|MISSION TRIP - This March 19-27, a group of Nebraska teen men and women and their adult companions will head to Veracruz, Mexico to participate in an EXTREME Missions project to build a church. The group is sponsored by Mission Youth, an apostolate of the Regnum Christi movement. They have sponsored previous trips to the town of Mariano Escobedo in Veracruz, Mexico, to build two catechetical centers. Construction is accomplished with minimal equipment, powered primarily by muscle and determination. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Tim Fischer)|
LINCOLN (SNR) - This coming March 19-27, a group of Nebraska teen men and women and their adult companions will head to Veracruz, Mexico to participate in an EXTREME Missions project.
The trip is sponsored by Mission Youth, an apostolate of the Regnum Christi movement. This organization provides programs and training for youth, helping them "re-energize" their Catholic faith and become more tuned into how they can serve others.
Since 2008 the group has travelled to the state of Veracruz, Mexico, about seven hours east of Mexico City. They’ve been serving the town of Mariano Escobedo.
"We built two catechetical centers and plan to build a church this year," said Dr. Tim Fischer, mission director.
Construction is accomplished with minimal equipment, powered primarily by muscle and determination. Foundations are dug by hand. Concrete is mixed by hand and transported by wheelbarrow and bucket.
The construction projects are demanding, but not nearly as challenging as other projects, which have included trekking out into the surrounding areas to work on private homes. The missionaries provide roofing, pour concrete over dirt floors and build simple chimneys to vent smoke from the ‘stoves.’
"There are no electric or gas stoves," Dr. Fischer explained. "Food is cooked and heat generated on an open wood fire inside the house."
Without a chimney, the large quantity of smoke generated by these fires is vented through the 1- or 2-inch gaps between the wallboards. Still, the rooms are choked with smoke. Dr. Fischer noted that when he’s been in the area on a medical mission, respiratory problems were extremely common.
He related another story about the Nebraska group’s 2009 mission. Dividing into smaller teams, they travelled into the forest with laminate roofing materials for various private homes.
One group hiked well over a mile to their work site, only to find that the existing wood on the roof had all but rotted away, leaving only tarpaper to ward off the elements.
Requiring something solid as a base for the laminate, the group scavenged wallboards from the house. When the roof was done, they used leftover laminate to replace the wall.
Providing a solid roof or building a church is an important way to minister to the people. However, Dr. Fischer noted that the missionaries’ efforts to love the people as Jesus loves them are the key.
"The most important aspect of our mission is to bring Christ to these people," he said. "The country is 90% Catholic but there is such a shortage of priests that the sacraments are a rare gift."
The missionaries connect with local Catholics through games like soccer, basketball and charades ("Easy when you don’t speak Spanish," reasoned Dr. Fischer). They also perform skits with religious themes and invite locals to join them in daily Mass.
Dr. Fischer said that within the local culture, practicing Catholicism falls mainly to the women.
"The men are quite content to be onlookers," he observed.
However, Pius X graduate and Cathedral of the Risen Christ parishioner Patrick Reese joined the mission with his dad, contractor Herb Reese. During daily Mass last year, Patrick would lead the songs, which created a deep impression on the local men and women.
"You could see on their faces that it was something extraordinary and beautiful – and, hopefully, imitated by the men of the parish," recalled Dr. Fischer. "I’m excited to go back next March to rekindle that fire."
This year, the Nebraska group is also taking teen women to serve as missionaries. They will be doing the same sort of work, although they will be stationed in a different location from the guys.
The busy week will begin with Mass in a private chapel at Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City, followed by a visit to the Carmelite Monastery, which overlooks the Basilica. After a quick tour the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan on the outskirts of Mexico City, the group is bussed to Mariano Escobedo.
"Like the great missionary St. Paul, we do not impose on our hosts," Dr. Fischer said. "We have slept in tents, churches and abandoned buildings. The local people cook meals for us, so we eat what they eat."
Each day begins early with morning prayers at Church. Daily Mass and opportunities for confession increase the spiritual dimension of the trip.
Dr. Fischer finds his own inspiration in the great joy.
"It’s very difficult to explain why people so impoverished can be so joyful unless you understand that they also have great faith," he said.
In each simple home he’s visited in Mariano Escobedo, there is a simple shrine.
"It’s not elaborate," Dr. Fischer said, "Usually a statue of Mary and a couple of Holy cards, but it is a defined area of the home where their faith in God is truly visible."
He hopes that more young people will take this opportunity to serve those who are less fortunate.
"Unless someone has been on a mission, they have no idea what to expect," Dr. Fischer said. "Once they are immersed in the culture of these people and experience the difficult life they lead, missionaries seem to appreciate that they are receiving much, much more than they could possibly give," he said.