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Sister Parish visit 2008

June 16, 2008

From June 16th to the 23rd, nine members of St. Joseph parish, Old Mission San Jose, traveled to Guatemala to visit their sister community, Santa Maria del Camino, in the impoverished township of Villa Lobos I. They carried with them over 2,000 toothbrushes and a number of First Communion dresses that were donated by member of St. Joseph parish and other neighboring parishes, including Our Lady of Guadalupe and Holy Spirit in Fremont and St. Thomas of Canterbury in Campbell. Father Ignatius DeGroot, the Franciscan priest who introduced St. Joseph parish to Santa Maria del Camino and who spent six years ministering to the people there, spoke at all the Masses on the weekend of June 14-15 and presided over a commissioning service to send forth the nine parishioners: Msgr. Manuel Simas, Bill Norwalk, Victoria Norwalk, Ilief and Irene Andersen, Jill Popolizio, Marlene Kowalski, Bob Loew, and Kay Tierney. The purpose of this visit was to build deeper relationships between the people of St. Joseph and the people of Santa Maria del Camino.

During the week in Guatemala, the group had the opportunity to meet many of the parishioners and to participate in numerous activities. This article will highlight some of the events. (Click on a photo to make it larger)

On their first day in Guatemala, the group visited Jessica’s home. Jessica is a happy and energetic 10 year old. The First Communion dress she is wearing was donated by a St. Joseph parishioner. Last year, she and her mother were walking home from church when Jessica was caught in the crossfire of two rival gangs.

She is unable to walk and is in need of a surgery, but her family is unable to afford the surgery. The family has adapted their dirt-floor, tin-roof, windowless home so that Jessica can perform physical therapy exercises at home. She lays on the dirt floor and uses pulleys connected to soda bottles filled with sand to build up her arm strength.

As in many developing countries, tap water is not drinkable. Water-borne diseases are a major source of illness and death in Guatemala. St. Joseph parish has worked with Healing Waters, International to place three water purification systems where people can buy pure water at a fraction of the street price. Here Jill Popolizio (left) and Marlene Kowalski work with Brian to fill jugs and distribute pure water. Brayan’s parents have run the distribution center since it was installed two years ago. However, Brayan’s dad, Jesus, has been hospitalized and is in need of a coronary stent, a procedure the family cannot afford. His mother recently had surgery and cannot lift the 40-pound jugs. Brayan, 16, now runs the center and attends school only on Saturdays.

Various groups from the parish prepared and served the meals. Most meals were served in the church hall with anywhere from 20 to 40 people. It was very moving to see people arriving on foot, by bus, or sometimes by car carrying all the food and bringing their best dishes, glasses, silverware, and tablecloths from home. Rising gas and food prices have had a huge impact on their lives, but they served their visitors like royalty. It was very humbling to see how much gave when they have so little. The parish doesn't have a kitchen, so after eating, people had to carry their dirty dishes home to wash them.

Parish Council president Gladys DeGuerva (center) presents just a few of the many gifts the St. Joseph group received—shirts for the men and purses for the women.

Santa Maria del Camino is a vibrant faith community. Sunday Masses are at 7am and 7:30 pm. Even at these less-than-ideal hours the church, which has seating for about 600, is filled to capacity, with the overflow standing outside both entrances.

The generosity of the people in Santa Maria del Camino is unbelievable. From opening their homes and hearts to their visitors, to feeding them, to providing them with accommodations and transportation, they truly lived the scripture: Let each one give... not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). When one member of the St. Joseph group commented how much work they had done, they simply responded "It is our pleasure to serve you and we do it gladly." And from the look in their eyes, you knew they were sincere.

Msgr. Simas enjoyed his visit to the day care center of Villa Lobos II. The day care center has been funded by a German group that is no longer able to continue its support. The center, which is desperately needed, is in danger of closing if another source of support is not found.

The St. Joseph youth group sent an altar cloth with their hand prints to the Guatemala parish. Here, the Santa Maria del Camino youth are painting an altar cloth for St. Joseph parish.

Bill Norwalk and his daughter Victoria (right) with CFCA sponsored teen Mario.

Some members of St. Joseph parish also sponsor children through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA), a Catholic lay organization that provides services to the poor in 25 developing countries around the world. During this visit, sponsors had the opportunity to spend time with their sponsored children.

Kay Tierney with CFCA sponsored child Erika Marlene Kowalski with CFCA sponsored child Neyda Jill Popolizio with CFCA sponsored child Elsa
Bob Loew is a high school math teacher. He was the only one in the group fluent in Spanish, so he was constantly called on to translate. In Guatemala, he spent some time interacting with this overcrowded class of 70 high school students, teaching them about the U.S. and answering their questions.

On Sunday afternoon, the parish held a big fiesta to say “adiós” to their “norte americano” friends. Here Irene and Ilief Andersen and Victoria Norwalk (back row right) watch the presentation with some of the Guatemalan families.

Santa Maria del Camino is one of 11 communities that make up one gigantic parish. The overall parish has more than 180,000 people, with six large Catholic churches, five smaller missions and two full-time priests. St. Joseph parish in Fremont works with the Santa Maria del Camino community, but the other communities are also in great need. If you know of a church that would be willing to partner with another of these communities, please contact Msgr. Simas (510 656-2364), Bill Norwalk (wnorwalk@isfllp.com) or Kay Tierney (wordsbykay@comcast.net). There are no words to describe the experience of sharing friendship and faith with these remarkable people of Guatemala. Your rewards will be far greater than anything you can imagine.

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