Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"How Was Mexico?"

                Upon returning, everyone asked me the same question: “How was Mexico?” Even after being asked that question multiple times, I couldn’t figure out how to answer it. I was at a loss for words because the trip was so inexplicably amazing and life-changing, and to convey that in a sentence was impossible. I had done so much, had very unique food (such as shark; chaya, a Mayan drink made from spinach and lime; and marquesitas, a combination of fried pancake batter, chocolate, and Parmesan cheese), flown for the first time, and met so many wonderful people that are truly a blessing to humanity. 
            Throughout the week, the same thought kept coming to my mind: There is something so wrong with American culture. We’re missing something very important, but these people have life figured out.
When you walk down the city sidewalks or village streets in the Yucatan, people smile and say “Hola” or “Buenos tardes.” When you greet people or say good-bye, you give them a hug and a kiss on the cheek. People sincerely care about your happiness and well-being. Even when you go to stores, there is a sense that people value you for more than just your money and business. Yucatecans make such a personal connection with others immediately. How many Americans would drive to an airport at 6 a.m. to bid good-bye to a group of people they had only known for a week? Probably not very many. But Silvia, a Yucatecan who has worked at the Mission for many years, did just that.
            The Yucatecans were very welcoming toward their American guests. Everyone we came in contact with was thrilled to have us there. No matter how small their house was, or how little they had, they invited us to be a part of their community. Their Christian faith is integrated into their daily life, and they reminded me a lot of the parable in Mark 12:41—44. Though they are very poor and live simple lives, they gave what they had with all their heart, and ultimately, they are richer than most Americans.
            Father Wilberth, the priest in Sotuta (I mentioned him in our blog post “The Seven Wonders of Tuesday & Wednesday”), made a point to speak to us privately after Mass. He reiterated that the parish in Sotuta was our home. I was so touched by his gracious statement, and it also helped me see the universality of the Christian church. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, how big your church is, or anything – we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. As a united group of people worldwide, we all celebrate together, mourn together, struggle together, and triumph together.
            The girls at Nueva Vida touched my heart as soon as I saw them. These girls come from an extremely impoverished neighborhood, and they could easily lose hope, faith, and self-value. However, they are the exact opposite. Smiles and laughter are as common as the sunshine. They do their chores without being reminded, and they go to classes without complaining. Nueva Vida is such a blessing to their community, as it is truly working wonders with these girls and molding them into mature, intelligent, and loving Christian young women.
            The concept of “Yucatecan time” was such a great change from the hectic schedule that is a 17-credit college semester. When you live on Yucatecan time, it’s okay to be a few minutes (or an hour) late. You can actually sit down and enjoy a meal. You realize that life isn’t about rushing around to simply cross off tasks on a to-do list, checking e-mail, or updating Facebook; instead, it’s about making memories with people and appreciating the simple things. You recognize that not getting an A on a paper won’t end your life or your career and that worrying isn’t going to get you anywhere.
            I still don’t know exactly what it is about the Yucatan that struck me so much, but I can say that coming back to the States and getting back in the college routine was a reverse cultural shock that I did not like. (Needless to say, coming back to snow and ice-cold winds wasn’t great, either!) I am trying to use the lessons I learned in the Yucatan in daily life: worry less, make personal connections with people, be more optimistic, and live a simpler life. In realizing the idea of a universal church, I’ve become inspired to serve people even more than before. If you want to hear more about my experience or learn more about how to work with the Mission, feel free to e-mail me at! God Bless! ~ Katie Kapp

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thinking of Merida: Sheer Bliss in Simplicity

Dearest Readers,

Since returning from our journey to Merida, a number of words, images, and questions have been running through my mind and heart.

While I don't often do this, I thought a nice way for me to convey some of those musings with you would be a poem.

Here it goes, have a beautiful week.

Hasta tarde.


Mis Flores 

As I begin the journey I leave my watch at home, unintentionally,
It is time; time to stop watching time go by,
Where is that familiar pulse that I've hooked my body to? 
Learning the true meaning of what it is to smell the roses;
Perhaps it is the pulse of life that drives my restlessness? 
What is healthy doesn't always come naturally to me. 

There is a constant warmth here,
I'll miss it as soon as I leave,
The people here surprise me, 
They base their lives in love,

I came in with assumptions,
Only to realize I knew nothing at all,

I find that I am jealous, 
Why can't we do the same? 
Why is life a competition? 
Why must we have it all? 

