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

Parishes, schools respond to specific needs of Guatemala Mission

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the April 9, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Bishop Gonzalo de Villa of the Diocese of Sololá-Chimaltenango, Guatemala is shown talking with and thanking children at Cataldo School during his visit to Spokane earlier this year. All seven of Cataldo’s grades participate in a “cookie dough” sale to help their peers at a Catholic school in the Spokane Mission area of Guatemala. The students raised $1,000 for Colegio Nahualá last year and expect to do so again when their fund drive begins later this month. (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

When Casey Mills brings her “cookie dough” money to Spokane’s Cataldo School later this month, she’ll have a personal interest in how it is to be used. It’s her own hard-earned money, extracted from neighbors and relatives for the frozen ingredients she campaigned so persistently to sell. Casey’s teacher, and the other students at Cataldo, know their proceeds are destined to help fellow students at another Catholic school in far-away Guatemala.

The Guatemalan elementary school, Colegio Nahualá, offers a Catholic education to needy students in a very poor village in the highlands of Northern Guatemala. The school has some local funding, but also relies upon monthly support from the Diocese of Spokane. The diocese, in turn, receives those funds from St. Augustine Parish, Walla Walla’s St. Patrick School, and Cataldo. The annual funding is part of the sister-diocese relationship that Spokane has enjoyed with the Diocese of Sololá, Guatemala, for 50 years.

Many charities solicit funds for “general support,” and some unrestricted funds are essential. However, it is difficult to track general support contributions down to specific end uses. Donations to the Guatemala Mission follow a more defined path to a specific need or category of recipients.

The Guatemala Mission funding arrangement necessitates more communication and on-site monitoring. But it also enables contributors to serve the poor in very tangible and satisfying way. It means that students at Cataldo School can share a bond with peers in another culture and better appreciate their own access to books, computers, and noontime pizza – access that some other students do not enjoy. Both the givers and the receivers can benefit from this exchange of funds and culture.

Cataldo’s goal is to send $1,000 annually to Colegio Nahuala. With dedicated students like Casey, that goal will most likely be met again this year. At $12 per box, the 7th grader will likely generate over $100 in sales all by herself.

Other Spokane parishes have elected to support different areas of the Guatemala Mission. Parishioners at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary of the Rosary Parish, Chewelah, have provided long-standing support for the medical needs of the Mayan people living in the mission area. Nine years ago, when funding was critically needed to retain the resident doctor in Novillero, parishioners at St. Mary Parish, Spokane, offered to help. Under the guidance of Msgr. John Steiner and an active committee, St. Mary Parish has extended their giving to medicines, drugs, and other supplies for the clinic operations in Guatemala.

The Official Directory of the Diocese states that “All parishes of the Spokane Diocese are expected to contribute some assistance on a regular basis, even if it is a small monetary amount.” Last year, when parishioners of St. Joseph, Colbert, decided to formalize their support, they made a special effort to match the wishes of their congregation with the needs of the mission. Their selection process included a display of mission activities for parishioners. Members of the Guatemala Commission made a presentation on the needs of the mission for the parish’s Parish Pastoral Council.

With the help of parishioners Jim Tate and Don Baldwin, the St. Joseph Parish Council settled on directing their support to school and youth programs in Ixta-huacán. The addition of the Guatemala Mission to the parish contribution envelope packets made the impact of their assistance almost immediate.

Father David Baronti, the Spokane Diocese priest serving in Guatemala, was overjoyed to learn of the support from St. Joseph Parish. With that funding, he was able to arrange for busses to take more than 50 members of his youth group to visit some of the religious sites in Guatemala. He reported that it was an enlightening adventure into the history of their faith. Many of the youngsters in the group had never had an opportunity to travel beyond their local village area.

Now that contacts have been made, the benefits of the relationship seem destined to grow. Don Baldwin, who is fluent in Spanish, has already exchanged e-mails with a member of the Ixtahuacán youth group. The two will have ample common ground to explore in the future, for Don is a teacher and they are students.

St. Joseph joins the list of other parishes that channel their support to specific needs in the mission. For many years, Sacred Heart Parish, Pullman, has maintained an interest in the operation of the “Voice of Nahualá” radio station. St. Patrick of Spokane has directed its support to seminarians. With the encouragement of their respective pastors, Fathers José Millan and Victor Blazovich, help in those areas is continuing. Other parishes have elected to focus upon various other pastoral and administrative needs.

Spokane’s Guatemala Mission offers parishioners of the diocese more than a way of fulfilling a Christian obligation to “help the poor.” It includes a unique opportunity for a direct and personal connection with others who are struggling to survive. By elevating a contribution from a checkbook liability to a specific need, or specific people, the gifts take on a more personal dimension, one that can touch the heart of the donors with an awareness that raises their love to a higher and more compassionate level.

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