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Turn to Jesus (Article)

A Missionaray´s Meditations
Matthew Hernández of Sacred Heart Apostolic School reflects on his missionary experience

By Matthew Hernández, pcLC

Matthew Hernandez is from Las Angeles, CA. He first joined
the Immaculate Conception Apostolic
School in Colfax, CA in 2006, but moved to Sacred Heart in 2011, where he is now
studying as a sophomore.

It’s so easy to be proud sometimes. This proved to be true
when I set out on a humanitarian mission to Mexico. You feel really good about
yourself when you manage to raise the $1,500 you need for the trip, even though
it was only possible thanks to others’ generosity in donating to your cause
(and possibly their pity at reading your poorly written letter). But when
you’re as excited as I was when the checks started arriving, it’s easy to set
this fact aside. 

Anyways, the time for the trip comes: Friday, March 8th,
2013. We landed at the airport in Mexico City, and after waiting for our bus we
set off to the CEYCA, the school where the apostolics and precandidates from
the city’s two Legionary minor seminaries study. Following a brief tour of the
place, we bustled back onto the bus, and headed to the apostolic school of La
Joya. With my very first step into their dining room for dinner, I immediately
felt a charity overload. Being able to speak Spanish, I was overwhelmed by
their conversations. They were just so good to each other, and everything they
said was constructive and positive. All of dinner continued like this, and I
asked myself if I would be able to keep up with their niceness.  “Lord, please help me!” I pleaded.

We would be spending the next two nights at this apostolic
school. The following day we experienced their charity to the max in playing
sports with them for a good three hours. In the evening of the same day, we
went over to the other apostolic school, that of Ajusco. The spirit of service
and charity we found at La Joya also reigned among the brother here. The band
played two songs for us and later we joined the precandidate community for
supper, after playing video games with them, of course. We returned to La Joya
and went to bed, exhausted. Sunday morning saw us arising early (4 a.m., to be
precise) and going to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We spent some four
hours there, praying in the several churches that are found on the hill of
Tepeyac. Seeing Our Lady’s image was definitely a much needed deep spiritual
experience that God allowed me to undergo, preparing me for the upcoming days.
We returned to La Joya and had lunch with Fr. Sylvester, the Legion’s
vicar-general. And upon our departure from the apostolic school at the end of
the meal, the real missions began.

We took a five hour bus ride to Leon, Guanajuato, and still
further, to a little village in the middle of the mountains called Santa Rosa.
Once we arrived at eleven that night, we had dinner with the community’s parish
priest, Fr. Jorge, and several of the villagers. Fr. Jorge had about 32 other
communities under his care, scattered all over the mountains. This guy was a
hardcore apostle on fire with love for Christ, and that’s why all the people
loved him. The following day, Monday, I had one of the most fervent masses of
my life. Fr. Jorge gave a powerful homily about our mission, and he blessed us
giving us each a crucifix that would become our best friend over the next days.
Following mass, we did the opposite of all the sacrificing and suffering stuff
Father had talked about: he took us to breakfast at a wonderful restaurant in
the town. As if this wasn’t enough, Fr. Jorge then took us for a tour of Santa
Rosa.  We stopped at a store belonging to
a group of women who devoted themselves to making candies, liquors, and such
things that reflected the region’s rich traditions. We then visited a gorgeous
pottery shop and their warehouse. Fr. Daren, the rector of Sacred Heart, here
reminded us that we came as missionaries, not as tourists.

The sightseeing came to an abrupt end as we directed
ourselves back to our sleeping quarters. We gathered our bags and said goodbye
to the people who, over one night and half a day, had given us so much. We
split up into groups and, crowding onto the beds of three pickup trucks, took a
half hour drive on the disgustingly dusty and inordinately bumpy road to El
Varal, where we’d be replacing the roofs and installing insulation in a number
of adobe houses. The roofs they had were simply sheets of metal above where
they slept, often with holes in them, and pieces of cardboard over the rest of
their small home. Often when we‘d climb up on their houses to do our job, the
adobe would crumble beneath us. We cautiously moved around the roof to fasten
the sheet metal, for fear that the thin boards nailed together to serve as
beams would snap with our weight. The mountain sun burned hot on our backs as
we did our work. Many missionaries got a tan by the first day! We also built
two chapels, which were basically no-walled structures with brick floors and sheet
metal roofs. Obviously, we sweat like crazy as we worked. But there weren’t any
showers, not even running water! So we had to put up with the smell of sweaty
guy who hadn’t showered for five days. And did I mention that we had to share
tents? Five men to a tent. You can imagine how that went....  Since the village was located way up in the
mountains, the temperatures were often in the extremes, that is, really hot by
day and really cold by night. My sleeping bag didn’t offer much warmth, but
hey, it was better than nothing. And quite frankly I didn’t care that we were
deprived of many commodities during our mission trip. It was a mission trip,
after all. Just seeing the way the villagers lived helped me not feel bad about
myself. These people were tough, yet they were real people who had real souls
that really needed Christ. They were lucky to have a priest come once a month,
not because the priest did a bad job, but because the need for priests was so
great and the priests were so few.

 Any sacrifices we may
have made were simply in imitation of the people’s lifestyle: acceptance of
extreme poverty and hard work. During my whole stay, I only saw four men in the
village. Three were working with us, and one was an elderly man who couldn’t
work. All the other men, working together by families, were busy chopping down
trees from four in the morning to eleven at night. They then burned the trees
to make charcoal, which they sold for cheap because they couldn’t compete with
other producers. It took about a month to produce a large truckload, and all
they earned was about $230, or around $7 a day. Whatever money the men received
was to support the entire family. Our work didn’t seem like much in comparison
with theirs. 

All this we accomplished during our four days at El Varal.
Yet these four days were enough to change my life. Life lessons I learned
include detachment, simplicity, and acceptance of God’s will. Happiness isn’t
related to the amount of material good one has. For example, all the village
kids had to play with were a soccer ball and stray dogs. (They loved to kick
both!) Yet they always had a smile on their face. The adults as well were
always joyful, even though they suffered because they barely had food, were
cold at night, wished they could do more for their family… But their joy came
from their simple trust in God and the deep peace that ensues. While we were at
the village, a baby, only a few months old, died. These people were too simple
to understand the whole theological argument as to why God allows such thing to
happen. But in their simplicity they proved to be wiser than anyone else,
because they understood that it was God’s will, and it was somehow best for
them. Their humble reply was, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

 Many other things
happened while we were there, but our time to leave the village came that
Friday. We went to a nearby camp owned by one of the men who helped us on
missions, and there we showered for the first time in five days! Saturday we
went to the Shrine of Cristo Rey in Silao, and later to the city of Guanajuato.
Sunday was spent with at the apostolic school in Leon. Waking up early on
Monday for the five hour bus ride back to Mexico City, our trip had come to a
close. On the plane ride back, I meditated on the blessings God gave me over
the past ten days. And I’m still meditating.

It’s so easy to be proud sometimes, but when the people you
helped ended up giving you more than you gave them, something has to change.





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