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

Road to Ixtahuacán: lumpy, bumpy, and expensive

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 8, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Baronti's truckRight: Father David Baronti’s 2002 Toyota pickup pauses from its steady work load during a February 2004 visit to a Guatemala City repair shop. During this visit, the brakes were relined. Rough Guatemala roads have taken a heavy toll on the vehicle, necessitating frequent costly repairs. For instance, a set of tires lasts only about 6 months. (Note that the tailgate is held on by rope.) (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

Sister Marie Tolle’s four-wheel-drive transportation never runs without first hearing a prayer.Every morning as she fits a key into the ignition switch of her Daihatsu, Sister Marie whispers a prayer. She knows that she will need some spiritual protection if she is to get through another day on the hazardous mountain roads that surround her village.

Guatemalan roads present a myriad of unexpected challenges, even to experienced drivers. In the area where Sister Marie works, the roads at 10,000 feet elevation are rough, steep, narrow, and often very dusty.

Most of the roads in the area of Novillero and Ixtahuacán are not paved. The rough going is wearing on both vehicles and the drivers. Whenever driving in Guatemala is the question, other risks must be factored in, such as the very real possibility of being robbed.

Given the driving conditions – high speeds and cultural driving habits – paved roads in Guatemala exact a toll as well. Many Guatemalan drivers do not hesitate to pass on blind corners and steep hills. The center line of a mountain road seems only to tell drivers where the road is going. It doesn’t persuade some drivers to stay on their side. Drivers cross the center to pass, assuming that the two lanes will accommodate three vehicles if necessary. Unfortunately, that is not always a good assumption.

In early 2003, Sister Marie spent two days in the hospital after her four-wheel-drive slid down a steep bank of the Pan American Highway. On an earlier trip on the same highway, she and Sister Immaculata were stopped by holdup men. Although they weren’t harmed physically, they were robbed at gunpoint of their money and I.D. papers.

Father Baronti has also been robbed – and more than once. Several years ago, hijackers overtook him when he was in a city. He asked the thieves if he could at least have an airline ticket that was in the glove compartment of his pickup. The robbers refused, and drove away with his vehicle, ticket and all.

His ministry is hard on his transportation, which typically is loaded down with people who converge from the hillsides, seeking a ride to or from his remote village of Ixtahuacán.

When he is not hauling people, the bed of his pickup may well be loaded with sand, steel, or cement blocks for his parish center project, or with generator parts, or a barrel of fuel oil.

Last year, Father Baronti took some companions down a rocky canyon to a river, where he hopes to construct a retreat center for family prayer. On the way back, as he tried to pull up a steep part of the rocky incline (loosely referred to as a “road” in Guatemala) his Toyota engine sputtered and died.

Father Baronti didn’t seem particularly surprised that the vehicle refused to go on. He said the clutch was slipping and the brakes were bad. Would the companion mind getting out to put a rock behind one of the tires so the vehicle wouldn’t roll back down the grade as he tried to restart it?

When his companion went to place a rock behind the tire, another problem surfaced. The tire was so smooth that a sharp rock might have punctured it. However, the priest’s guardian angel must have been on duty. The car started and the tire didn’t puncture.

In earlier years, Father Baronti had funds to maintain his vehicle in safe operating condition. However, the Spokane Diocese’s Chapter 11 Reorganization has now closed out the diocese as the source of funds for needed repairs.

A friend from Guatemala recently wrote that in a long conversation, Father Baronti “told us the terrible adventures he has suffered with his car lately.” In addition to replacing the clutch and transmission, he has had to have the motor overhauled and deal with various other mechanical and electrical failures.

Some might be inclined to give up and just put the vehicle on blocks. But he could neither say the Masses nor carry out his pastoral work in the scattered villages of his area without a vehicle.

So how is Father Baronti contending with the vehicle problems? He received a small contribution from a friend in Spokane, borrowed some money, and concedes, “I covered the rest with my Visa card.”

His friend said that Father “does not want a new car,” but would really like enough funds to “repair all the problems he has.”

Such is one aspect of life in the Spokane Mission.Roads, robberies, and repair bills are all part of the daily challenges faced by Sister Marie, Father Baronti, and our other representatives in Guatemala. They have many more.

The difficulties faced by our missionaries seem insurmountable at times. But they count on two vital sources for support. One is the material support (and prayers) from the people of Spokane. They also rely heavily upon the spiritual protection afforded by their guardian angels. Thus far, their guardian angels have seen them through some very difficult times.

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

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