to serve the people as a priest.
“I was interested in mission work from the time I was in the seminary,” said Father Baronti. “I asked permission (of Spokane’s Bishop Bernard Topel) and went as a deacon to Guatemala from the seminary in Belgium in 1975.”
Since he has been there, Father Baronti has seen intense poverty, political clashes, anti-Catholicism and corruption. But he has also seen great dedication by many of the Catholic people to their faith, a spirit of family, and an amazing sense of community.
“The people still live in naturally formed communities, surrounded by their families and faith communities,” said Father Baronti, “and the Church is the focal point for the entire community.”
Ixtahuacán is a community of approximately 40,000 people. Of the 40,000, about 30,000 are Catholic, though not all of those attend church regularly. Father Baronti is currently the only priest serving the needs of the entire Catholic community.
And though he has had a car since the very beginning of his ministry to help him serve the needs of the people, only one other family in the entire community has a car. According to Father Baronti, that may be a good thing. The roads are in such terrible repair and the grades so steep in the mountainous area, his own car is constantly in need of repair.
The people of Ixtahuacán have traditionally survived using subsistence agriculture: they grow what they need to eat. However, modernization has come even to this rural and often chaotic community. Both the government and the mission have supported teachers to come in and educate the children. As the education level increases, so does the economy.
“There’s a little bit more money than before,” said Father Baronti. Consequently, small stores have begun to appear in the community, as well.
Still, there is no health clinic for the entire town. A doctor comes through once every two or three weeks. They have no modern amenities. Most have no running water or electricity. By most American’s standards, these people have nothing. However, Father Baronti says that is not the case.
“Money doesn’t affect happiness,” he said. “But a community certainly does.”
He described how when a person dies in Ixtahuacán, he is surrounded by 40 or 50 people, where in the United States, people most often die alone.
Though Father Baronti knows his service to these people is necessary and that he can teach them many things, he also knows he has learned a lot from them about family, community and what really matters. He loves his work and he loves the people.
“My mission is to incarnate the love of Jesus found in the heart of the Catholic Church,” he said. His life of servitude to some of the poorest people in Guatemala certainly emanates that.