By Bishop Edward J. Burns
June 2015 – Southeast Alaska Catholic
The work of the Church is all about mission and ministry. It seems as though this past month of May was an opportunity for me to experience both in a very dynamic way.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala as part of a group from Catholic Relief Services (CRS). It was an eye-opening experience – to say the least. I am honored to serve on the board of CRS and I was privileged to participate in this trip to Guatemala. This was my first opportunity to experience the missionary efforts of the Church in a country that faces many difficulties.
When we arrived, the CRS staff offered us a thorough orientation describing the plight of the Guatemalan people as well as the challenges of CRS in providing for their needs. The life expectancy for men is 68 years old in Guatemala and 78 for women. Malnutrition is a serious issue in Guatemala. Many of the people that we encountered looked far more advanced in years than they actually are – for the most part, this is due to the seriousness of malnutrition in the country. In addition to the issue of malnutrition, there is a lack of dental and physical health services as well as good drinking water. In addition to health concerns, Guatemala suffers from a high rate of violent crime. Just last week a young girl, 16 years old, was burned alive in a town outside of Guatemala City. There seems to be a high rate of corruption among civic officials which exacerbates the increase of crime and the great difference between the lives of the poor and the very wealthy in the country.
The good efforts of Catholic Relief Services offer a number of excellent programs to enhance the quality of life for the people in Guatemala. First of all, they offer wonderful agricultural assistance for those living in the farm country. In collaboration with Caritas International, CRS is able to provide emergency response for the people when they experience any form of devastation or natural disaster.
In addition to observing the work of agricultural assistance, we experienced firsthand those who are migrating from one country to another. In a shelter for immigrants sponsored by the Catholic Church we had the opportunity to talk with those who seek a better life for themselves or their family by leaving the poverty, violence and oppression experienced in their homeland. Many of them desire to come to the United States. One 35-year-old man told his story of when he was 12 years old and attempted to reach the United States. A “professional” guide asked the 12 year old to produce $450 and promised he would safely take him to the US. They crossed the river, the guide received his money from the boy and welcomed him to the United States – it turned out to be Mexico. The young lad had been used and preyed upon. This is just one of many stories we heard of women and children being used in terrible ways during the process of seeking a better life.
We were privileged to have the opportunity to meet with the Apostolic Nuncio (the ambassador from the Vatican), the president of the Bishops conference of Guatemala and a number of bishops from the area. They spoke of the needs for effective communication by way of modern media as well as effective medicines to combat many of the illnesses that the people face. The US Ambassador joined us for lunch and expressed his gratitude for the work of the Church in Guatemala. The trip was an eye opening experience.
In addition to this mission trip, I had the opportunity this past Friday to ordain Deacon Steve Olmstead and Deacon Mike Galbraith to the diaconate for service within the Diocese of Juneau. It was a joy to engage in the ancient tradition of the laying on of hands in order to raise these men to the level of ordained ministry. Deacon Steve Olmstead was ordained for the permanent diaconate and Deacon Mike Galbraith was ordained a transitional deacon as he continues his preparation for priestly ordination. I welcome the opportunity to work side-by-side with these men as we continue to advance the gospel message and the mission of the Church in the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.
Please join me in praying for these two men as they begin their ordained ministry and to also pray for the work of the Universal Church in providing missionary service to those in need. In particular, please join me in offering prayers of thanks for the presence of Catholic Relief Services. Through your continued prayers and financial support, the good work of CRS will continue to thrive through the lives of the many people they touch in Christian charity. And may the Good Lord bless Deacon Steve and Deacon Mike in their good work.
Editor’s note: To view photos of the May 29 Diaconal Ordination in addition to the CRS delegation tour of Guatemala operations, please visit www.flickr.com/photos/dioceseofjuneau/albums