Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
‘The most humble and gracious people I’ve ever met’
Story and photos by Jim Tate, for the Inland Register
(From the Sept. 15, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
The following notes are from my visit to our sister diocese at Sololá, Guatemala. With fellow parishioners Patt Perlman and Don Baldwin, we visited Father David Baronti, a Spokane Diocese priest serving in Ixtahuacán, and Sisters Immaculata Burke and Marie Tolle of the Sisters of Charity of New York, who minister in Novillero. We delivered new vestments, medical supplies and computer equipment funded by our parish, St. Joseph in Colbert.
We left Spokane at 6 a.m. yesterday – flew to San Francisco, to Houston and finally to Guatemala City. We had no issues in customs and a huge ruckus greeted us at the Guatemala Airport. Actually, the crowd was there to cheer on the Junior National Soccer team returning from a successful trip to Argentina. We were met by both Father Baronti and Patricia of Patricia’s Hotel.
The next morning we were off on a wild goose chase through Guatemala City (Father Baronti was the goose, I was chaser in a rental). First stop was to purchase $15 cell phones at Walmart (the phones that are changing Guatemala). We now had a communication link. We bought some groceries and stopped at Office Depot for a computer table. Next we drove out of the city to Chimaltenago where we met with Kirk Lightfield, computer tech for a Christian school and supplier of refurbished computers. We purchased four reconfigured computers for $85 each. Wow – what a great deal. Kirk was a Godsend. Everything was boxed up and made ready to go. His organization, Computers for Hope, is a blessing to the poor of Guatemala.
Next, off to drop Patt with the Sisters at Novillero.
Sisters Imaculata and Maria had a beautiful and delicious meal waiting for us. After breaking bread, Father David and I left for Ixtahuacán. Fifteen miles of Pan-American Highway and five miles of rugged gravel mountain road later, we were there: Ixtahuacán and the Marian Center, my home for the next eight days.
Now I’m comfy cozy and the last day and a half have gone amazingly well. Everyone here has been unbelievably hospitable.
Rain is pouring on the tin roof of the Ixtahuacán Center. It’s 8:30 p.m. and I’m considering my day in the Guatemala Highlands. The first Mass was right here at Santa Caterina Cathedral at 6 a.m. Father Baronti and I, along with Miguel, the pastoral support, headed far up into the highlands to a casario, or small village, for our next Mass. After about 30 minutes on a rugged mountain road, we were at the base of a trail, leading up the mountain. It took us about an hour to conquer the 2,000 steps up to the casario church. After Father Baronti heard confessions, the Mass began. The Mayan women sat on the right in their strikingly beautiful traditional clothes. On the left, most of the men wore western-style clothing, but the oldest men wore colorful jackets and the traditional brown skirt of Ixtahuacán.
After Mass we were invited to a house to enjoy chicken and pasta soup with tortillas. The women patted tortillas and chatted while Father David discussed local issues with local church leaders.
Back at the cathedral by noon, we looked over a construction project designed to stop the movement of water under the church structure. Local groups are taking turns working on the project.
After meeting with the school master about our computer project we were off driving to another Mass 90 minutes away. This is the life of Father Baronti, who has been shepherding this flock for 35 years. It was amazing seeing love being poured out by the shepherd and the flock on each other. Couple this with the spectacular mountain setting and kindness of these humble people and it was a day I’ll never forget. Oh, and by the way, the weather was perfect until minutes after my arrival in this room – then the rains came.
The Mayan people of Santa Caterina Ixtahaucán are the most humble and gracious people I’ve ever met. They are quiet and reserved. The girls cover their mouths when they giggle and run when I aim my camera their way. This is what made tonight’s presentation so surprising. Father Baronti, Patt Pearlman and I were the guests of honor at a youth group thank-you celebration. We were celebrated and given gifts: Father Baronti, celebrating 35 years of serving the people of Ixtahaucán, and Patt and I, representing St. Joseph Parish, who funds the youth group. There were about 140 youth at the party – oops, celebration. No, actually, it did turn into a party. After some earlier singing and traditional Guatemala dancing, the band got cranked up with some Holy Ghost-inspired, Guatemala-style Christian rocking. The spirit was moving, people were dancing and shouting to the point that I got out there and joined them, closely followed by Father David and Patt. The party went on for three hours and what a joy it was to watch those kids having fun.
This morning Don and I visited the grade school of Ixtahuacán. Recently it was renamed for Father Baronti. The schoolmaster emphasized that Father Baronti and the youth group were a major reason drugs and gangs are not prevalent in Ixtahuacán as they are in other parts of Guatemala. Our visit to the school was to present and install two computers for the students to use for learning. Most of the students have never used a computer. The teachers were very grateful and the 160 students warmly thanked us.
After a run for supplies, it was off to the upper school (grades 6-12) where we got three computers up and running. Here we also installed Internet service and a projector for instructional use. The students and teachers were very excited about future activities using this new technology.
This evening we saw many of the students again at the Marian Center that is supported by St. Joseph Parish, Colbert. It was movie night. About 90 youth enjoyed popcorn and Kool-Aid while watching Shrek. Employing a projector and great sound system, the audience was fully engaged and it was great fun watching them enjoying the film.
The Ixtahuacán center in which I’m staying is a community center. It’s next to the church and the town plaza. Lying in bed is interesting in Ixtahuacán. As you’re settling in for sleep, you are reminded by the toll of the bells at 11 p.m. and midnight that you’re next to the church. The bells return at 5 and 6 a.m., followed by a melody of bells inviting parishioners to prayer.
Meanwhile, the town plaza is a gathering place for dogs. The pack’s favorite activity is laying around all day near the mom-and-pop food shop on the square. After a day of rest and snacks they are ready for a night of arguing and defending their space.
Another activity to expect most mornings is the repeated honking of car horns. Drivers of pickup trucks offering a ride up the highway (for a fee) honk repeatedly for 5-10 minutes looking for customers. “Hoping to sleep in? Good luck.”
Yes, the crowing of roosters were the least of my worries. Church bells, barking dogs and honking horns kept me up. In addition we had Father Baronti’s car alarm go off several times and a local banged out a rhythmic tune on plastic buckets several mornings. Somehow I still managed to get plenty of sleep and had a great time in Guatemala.
Father David Baronti celebrates Mass.
Colbert parishioner Don Baldwin demonstrates some of the possibilities of which the new computers are capable.
A youth gathering turned into a joyful musical celebration.
Colbert parishioner Patt Perlman (left) holds up a new vestment for Sisters Marie Tolle (center) and Immaculata Burke (right) to see. Vestments are made for the newly ordained priests by St. Joseph parishioners. More vestments will be going down over the next few months. (IR photos courtesy of Jim Tate)