Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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

Diocese still a beacon of hope for the poor in Guatemala mission

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the July 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Santos GuachiacRight: Santos Guachiac wears protective glasses after surgery to correct one of his cataracts. The Spokane surgical team will be returning to the Guatemala mission in October, when Guachiac hopes to have his second cataract removed. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

When 75-year-old Santos Guachiac learned that a cataract surgery team from Spokane would be at the mission clinic in Novillero, Guatemala, he was determined to get to the clinic. The fact that he was nearly blind and would have to navigate steep mountain trails for five hours was no deterrent. His son, Salvador, would lead him.

Guachiac did get to the clinic for the screening. Sisters Immac-ulata Burke and Marie Tolle provided him with some food and a place to sleep. A few months later, in February of last year, he returned for his cataract operation. Now Guachiac can see out of one eye, and he is praying that he can get an operation on his other eye. He expects that operation to take place next October, when the dozen medical volunteers make their second cataract surgery trip to the Spokane Mission.

Guachiac lives in Pacutamah, a volcanic mountainous area that lacks roads, power, and other amenities that we take for granted. He learns about the availability of services, such as the cataract surgery project, via the Catholic radio station in Nahualá. In addition to providing family service programs, the radio station serves as a communications conduit to people in remote areas of the highlands.

Guachiac’s family is also appreciative of the opportunity to attend Mass, offered by Father David Baronti. He is the missionary priest from Spokane who has served in Guatemala since 1975. Guachiac’s son, Salvador, is receiving educational support from Spokane for his schooling at a distant village.

Other families in the region are benefiting from the pastoral training and women’s programs offered by Sister Marie Tolle. She places strong emphasis on enhancing the self image of the native women in the area. Some of the children in one of the villages (Nahualá) even have an opportunity to attend the Catholic elementary school.

Support for the four clinics, the radio station, pastoral programs, and schools comes from parishes and individuals in the Diocese of Spokane. Spokane parishes also channel some help to seminarians and youth programs in the mission. It is Spokane’s most direct link with the poor. In the Third World country of Guatemala, they struggle to exist on a day-to-day basis.

The Spokane Mission in Guatemala was launched by Bishop Bernard Topel in response to the request of Pope Pius XII in 1958. Later that year, Blessed Pope John XXIII expressed his desire that every First World diocese form a “bond of prayer and help with a third -world diocese.”

Although all parishes of the diocese are encouraged to direct help to the Sister Diocese in Guatemala, some parishes in Spokane already have long-standing programs of outreach to the poor in other countries.

For example, the parishes of Assumption (Spokane) and St. Mary (Spokane Valley) both maintain active youth programs associated with Mexico.

The parishes that help keep the beacon of hope alive for families in Guatemala, like those of Santos Guachiac, are largely ones that have a history of support in past years.

During fiscal year 2004-05, St. Augustine Parish contributed $3,266 for the Catholic school in Nahualá. Health programs were supported by St. Mary of Spokane ($12,148), the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes ($2,770), St. Mary of Chewelah ($1,692), and Holy Rosary of Pomeroy ($1,200).

Compensation for religious personnel in the mission came from St. Patrick Parish, Pasco ($9,586), and St. Patrick Parish, Walla Walla ($1,650). Some pastoral support also came from Tekoa’s Sacred Heart Parish.

The Catholic radio station in Nahualá received much of its funding from Sacred Heart Parish, Pullman ($3,978), while seminarian support came primarily from St. Patrick Parish, Spokane ($1,367).

Our Lady of Fatima Parish’s support dates back to the mid-1960s, when the parishioners managed to get a school bus to Guatemala. During the past year they made direct contributions to Sister Mary Bertrand’s spirituality programs, and also supplied $880 for youth programs in Ixtahuacán.

Parishioners from Immaculate Conception Parish, Colville, also extended support to the Ixtahuacán programs, as did parishioners in Chewelah and Valley. And St. Thomas More continued its direct support of the Family-To-Family program, which sponsored the cataract surgery project.

In addition to the above, a few individuals made regular contributions that helped with some underfunded programs.

Total contributed income for budgeted programs for fiscal year 2004-05 was slightly over $45,000.

However, income was not sufficient to cover the budgeted expenditures of $61,920. As a consequence of the deficit, the budget for the fiscal year 2005-06 has been cut by several thousand dollars, and support for most of the mission programs has been reduced.

As budget reductions take effect, the beacon of hope and light to many of the Guatemalans will dim. But it is not out. With renewed support from parishes of the diocese, and fruit from programs like the cataract surgery project, the future for poor people like Santos Guachiac can still be brighter than it has been in the past.

(Jerry Monks is a member of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)

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