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Hugs across borders: Solidarity thriving at 15

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Dialog Editor

Perspectives change, friendships are born in program that unites Guatemalans with Catholics in diocese

For 15 years now, parishioners from the Diocese of Wilmington have visited Guatemalan Catholics in the Diocese of San Marcos to make friends across borders and to learn the needs of the impoverished faithful in the Latin American nation.

Each year, members of Wilmington’s Solidarity delegations to San Marcos report being deeply affected by seeing the deprivations the Guatemalans face, but also say they are most moved by the experiencing the friendliness, happiness and deep faith life of the people there.

From St. Ann School to Santa Ana — Emily Field, second from right, a University of Delaware student met with sixth-graders, including Keyli de Leon at right, at La Escuela Santa Ana in Guatemala during a recent Solidarity trip. “I attended St. Ann School in Wilmington and recall many years of raising funds for La Escuela Santa Ana through our annual fiesta,” Field said. (Courtesy Emma Field)

Father John Hynes, the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wilmington, has been with the Solidarity project from the beginning when the two dioceses, led by Wilmington’s late Bishop Michael Saltarelli and the then-San Marcos Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini-Imeri, agreed to make their faith journeys together.

Father Hynes, who has made many trips to San Marcos, is familiar with the “conversion experience” Catholics here report after visiting Guatemala.

The pastor said the most moving moment on his trip with delegates for New Castle County last month was when a girl, Keyli de Leon, at a school in Santa Ana, Guatemala, discussed her poster project with American visitors.

“She explained her group had developed a presentation on family disintegration,” Father Hynes said.

Keyli said steps toward disintegration include: “Parents don’t pay attention to their children; parents leave their children; so, parents should think before starting a family; and parents should consider their children as their greatest treasures in life and should not refuse them life by abortion.”

Father Hynes noted Keyli’s insightful presentation had followed a folk dance she performed with classmates for their visitors from Delaware.

“I hope she’s going to high school and college,” he said.

Each year a delegation from San Marcos visits Wilmington, especially to connect with their “brothers and sisters” who work in chicken and agriculture jobs in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

On Oct. 20, Bishop Carlos Enrique Trinidad-Gomez of San Marcos will visit the Diocese of Wilmington.

San Marcos’ bishop knows of the commitment parishioners at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Easton, Md., have made to support the mission of Father Rigoberto Matias at Los Tres Reyes in El Tumbador and also of their generosity in funding a small school for children who had none at a remote plantation. (A delegation from the Easton parish, led by Father Glenn Evers, went to San Marcos this past July.)

Bishop Trinidad also knows the parishioners of St. Margaret of Scotland in Glasgow funded a new health center in the village of Viente Octobre.

A recent Wilmington delegation was at the new health center when it was dedicated this past summer.

“It was a very triumphant day,” Father Hynes said. “There were speeches and a blessing. We were very impressed by the local leadership, their sense of community and self-help.”

The Wilmington delegates also visited places in San Marcos being helped by parishioners at St. Ann’s and Resurrection parishes in Wilmington; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bear; Good Shepherd in Perryville, Md.; and also All Saints Catholic School in Elsmere.

Philip Annone, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena, was in San Marcos in August. In a reflection on his trip, he wrote that “you need not speak the same language or look the same or have the same beliefs to show and feel love of people. They say 70 percent of communication is nonverbal. I would say more like 90 percent on this journey.”

Annone also said he has become a fan of hugs. He felt love transmitted by a hug many times on his Guatemalan journey.

“I had one of the sisters say a prayer for me and hug me afterward. She told me that I am loved by her, others and God, not by her words but rather her hug.”

G. Miriam Sigler, a Jewish member of the recent Solidarity delegation, won’t forget the ministry of Maryknoll sisters at a health clinic in San Marcos. “They’ve dedicated five decades to the wellness of their community.”

Sigler also writes she is more dedicated than ever to buying fair-trade coffee, after seeing the life of plantation workers. “They work tirelessly under conditions no U.S. citizen would tolerate.”