Much to My Surprise

The previous July week was just perfect, among the very best that I ever spent in Guatemala. Fr. Fleckenstein was the first of the Pittsburgh seminarians to return to Patzún after ordination. Young but mature and faith-filled Bob Waruszewski was with me once again as was his fiance Caitlyn. The seminary was well represented by his brother Dan as well as seminary freshman Jeff Craig. Tricia Dougherty, whom I knew from my son’s years at Aquinas, was making her first trip as were Pat Shaffer and Rachel McGrath of Holy Sepulcher. We prayed well. We sang well. We worshiped well. There was just the right balance of real work, visiting the poor, piety and silliness. The Provincial,  my dear friend Sor Balvy, visited from El Salvador. We stayed a night with Madre Carmen at the Franciscan convent in Guatemala City and we even got to see Gladys, a little orphan girl grown up into an marvelous young woman. I loved the trip. I loved the group and I especially loved Fr. Fleck coming back to Patzún, offering Mass in Spanish and English. Nothing, I mean nothing, could touch the experience. I dropped that group off at the airport in Guatemala City and longed to go home with them but instead I waited hour after hour after endless hour for 10 Oakland Catholic girls and their adult supervision.

Oakland Catholic Mission Group 2012

Oakland Catholic Mission Group 2012, Colonial era church Patzún with Padre Juan in the middle.

The group had been, shall we say, less than fully engaged during our year of preparation. The girls were always at soccer or basketball or choir or something and their minds were anywhere other than Dr. Miller and the history of the Franciscan missions or Fr. Stan Rother or helping without hurting. They were completely unprepared and so was I. The facts are clear enough. When they met the poor school kids of San Bernardino our girls

Cachequel girls at recess.

Cachequel girls at recess.

cried. The orphans at Hogar San Francisco moved them to love these little ones who just a day earlier were abstractions, “the poor”, “the orphaned”. I interviewed each Oakland Catholic girl twice during the week, trying to see the mission trip through their eyes. There were two common themes; first that in the face of kids with so little our girls expressed shame, not so much for their plenty as for their feelings of entitlement to even more, and second our girls were overwhelmed by the warmth and love that such poor people showered on them.

Those are the facts that anyone could see and hear. With eyes and ears of faith I tell you something else was going on that week. The Bible tells us that the finger of God  has traced his law on our hearts. We don’t talk much about that in mixed company these days, living in the neo-pagan culture that is America in 2012, but it is still true and we should.


God didn’t enter our girls when they went to Oakland Catholic or when they went on mission or even when they attended catechism. The Holy Spirit was there, inside them, all along, placed by the grace of God. Think of it like a tuning fork inside us, still and quiet with us completely unaware. Along comes some event and if it is of God the Holy Spirit tuning fork begins to vibrate. At first we aren’t much aware but it is happening, strengthening and finally, if we are lucky, it wakes us.


If things go really well, if the resonance of the Holy Spirit and external events is very strong and if we cooperate then God, who was in us all along in the third person of the Holy Trinity, bursts forth into the world. We have heard our Master’s call. We begin to be the persons Jesus would have us be – not always but sometimes.

Much to my surprise this mission trip was perfect too. It came to pass that I had a ring side seat as young woman after young woman after young woman woke to the Holy Spirit inside her and joyfully allowed it to escape into the world, eleven young women in all. To a woman they vowed to return. To a woman they vowed to collect needed goods, raise funds and raise awareness. They are already making good on their promises. Maria turned 16 a couple months back and instead of accepting the treatment of a princess she asked for donations for the orphanage and the school, including 0ver $300 toward a new computer lab. Julia pushed the total above $400. Additional Oakland Catholic girls have joined the group. Grace briefed students and parents on fundraising efforts, including money to help the young orphan, Denilson who is losing both sight and hearing. Mrs. Goyal and Fr. Michael are organizing the 2013 Patzún Mission Trip. Alora is off to college but she is already militating for her parish to form its own Mission Group.

What about me, Don Felipe, as I am known in certain circles? I am humbled. God has once again reminded me that He is the potter and I am the clay. I am ashamed because once again I confused myself and what I wanted with God’s plan. I quieted down and trusted God. I became servant to the Oakland Catholic group as I was called to be. Then God was able to roll up his sleeves and turn hearts toward their real home, as only He can do.

Thank you (in order of appearance in photos above) Maria DeIuliis, Allison Walker, Alora Cinicola, Olivia Knight, Mo Deken, Julia Foerster, Lelah McCarthy, Carmen Malloy, Danielle Clark, Grace McHale, Kelly Vigliotti, Meghan Goyal, Fr. Michael Roche and Fr. Thomas Gillespie. It was a pleasure to be in your company.

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3 Responses to Much to My Surprise

  1. Pingback: The Body of Christ | Mission Blog

  2. Pingback: … una noche tranquila y una santa muerte. | Mission Blog

  3. Pingback: Heaven | Mission Blog

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