A Letter from Friar Mark Weaver, OFM Conv.
In 1997 St. Joseph University Parish began a special relationship with St. Maximilian Kolbe (SMK), a poor parish in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, Central America. SMK is served by Conventual Franciscan Friars, just like SJUP. Motivated by this twinning relationship, our parish has sent lots of teams to help with particular needs of the parishioners there. These teams have gotten to know and love not only the Central American friars but many parishioners of SMK and have found these experiences to be life-changing.
Every year our parishioners come back to Terre Haute exhausted but happy. So what was different about this year’s October medical mission? It was remarkable for the close collaboration between our Indiana folk and our Tegucigalpa hosts and partners: Our Indiana medical staff included Dr. Lilly, Friar Paul, and Tammy. They were joined by local Drs. Yolanda and Ofelia who were with us at each of the four sites where we set up clinics and also by Drs. Lofo and Meyling. Two sixth year medical students joined us one morning too. For translation, Friar Mark was joined in Honduras by Sister Denise, SND, and at different times by four young people from Tegucigalpa: Josh, Jackie, Rocky, and Max. Bill and Shannon, LeDonna, and Cookie handled our little pharmacy, with occasional help from others. Friar Isidoro was great in planning, logistics, and any particular need we had. Friars Javier and Edgar were most welcoming, but we still missed Ramiro, “the hugging friar,” who was away with his family. With so many volunteers, we were able to help a lot of people, probably between 700-800. Even the stickers which Lilly brought for the little kids she served went a long way: they seemed to multiply.
Alba and her daughter Carol prepared absolutely wonderful meals. We never had anything we didn’t enjoy. So much for sacrifice! We had an adventuresome group that was eager to try to the local delicacies, even those hawked by street venders, like corn on the cob, tamales, fried yucca, horchata, and pupusas. You might expect that we’d have some sickness, at least some good diarrhea. Sorry! I won’t say who, but one Terre Hautian enjoyed the food so much that he ate a little too much one evening.
We prayed together every day, but will not forget four Masses we were privileged to share: On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi we had a glorious Mass in which ten young people professed vows as Secular (lay) Franciscans. Among them were four married couples. There were about 700 people at our Sunday Mass at the parish. Wow! And afterwards we baptized 21 persons, from tykes to an adult.
On our last night in Tegucigalpa, we participated in the Eucharist at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Suyapa, inaugurating the “Year of Faith.” The Cardinal and ten other bishops were cool, but what a great experience! There were somewhere between fifteen hundred and three thousand people at Mass. They were so enthusiastic. They sang powerfully. A whole sea of hands went up after the Creed to personally “own” and promise to put that profession of faith into action. True, the old school bus that took us there and brought us back was a bunch of junk: it took mechanics to get it started after that Mass; we were even talking about pushing it. And the headlights were shorted out. But our spirits were high as we returned to the friary.
The last Mass was on the morning of our departure, with friars Isidoro, Javier, and Edgar. After one reading in English and another in Spanish, Friar Isidoro spoke about the feast of the day and about our medical mission. Then everyone shared what this experience had meant for the living of their faith. We were deeply grateful to the Lord as we received Holy Communion. After the normal final blessing of the Mass, the eight of us gathered around the three local friars and sang a blessing for them and for the people of their parish.
And may the Lord bless all of you too, particularly those who helped this medical mission with your vitamins and other medicines, with your donations, and with your prayers. We couldn’t have done it without you.