|The missionaries from Immaculate Conception Apostolic School|
Following is the second of two testimonies from students at Immaculate
Conception Apostolic School, Center Harbor, New Hampshire about their experience
on a recent mission trip to Mexico.
by Felipe Chavez
o’clock in the morning and I wake to a flashlight
shining in my face. It’s Br. Lucas, our dean. I
open my tired eyes, look up at the ceiling and
think, “Time to go to Mexico, Lord!” I get up
and start my morning routine and once I’m finished, grab
my hiking bag and hop on the bus.
We leave around
three-thirty in the morning, and arrive at around five in
the morning. Already, we have encountered a few “scary” situations.
We almost forgot our passport-bag on the bus, and one
of my brothers thought he left his gear back home.
But I knew God willed us to go on this
mission trip because the conflicts were immediately solved.
are on the plane, I realize going to Mexico for
missions isn’t going to be a vacation. I am the
only fluent Spanish-speaker in the pre-candidate community, and reflections of
Christ’s ministry here on earth start hitting home. I know
there is only one thing I can do to love
God more fully in this situation, and that is to
leave everything in His hands.
It is a six- or seven-hour
flight to Mexico City. Once we arrive, three of my
brothers who suffer from motion-sickness are in rough shape for
at least two days. I am fine and happy to
be back in Mexico. I’m glad to smell the combination
of petroleum and street tacos in the air. However, there
is only one thing that is different compared to all
of the other times I have been in Mexico. I
have never been here as a person discerning a vocation to
the priesthood, as a young man who deeply loves Christ.
After we get all of our baggage, we ride to
the other Apostolic School in Mexico City called La Joya.
I meet the other pre-candidates there and a few apostolic
students as well. I surprised at how charitable all the
pre-candidates are. Two of them walk up to me a
little nervous. One of them says “Hello! How are you?”
and I respond in Spanish. He laughs because he thought
I didn’t speak Spanish, and his face resumes its original
|Felipe Chavez and a new friend|
The next night, I am sitting at the table
and I ask if they will pass the Horchata, a
famous Mexican drink. The pre-candidate next to me grabs the
pitcher and pours some into my glass. He sees I
have no napkin and so he gets me one. Two
things came to my mind immediately: I need to step
it up and be more Christ-like; and I realize Christ
died for these students, too. Everything they do, as far
as spiritual life, is exactly like ours, only “in Spanish.”
We leave for missions the next day and it is
a six-hour bus ride from the Apostolic School to our
“drop-off.” From there, we get in a pickup truck with
railings in the back and ride for half an hour
to our destination, Chilapa.
When we arrive, I am stunned to
see how poor the people are. I have been to
Mexico “millions” of times before, but never to a village
like this. Houses are held together by wooden planks, the
wiring is in poor condition, dirty slippers and ripped sandals are
the normal attire and there is a small chapel the
size of a typical American living room.
We set up
our tents inside an abandoned church with a missing a
roof and without most of its walls. While we are
unpacking and setting up tents, a group of kids walks
up to us. I ask one of them in Spanish,
“Hey! What were all of you doing?”
“We were singing.”
The little boy replied in a bashful tone. “We sing,
too,” I said. “Want to hear us sing?” They all
giggle, nodding their heads. My brothers and I quickly think
of songs we sing repeatedly in Mass and begin singing.
They love it! Unfortunately, we have to get going so
we stop at four songs and tell them tomorrow we
will sing more.
For the next four days, our schedule
will be something like this:
- Wake up every morning at
7:00 am and pray our morning offering from 7:20 to
- Have breakfast from 8:00-8:40 am
- Work until lunch at around
- Start working again until 5:00 pm
- Play games with the
kids until Mass at 7:00 pm
- Have dinner and talk about
the people we encountered, the food we ate, and how
many times we were asked for candy while walking from
place to place
Later on, we set up a fire
and have night prayers and then go to sleep. There
aren´t any showers, so we didn´t shower.
Our work involves
setting up new wiring in people’s houses. It is a
little tough for me because the person helping us do
the work gets annoyed at us when we make mistakes.
But I am the only one who can understand him, and
speak to him. It is fine, though. I can’t blame him
for being annoyed, and we are good friends by the
end of the day.
The people we are helping are poor,
simple people. Most of them don’t go to school or
know about apologetics to defend their faith. But what they
do have is a sincere devotion to our Blessed Mother
and trust in her intercession. Every house we enter has
a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a little
shrine dedicated to her. The people have their values in
life in the right order.
Whenever Fr. Thanh, our vice
rector, hears confessions, celebrates Mass, or holds Benediction, the people
really want to go. I walk from one house to
another to pick up tools and people always ask me,
“Do you know what time the Priest is ending confessions?’’
or “Do you know what time Mass will begin?’’ Every
evening, Fr. Thanh celebrates Mass outside of our camp and
hundreds of people show up. One day Fr. Thanh can’t
|Hundreds of people come to Mass|
even go work with us because he hears Confessions all
These peoples’ hearts are full of faith. Whenever
we work at a new house, as a sign of
gratitude, the family always feeds us. After Mass we talk
with some families, and some of us hear them pour
out their life story. It is amazing.
One day, when I
am giving Catechism to a group of boys, I ask,
“Who is the Holy Trinity?” I lose count of how
many times someone answers “Mary.” Slowly but surely, I get
to them to say “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I
explain to them who we were, and what a seminarian
is. They are content with what they learn.
we give out candy to all the kids who come
to Mass. There are more than 200 kids every night!
I hear my name from all corners of the abandoned
church crying out, “Felipe, help! How do you say ‘please
form a line’ and ‘no cutting’?” In the end, we
work at more than 100 houses and give testimony to countless numbers
|Visiting the local families|
of people. I think the experience brings a deep conversion
for all of us.
When we get back home, we are
all tired. We arrive at two in the morning. However,
I can’t stop thinking about the simplicity of the people.
I can’t stop blessing and thanking God for having redeemed
all of us from sin. My heart is open with
a deep and sincere awareness that Christ died for everyone,
and His love remains the same as it was when
He extended His arms on the Cross and gave His
life for us. Truly, God is present in all people.