You don't have the stuff we have
and yet you never cease to smile,
You hug and kiss me earnestly, 
I hope these moments last forever,

The further I walk on this journey, 
The more I realize how little I know,
Wherever I turn I see beauty;
a richness which cannot be bought,

At the end of the day with las flores,
I realize it'll all be okay,
There is bliss in the act of waiting,
There is bliss in the act of care,
Day by day based in love,
I know I'm already there. 

So we said our goodbyes in the airport,
We shed a tear or two,
But we smile knowing Merida happened,
and we carry her in our hearts.

You can pass again through customs,
You can take my tickets away, 
But the lessons I have learned from you, well, 
They are here to stay. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What I Learned From This Trip

The things that I learned as a seminarian and as a person on this trip:

I learned how important Mary is to the Catholic culture there.  I was familiar with Our Lady of Guadalupe and the great devotion that the Church in Mexico has for her, but I was unfamiliar with Our Lady of the Yucatan.  There is a great devotion to her - the parish I attended for daily Mass was called Our Lady of the Yucatan and in their Cathedral they have a great statue of her right in front of the sanctuary.  They also had a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows along with Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I knew Mary was important, but not that important.

I learned that I remember more Spanish than I thought.  Having taken 5 years in high school 12 years ago, I knew some would come back but not how much.  I was able to have conversations with some people who knew no English and understand many conversations between two fluent Spanish speakers.  Knowing that I need to learn Italian for school next year, it gave me some confidence that I can do it.

I learned just how lucky we are in this country.  When I saw a checklist for people that included questions like "Does their home have a bathroom," I was shocked.  I can't imagine not having a bathroom in my house.  And yet this is a way of life for some people, and somehow they find meaning and happiness.  How often am I thankful for having a bathroom in my house?  This trip has taught me to be thankful for the little things.  Like drinking tap water and flushing toilet paper.

I learned that prayer is universal and bonding, no matter its source.  When I asked the group if they wanted to say Morning Prayer with me on Thursday and Friday, I expected one or two people to be interested.  But nearly all of the group members joined in, and not everyone was Catholic.  I want to thank my group for being so open minded and allowing me to share this part of my life with them.  It easily could have become "The Catholics in the group are over there saying their Catholic prayer" but everyone embraced it, seemed genuinely moved by it, and it really strengthened the group's solidarity.

I learned how important individual acknowledgement is.  It's one thing to greet a group of people, or thanking a group of people, but greeting them individually means so much more.  Thanks to Tricia and Ron for showing me this at the nursing home.

But most importantly, I learned just how important taking advantage of opportunities to go on service trips are.  It was remarkable.  Thanks to all who helped make it possible either by planning, funding, or coordinating.  As cliche as it sounds, it has changed my life for the better.

Dan Carr

New perspectives

I can't believe that it has already been a whole week since we were down in Mérida. I am so grateful for this experience and to be able to be with such a wonderful group was more than I could have ever hoped for. I have traveled to several Latin American countries in my past on mission trips and each holds a special place in my heart, and this trip was no different. Throughout the week I was not only able to lean more about a different culture and help those in need, but I was also able to push myself out of my comfort zone and grow,  as a leader and as a person in general. Co- leading this trip has allowed me to gain valuable skills that I can bring back and have with me for the rest of my life, but I think the thing that I am most thankful for on this trip was the new perspective. While on the trip we lived a a different pace, a slower pace. There was no rush to be at places, we got there in our own time and that allowed to really enjoy the places that we were at and experience them they way they were meant to be experienced. We also were able to live simply. We took a break from our phone and lived in the moment with the wonderful people we met such as the girls at Nueva Vida and the random people we got to interact with at the clothing bazaar. I hope to bring this new perspective back with me in my life and live it out everyday, to take the time to appreciate where I am at , and to really be present when I am with people in any situation.

A special moment that I wanted to share happened during the time this picture was taken. This is at the clothing bazaar in Sotuta. I was in charge of handing out the free rosaries and to make sure only one person took one of each item. For a while there were others with me, but I was also by myself for some time. It was at those times that meant the most to me. The little children surrounded my table because I told them that they were free so they all got excited and wanted to make sure they each got to pick a rosary. The reason I cherish this moment so much is that I really enjoyed interacting with those who came to my table. I got to use my limited Spanish and we tried to have small conversations, and for the most part we were able to understand each other. The children were adorable and very understanding in trying to talk with me. This memory will always stay with me it just meant so much that they were willing to speak and be patient with me. 

