Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Despite economic challenges, Guatemala’s people are ‘joyful, hardworking, and hospitable’

Story and photo by Jim Tate, for the Inland Register

(From the October 17, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

The resplendent quetzal is one of the world’s most beautiful birds. Indigenous to the Central American highlands, its lovely plumage grows up to three feet long. Sacred to the ancient Maya people, feathers of the quetzal have adorned priests and royalty. Unfortunately, the future of these striking birds is in jeopardy. Their primary threat is the disappearance of their tropical forest habitat. The Mayan people of Guatemala have long revered the quetzal – their currency is even called the quetzal. Unique, beautiful and vulnerable: Guatemala and its national symbol have much in common.

Guatemala has a unique character. Its beautiful colonial churches and ancient Mayan cities are world treasures. About the size of Ohio, Guatemala’s landscape is breathtaking. Several of its towering volcanos (nearly 14,000 feet) are still active. Though volcanic ash fortifies the fertile land, eruptions are a danger. Earthquakes and mudslides are also common in much of the country.

Guatemala is also blessed with beautiful beaches on two coasts. Humid and steamy, the coasts have white-sand beaches on the Atlantic and black-sand beaches on the Pacific. These coastal lowlands have been converted from jungle and swamp to productive farmland. Unfortunately, tropical storms and hurricanes occur periodically.

The Diocese of Sololá, Spokane’s sister diocese, is located in the picturesque highland region. This is the home of many of Guatemala’s native Mayan people. Making up 40 percent of the country’s population, these native groups survived the Spanish conquest by living in the rugged mountains the conquistadores could not conquer. This isolation, by racial as well as topographical divisions, is still an issue in Guatemala today.

The highlands are a magical place to visit – spectacular mountain lakes, smoking volcanos, scenic colonial churches in quaint mountain villages. The people wear vivid colorful native clothing specific to their village. Despite the prevalent poverty, they are joyful, hard-working and hospitable. The climate is cool and comfortable, with minimal variation in temperature.

The top tourist attractions are Antigua and Tikal.

The former colonial capital city of all Central America, Antigua, is a charming city highlighted by inspiring colonial architecture and cobbled streets. You will see visitors from around the world in its streets and plazas.

Tikal was an immense ancient Mayan city of as many as 100,000 people. It boasts steep, 20-story pyramids, complex palaces, temples, baths, shrines, and ball courts. According to Fodor’s travel guide, “Tikal may be the most visceral, physically affecting, mentally challenging, unforgettable place that exists in Central America.”

As members of our diocese travel several times each year to our mission in Guatemala, we are continually amazed by the beauty before us. Yes, Guatemala is an impoverished country. Many people there struggle to survive. The infrastructure and standard of living is certainly not what we are used to in Eastern Washington. Yet, each visit leaves us inspired by the strong spirit of the people of Guatemala.

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