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Turn to Jesus (Article)

What a Blessing from God!
Holy Redeemer students and fathers bring spiritual and material gifts to village in El Salvador

Fathers and Sons
Fathers and sons from Holy Redeemer parish arrive in El Salvador

By Michelle Ardillo

"We feel so blessed to have you and your group visit us each year.  You have no idea how much we look forward to seeing you…how is it possible that someone can care about us here in the mountains of Zaragoza?” said a mother in the small town of Corralito to Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, on his fourth annual mission trip to Zaragoza, El Salvador. 

Fr. Michael has been working with the youth in the Washington DC area for 18 years.  He currently runs an after-school leadership training program at Holy Redeemer parish in Kensington, Maryland, and at the Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center in Bethesda, Maryland. 

“All of these men and their sons came all the way from Washington just to visit US?” the mother continued in her praise. “What a blessing from God!  Thank you so much from the heart…we are all so grateful!”

On December
Fr. Michael Sliney LC says Mass in the little village chapel
17, 2011, Fr. Sliney departed on a 6-day mission trip, taking with him 24 fathers and their sons.  Among them were Michael Kirvan and his twin 8th grade sons Chris and Dan, along with their classmate, Jack Winters and his father Michael.  The three boys missed a few days of both school and Christmas break to go on this mission trip, but as Jack Winters commented, “This trip was a life changing experience for me and I will remember it for the rest of my life.”

Spiritual Preparation

The goal of the annual mission trip is to bring Christmas spirit to three remote and very poor villages in the mountains.  The teams of fathers and sons go door-to-door in the mornings visiting homes and offering little gifts of rosaries and holy cards.

“We were mobbed for rosaries and prayer cards,” said Michael Kirvan. “Can you imagine (when we offered) soccer balls and shoes?”

The missionaries tried to help prepare their hosts spiritually for Christmas by reading the Gospel of the various Nativity passages.  In the afternoons, Fr. Sliney offered confessions for a few hours while the
Michael and sons
Father Michael Kirvan and sons Chris (left) and Dan
children played soccer, and then they celebrated Mass in their little village chapel. 

“Every afternoon we would play soccer with the children and have Mass at their town’s chapel,” said Chris Kirvan. “Unfortunately the towns didn’t have much of a chapel.  We made do with what we had.”

In spite of the poverty and living conditions, Michael Kirvan said “they are genuinely happy people and holy people.”

Communication between the villagers and missionaries was facilitated by 10th and 11th grade students attending high school in San Salvador where classes are taught in English.  “The translators were very generous with their time and energy,” said Michael Kirvan. “They took four days out of their Christmas vacation to work long days with us.”

Offering Material Gifts

The highlight of the trip came on the third day when 500 pairs of “gently used” soccer cleats and tennis shoes, approximately 120 soccer balls and the equivalent of six cafeteria tables with clothing stacked two feet high on each were distributed to people who had gathered for this final event.  The athletic gear and clothing was collected from the home parishes of the missionaries prior to departure.

Jack Winters praised Holy Redeemer School and parish community.  “It was great that so many students and parishioners donated shoes and sports equipment to the people we visited.” 

The villagers were very grateful, and in the end donations ran out just as the last group was collecting items.  As Fr. Sliney said, “On this mission trip, a 12 year-old-boy came in with a group of 15 little children from his village and helped each one of them pick out a pair of shoes, making sure each pair fit.  Thirty minutes later, when the options were far more limited, he then looked for his own pair.” 

Michael Winters summed up the experience, “Fr. Michael Sliney was an inspirational, tireless leader of a wonderful group of young men and their dads. The trip to Zaragoza, El Salvador, was truly an awesome adventure.” 

Dan Kirvan said, “If, when we came, we lifted their spirits, then our job was done.  Going to El Salvador was one of the best experiences we’ve had.  It was very rewarding.”








Related links

Helping Hands Medical Missions
St Rafael Guizar y Valencia Missionary Center

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