Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Honduras mission trip during spring break: working with college students ‘zealous about their faith’
by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the April 19, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)
For the second year, a priest of the Spokane Diocese spent part of his vacation time engaging in sacramental ministry in remote sections of Honduras.
Father Kevin Oiland, parochial vicar for the parishes in Colville, Kettle Falls, Northport, Republic, and Curlew, was invited last year to spend spring break in Honduras, part of a program run by Franciscan University of Steubenville.
The school fields teams of student volunteers, then recruits priests to accompany the team into some of the more remote sections of Honduras, a Central American country east of Guatemala.
One of his parishioners invited him to come along in 2011, and Father Oiland repeated the experience this year.
Father Oiland said that five teams spread out to different spots – ideally, one priest per four students per team. Student participants do all their own fundraising, including raising enough to pay the costs of the priests who travel with them.
The idea of the program is to bring the sacraments to remote areas of Central America – other teams travel to Guatemala – to areas which not only have no resident priest, but might have no other sacramental ministry for months at a time.
The area he visited was around Trujillo, on the north coast of Honduras. From there, two Honduran priests serve 56 small communities scattered throughout the countryside.
“A lot of the towns don’t even have roads,” said Father Oiland. Travel options included transport by boat but, more commonly, by hiking into the village, a walk that sometimes took hours.
At least one of the students was bilingual and would act as a translator, he said. His own Spanish skills were enough for him to hear Confessions and celebrate Mass.
Trips and scheduling were arranged by the students, leaders who had participated the year before.
Typically, the mission team would hike into the town and meet with a delegate from the local parish. While the team rested – the hikes were sometimes hours in length – word of the visitors would spread throughout the town. Each town had its own small church, he said.
He would hear confessions before Mass. As he heard confessions, students would make presentations, witnessing about their own faith, perhaps why they wanted to take part in the mission work. Mass would be celebrated in the evening, with students providing music..
Team members spent the night with host families. The next morning he would visit the sick, make Communion calls, hear confessions if desired. “We tried to give everybody as much opportunity as possible so that they could receive those sacraments,” he said.
He became involved in his first trip, in 2011, for a number of reasons, including adventure.
Before that, “I’d never been on a mission trip before,” he said.
The opportunity for ministry really appealed to him, in areas where the need was acute. There are still areas where sacramental ministry is a rarity – Mass, Confessions, anointing the sick, “people, even in Catholic countries, who don’t have the opportunity to receive the sacraments regularly.”
He also enjoyed working with his college-age partners, whom he called “college students zealous about their faith.”
Father Oiland had done campus ministry at DeSales High School when he was assigned in Walla Walla as a newly-ordained priest.
“They have a lot of energy,” he said. The world is new to them. It’s exciting to get to know them, to wonder what they will become. It’s exciting to think about: Where is this young person going to go? What amazing things will they do with their life?
“I try to be young at heart,” he said. “It’s rejuvenating” to be around teens and young adults. “Maybe I never really grew up?” he laughed.
But besides the opportunity to minister where the need is palpable, besides interacting with zealous young Catholics, he also was attracted to participate for his own spiritual growth.
“There’s something to be said for going outside your comfort zone, your culture, the comforts you take for granted,” said Father Oiland. When those things have been removed from your life, even temporarily, “you have to rely more on God and what’s provided for you, literally.
The teams relied completely on the generosity of host families who would feed and shelter them at the villages. “We didn’t know what we’d be eating, where we’d be staying,” he said. “There’s something to be said for just receiving – being grateful for hospitality. You’re with people who don’t have nearly as much as you have, but they’re generous with what they have.”
Another helpful aspect was the team experience. The Steubenville students are “Catholic. They love the faith, they love God, and we need that to grow.
“It’s hard to be a Christian alone,” he said. It’s nice to have that constant.” All week there were conversations about Faith, about how people related to God. The different environment, different culture, the change from his usual circumstances allowed God to speak to him in ways that everyday life didn’t necessarily allow. “It was almost like a retreat.”
There was something to be said for the rigorous physicality of the experience. That physical engagement – hiking in, hiking back out – was “I suppose emblematic of the spiritual life,” similar, he said, to a pilgrimage, “something physically rigorous to remind us of the spiritual rigor” of the life of faith.
“Personally, I felt like both years, my own personal experience was, God was doing things in my own life, giving me something on this trip that I needed at that particular time,” said Father Oiland. “Graces. It was affirming for me. And not so much about me, but how much we take for granted – what we have, the graces, especially in the sacraments.
“There was one town where they were expecting us at a certain time. We were two hours late. They said they would have waited all day.”
The people he met, to whom he ministered, “don’t have the sacraments regularly, so when they come, they really want them. And we have (access to the sacraments) all the time, but we don’t appreciate them. I see that in my own life.”
Were he invited, would he do it again?
“I certainly would, if I could.”