Why do missionaries visit Guatemala?

October 2, 2012

HOUSTON — With World Mission Sunday on Oct. 21, Catholics of the world will unite at Mass to recommit to the vocation — through baptism — to be missionaries. The annual celebration is the perfect opportunity to support the life-giving presence of the Church among the suffering and poor in more than 1,150 mission dioceses.

There are numerous mission opportunities for parish groups and schools in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Supported by the local Church’s Mission Office and guided by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and Pontifical Mission Societies, these groups travel around the U.S., Central America and South America to offer aid and support to those in need.

Among the many missioners that travel frequently to Guatemala is Sending Out Servants. According to Connie Braren, one of the founders of SOS with husband Ernest and Father Tom Ponzini, pastor of St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal Church in Texas City, SOS conducts three types of missions to Guatemala a year: a vision clinic mission, a cataract surgery mission and a faith-sharing mission.

Connie Braren said SOS is a ministry of presence to the indigenous Maya communities in the Department of Quiche, Guatemala. The mission group’s primary focus is to develop long-term relationships of mutual trust and respect within the indigenous Maya communities.

World Mission Sunday Celebration

A special World Missions Mass will be held Oct. 21, 11 a.m., Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 1111 St. Joseph Pkwy. in Houston.

After Mass, come and see the mission works of local missionary groups at Cathedral Centre, 1701 San Jacinto St. (use the side entrance on Jefferson).

Refreshments will be provided.
RSVP to 
hochoa@archgh.org or 713-652-8231.

For more information about missions, visit www.OneFamilyInMission.orgwww.IAmAMissionary.org; and www.GiveToTheMissions.org.

“This is facilitated by ‘walking softly’ among the indigenous Maya as we have cross-cultural, mutual faith-sharing exchanges,” Braren said. “The secondary focus is to respond to their expressed needs in a way that empowers the people, i.e., not doing for them what they can do for themselves.”

What exactly makes Guatemala such an important target for mission groups?

“Their needs are very great,” said Hilda Ochoa, the Mission Office director for the Archdiocese of Galveston. “The poverty rate is higher than 70 percent. They have an extremely high child-mother mortality rate. They have a largely rural, Mayan population and, in terms of evangelization, there is a lot to do.”

In 1997, a 36-year civil war ended; thousands of Maya were killed or disappeared during the war. During this time, the Catholic Church was severely persecuted, resulting in many priests, religious sisters, catechists and laity being killed. At the peak of the violence in the late ’80s, the Diocese of Quiche was closed down resulting in the Maya “feeling the Church had abandoned them during their greatest time of need,” Connie Braren said.

“The prolonged persecution left the Maya communities disintegrated on every level,” she said. “Besides leaving many widows and orphans, this situation was compounded by the extreme poverty, [a] high illiteracy rate and [a] lack of basic health conditions. Thus the focus of SOS missioners [became] a ministry of ‘presence’ for all the Maya but especially the Catholic faithful.”

Braren said the reasons are many for local faithful to not only support mission groups from Galveston-Houston, but to also look into participating in a mission trip.

“To experience the spirituality and deep family values of the impoverished Maya whose faith has been severely tested is to never see the world the same anymore,” she said. “The gift the Maya give to missioners is a deepening of their relationship with God, deeper appreciation of family and a challenge to reconnect to what is truly important in life.”

The SOS “Home Team” supports the “Travel Team” by participating in Eucharistic Adoration 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The home team can also participate in empowering and improving the quality of life for many Maya men, women and children by supporting any of the various SOS educational, medical and community assistance programs.

Braren said there are currently four parishes that have relationships with communities in Quiche through SOS, including three from the Archdiocese — Prince of Peace in Houston, St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal in Texas City and St. Ignatius Loyola in Spring.

“All of these parish and school relationships are a direct result of team members participating in SOS missions and bringing the need of the Maya to their respective parishes,” Braren said.

For more information about Sending Out Servants, visit sendingoutservants.org or call 713-440-6165.

History of Guatemala missions facilitated through the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

February 1966
All Saints, Houston, named sister parish in Guatemala. Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral and St. Cecilia would also twin with Guatemala parishes.

September 1966
Father Bill Pickard assigned to mission work in Guatemala.

October 1966
Jesus Obrero Catholic Church established Our Lady of the Rosary Church as a mission near Guatemala City.

November 1966
Father Pickard assigned to Jesus Obrero.

December 1966
Our Lady of Montserrat established as a second daughter parish of Our Lady of Rosary Church.

July 1967
Father John Ulm assigned to Guatemalan missions.

January 1971
Our Lady of Montserrat turned over to Guatemalan priest.

January 1972
Father Joseph Perez assigned to Guatemalan missions, replacing Father Pickard.

October 1972
Father Perez named pastor of Jesus Obrero, Father Ulm returns to U.S.

August 1976
Bishop John L. Morkovsky asks Maryknoll Fathers to take over Jesus Obrero.

Information compiled by Lisa May, Archives director for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.