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

Missionaries in Guatemala face multiple challenges on daily basis

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the January 19, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Father David Baronti, pictured in November 2009, is the eighth priest to be assigned from Spokane to the Diocese of Sololá to work with the Mayan Indians in Northern Guatemala. He was unable to say the Christmas Mass at Santa Catarina, but is gradually recovering from dengue fever, a tropical disease transmitted by mosquitoes. (IR file photo by Deacon Eric Meisfjord)

If Toyota Motor Company ever wants to find the ultimate road test for a new model, they should leave it in the skillful hands of Father David Baronti for a few weeks. The unpaved roads, trails, and slides that he encounters in his missionary journeys in Northern Guatemala take on the character of an obstacle course. They almost seem designed to prohibit anyone but the most daring and undaunted – like Father Baronti.

Similar challenges are faced by Dr. José Miguel, Sisters Immacu-lata Burke and Marie Tolle of the Sisters of Charity of New York, and others who have chosen to devote their lives to the service of the poor in the Spokane Diocese mission in the Guatemala Highlands. Washouts and mud slides on the steep volcanic mountain roads present the most impediments.

Dr. Miguel must frequently negotiate slides on the crest of the 10,000-feet-high Inter-American Highway just to get from his home to the clinics to care for his Mayan Indian patients. Impassable and precarious roads sometimes prevent Sisters Immaculata and Marie from getting to their nursing and pastoral duties in nearby villages.

Communications, both in- and out-of-country, are another major challenge for Spokane mission personnel. The missionaries serve thousands of native people over a vast and rugged terrain. Overland mail is not delivered to homes; most do not even have a recognized address. Some mail does reach Father Baronti’s village of Ixtahuacán – if a courier from Guatemala City happens to be going there within the next few weeks.

Phone and/or internet service is available in isolated locations on occasion. However, its reliability, along with voice and circuit quality, rule these out as trusty options. The Voice of Nahualá radio (Nawal Estéreo) reaches many remote areas, but is primarily a programmed, one-directional medium.

Health issues are a third and ever-present challenge for the Spokane missionaries. Father Baronti and the Sisters of Charity frequently identify native residents who need special medical care, such as those with severe burns, or cripples. They do what they can to care for them. For example, a man once asked Father Baronti to come to his house to give his wife, Irma, the Last Sacraments of the church. Irma was paralyzed from the neck down, and unable to move her arms. She was resigned to the fact that she was about to die. Father Baronti got Irma to a hospital, learned she had spinal tuberculosis, and arranged for an operation which cured her.

Health concerns, however, do not always rest with others. Sisters Immaculata and Marie have both had to deal with disease and impacts from local/natural disasters. This includes some extended recovery time from when their vehicle was recently struck by another car on the InterAmerican highway near their convent in Novillero.

Although Father Baronti, the eighth “Padre de Spokane,” has survived Guatemala for 37 years, he is not immune to dangerous diseases. In mid-December, Bishop de Villa of Sololá informed the Spokane Guatemala Commission that a feverish Father Baronti had been in a minor accident and was taken to a clinic where he was diagnosed with dengue fever. Dengue is an infectious tropical disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, that causes fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and skin rash.

Father Baronti had hoped to be well enough that he could offer a traditional Christmas mass in his village of Ixtahuacán. He was unable to do so. He is, however, on the road to recovery, but that that will take some time.

Travel, communication, and health concerns are only three of the many challenges with which our Spokane missionaries have to deal with on a daily basis. Those who are on the front lines of our missions, and others in foreign lands, are certainly deserving of prayers from the comfort and safety of our homes here in the U.S.

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