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

Guatemalan youth convention expected to draw over 10,000 – if help can be found

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 20, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Bishop Gonzalo de Villa energizes the thousands of Guatemalan youth who attended last year’s Youth Conference of the Diocese of Sololá-Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Bishop de Villa’s diocese is very mountainous. Many of the young people traveled several hours by bus to attend the religious event. He was warmly received during his visit to Spokane earlier this year, and will be joining with the group that travels to Guatemala in November to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Spokane-Sololá mission partnership. (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

Father David Baronti, a priest of the Spokane Diocese serving in the mission in Guatemala, was both elated and perplexed when the town of Ixtahuacán was selected for next year’s Sololá Youth Conference. Last year’s conference had been an overwhelmingly successful climax to the diocesan calendar year. He knew the 2010 conference would convey graces “of incommensurate proportions for all of us, youth as well as for people like me.”

On the other hand, his village of (old) Ixtahuacán had to come up with the funding. He knew there was no way the residents of his very poor and remote village could raise the funds called upon to support the event. A food shortage was already in the making. In his words, “By next month, the majority ... of our families will be rationing the number of tortillas that they consume daily.”

The selection of Old Ixtahuacán arose from a chance event that is noteworthy in terms of two factors: the number of participants and the location. According to those who will be in charge of the logistics, the “Congreso de Jovenes – 2010 – Sololá/Chimaltenango” is expected to draw from 10,000-15,000 youth. A large metropolitan center could accommodate such a meeting, but that is not where it will be held. The location, determined by a chance process, turned out to be the village of Ixtahuacán.

The location of each year’s Youth Group Convention is selected at the end of the previous year meeting. Someone walks out into the audience and hands a cross to an unknown participant. The next meeting is held in that participant’s home city. Earlier this year, a boy from Father David Baronti’s village of (old, or Antigua) Ixtahuacán grasped the cross.

Old Ixtahuacán came close to dissolution in 1998 when nearly 90 percent of the 600 families evacuated the site, 7,500 feet above sea level, after Hurricane Mitch dumped devastating rains on the village. Residents hiked up the mountains to nearly 11,000 feet and established New Ixtahuacán. Old Ixtahuacán is now reemerging, but the pace has been difficult and dilatory.

Realizing that Old Ixtahuacán could never accommodate 10,000 youngsters, the bishop of Sololá agreed to host the conference in New Ixtahuacán (Chwi Patan). It has more room, and is very near the Inter-American Highway. Busses can easily get into the village.

The problem for Father Baronti is that the youth from Old Ixtahuacán are expected to raise nearly $15 per family to help fund the conference. “We in our parish know that it will have a tremendous, tremendous effect on the kids,” wrote Father Baronti. “But the leaders of my parish and I agree. ... I really do not think that I should ask the people for that kind of money…. They could not give it.”

In support of the youth of the Ixtahuacán communities, and the efforts of Father Baronti and Bishop de Villa, the Spokane Diocese Guatemala Commission has accepted the challenge of helping the teenagers raise the needed funds. That means raising $5,000 beyond the planned 2009-10 Guatemala Mission budget.

Approximately $3,000 has been raised (or promised) thus far, so $2,000 more is needed. Spokane parishioners who would like to help are invited to send their contributions to the Guatemala Mission, PO Box 1453, Spokane, WA 99210. Please mark your tax deductable check “Youth Conference.”

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

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