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

Our Lady of Fatima parishioners continue long-term commitment to Guatemala mission

by Fred Williams

(From the July 5, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Donations from Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Spokane, help support youth ministry and other programs in the diocese’s Guatemala Mission. (IR photo from Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Spokane)

(Editor’s note: Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Spokane, has long been a supporter of the diocese’s mission activity in the Guatemala Highlands. Fred Williams, president of the parish’s Guatemala Mission Committee, recently gave the following annual report to the parish, chronicling some of the activity made possible by the parish’s commitment to the mission.)

Your generosity has provided much for the children living in the Diocese of Sololá; more precisely, in old Ixtahuacán and new Ixtahuacán, in a field formerly called Chuipatan. The villages rest high in the mountains of Guatemala, west of Guatemala City. (Editor’s note: More on the situation in Guatemala can be found here, and on page 7 of the printed edition.)

To fully appreciate the impact of your gifts, let me give you some current statistics involving the children of Guatemala.

More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. Most of Guatemala’s population is rural. The official language is Spanish, but is not widely understood among the indigenous population. There are 23 officially recognized Mayan (Amerindian) languages, including Quiché, Kerchi, Mam, Garifima, and Xinca.

The Guatemalan education system is characterized by limited coverage, centralized decision making, urban concentration of resources, and ethnic and gender inequities. Over half of the Guatemalan school-age children are indigenous, though only 8 percent have access to schooling in their mother tongue. More than 70 percent of Mayan women cannot read or write. The country’s education system produces one million illiterate adults every nine years.

Our mission in Ixtahuacán and Chuipatan is to provide educational opportunities for some of the Mayan children and to help them become literate, productive adults in their society.

A primary focus of Fatima’s Guatemala Mission is the Institute Indegena de Nuestra Senora del Socorro – “The Indigenous Institute of Our Lady of Help.” The school is run by the Bethlehemite nuns; Sister Alba Antonia Mungia is the principal.

We provide room and board as well as an educational opportunity for 25 Mayan girls. Their school year runs from January until the end of October. These students are carefully selected by Sister Alba. Several graduates have proceeded on to higher education and a few have aspired to the novitiate at the monastery.

Much of Guatemalan life revolves around families. Guatemalan women tend to marry young and have many children. The children, in turn, are able to depend on their parents for advice and guidance throughout their lives. Mayan women work outside of the home selling produce at market, or embroider or weave products for sale, or work in community groups. This creates an obvious need for a preschool set-up.

Your Guatemala mission gifts fund the preschool breakfast program, or refaction (snack) at Our Lady of the Highway, run by Sisters Immaculata Burke and Marie Tolle. It also assists with Sister Marie’s adult women’s reading class. These two senior Sisters have recently been joined by a younger Sister, Gloria, who provides some much-needed help.

We have furnished supplies for the preschool program in Chuipatan, including tables, chairs, a rug, books, decorations, paint, a TV, video, a new water heater, and assorted outdoor playground equipment. We help with some of the minor repairs. We have been providing a breakfast program here, as well. This endeavor is managed by Natalia de Leon and her husband, Jorge. It is just one of many responsibilities Natalia and Jorge have shouldered.

In fact, a key element in any outreach program is having reliable and dedicated people to administer the funds channeled to them for the betterment of the those in their charge. We have been extremely fortunate to have Natalia and Jorge de Leon spearhead our activities in Ixtahuacán and Chuipatan. They and the dedicated Religious are the ones who make it work!

We have also provided a two-year scholarship to an individual, Juan Cecilio. He is in his second year at the Technilogico Lassalle in Mazatenango.

The Parish Center in old Ixtahuacán is still under construction, but the Youth Group utilizes a room to meet and practice their music. We purchased a synthesizer for them and hymnals, to provide music for the church. We also mounted a plaque that commemorates a donation to the erection of the Parish Center. In addition, we purchased a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, for their room. The regional youth group numbers around 100 and is supervised by Father David Baronti. From time to time we have provided them with funding for retreats and some travel expenses. Two youth ministers receive a small monthly stipend from us.

The Catarina Ixtahuacán Fine Arts Center made contact with our committee members while on tour. An official of the ministry presented us with a certificate of appreciation for our efforts. The minister promised to provide a government teacher if Fatima’s Guatemala Mission Committee would provide instruments to initiate a music program in the Fine Arts Center. We have agreed to a one-time donation of approximately $6,000 to begin the program.

Our Lady of Fatima’s Guatemala Mission Committee funds a diversity of educational operations as a result of your generosity. As a general rule we try to spend down the income donations provide each year, and hold some dollars in reserve. That way, we are able to continue our existing commitments and still fund the extraordinary request (like the musical instruments) as it arises.

In Guatemala, the children make tiny ‘worry dolls’ of scrap materials. Before the children go to bed, they tell their worries to their dolls, one at a time. They believe their dolls will take away their worries while they sleep. Parishioners’ financial support helps erase any worries these children might have about the continuation of the programs they participate in – providing a ‘worry-free’ doll for a child in Guatemala.

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