~ Jackie Pfeil

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Merida: Take 2

Do you remember how you felt when you were little and it was Christmas Eve and you still believed in Santa?  Well that’s exactly how I felt when I found out I was going to return to the Yucatan.  I was so excited I couldn't sleep – literally!  I first visited the Yucatan in August of 1972, the summer after my first year at Gannon College.  A group of area college students were sent as “ambassadors” from the Erie Catholic Diocese to visit our “sister” Diocese of the Yucatan – a relationship that had formed the previous year and was known as “The Mission of Friendship.”

Fast forward to January 2000 when I interviewed for my job here at Gannon.  Somehow in that interview our discussion turned to my time at Gannon as a student, and I can remember saying that the single most memorable (and life-changing) event of my college years was that mission trip to Mexico.  So when I found out that the Center for Social Concerns was planning an ABST to Mexico in hopes of re-establishing and strengthening the Mission of Friendship, I REALLY REALLY wanted to go!

There were so many reasons why I wanted to be a part of this trip.  I wanted a chance to visit the family I sponsor through the Amigos Sponsorship Program (one of the many programs of the Mission of Friendship); I wanted to see how the country has changed in the 42 years since I had been there; I wanted to re-live the life changing experiences of my first trip; but MOST OF ALL, I wanted my ABST Mexico family to experience what I had so many years ago and I wanted to be a part of that!

What did I experience, what did I learn, how did this trip change my life?  Every attempt I’ve made to verbally answer those questions just seems to fall so short...  I’ve learned that you can be truly happy without money, social status, and “things.”  As Lexie reminded me, I’ve learned to be occupied with what is happening in the present, not preoccupied with worry about yesterday or tomorrow.  Watching the people at Mass in Merida and Sotuta and listening to them sing, I’ve learned what true devotion is.  I learned how to be a guest and allow others to “serve.”  I learned that a hug and small kiss on the cheek is a beautiful way to greet the people you meet and let them know how important they are to you.  I learned that you don’t have to be perfect.  And I learned how fortunate I am that I was able to share this awesome experience with my ABST Mexico family.  You are all forever in my heart.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Being Occupied in Merida

My name is Lexie Mastro and this is one of many reflections on my Merida, Mexico experience. In case you don't know me, I am the curly headed girl that wears glasses in the front row. You see me; the one witht he Gannon Soccer sweat pants on. But I suppose that is where this whole story started anyhow...

I came to Gannon just four years ago on a soccer scholarship. I thought that would define me: soccer. athletics. college athlete. And then I decided that I wanted to do more. I started to join different clubs on campus and take leadership positions, and before you knew it, I found myself in the doorway of the Center for Social Concerns. 

Last year as a junior physician assistant major, I went on a domestic ABST to NYC and did some Hurricane Sandy relief. This year I was fortunate enough to go on an international ABST to Merida, Mexico. Which is why you are reading this reflection; to hear about my experience. I want to tell you everything and describe the bright smiles on every single girl's face at Nueva Vida, however, my words cannot do them justice. My words cannot do this trip justice. So, I looked for some words of others to inspire myself and added in a few notes. 

If anything in this post interests you and you want to chat with me more, here is my email: 

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

One thing we discussed as a group with the Mission of Friendship was the dialogue around service. Tricia, the Director of the Mission and Friendship (who is an amazing human being), facilitated a discussion one beautiful morning about what it means to serve. Are you going in to help others? Are you there to fix them? Or are you there to serve?

The answer my friends: SERVE! 

It is wonderful to fix a broken table, or to help someone who dropped a pile of papers pick them up, however, when you are going to be a guest in another community and culture, you are there to serve. This is one experience that stuck out to me during my time abroad. I will now and forever be very intentional in serving others as their equal who can learn just as much as I can give. We are all human beings in this world, so we should start acting like it.

“You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” 
― C.G. Jung

Actions speak louder than words. This is so true in every sense. If you know me on campus, I am a do-er. I am normally at an event, running between engagements, or heading off to a class or lab. It is important to be active and speak with what you do. Personally, another thing I took away from the trip was from a spanish homily that I heard in Merida with the group. When Tricia translated the message, essentially the Priest had said to be occupied in the moment right now, not preoccupied in what was down the road in the future.

One of the most important aspects of this trip was living in the moment and just being present. We all turned our phones off for a full week, had limited or no contact to the internet (other than this blog), and just enjoyed our service and the company of not only each other, but also the community there in Merida. To list to a 76 year old woman who speaks spanish so fast you catch every tenth word, but still laugh at the joke because of the smile that spreads across her small, wrinkled cheek is beautiful. To be able to scrub a wall with bleach is a privilege. To paint an english classroom is a privilege. To interact with bright, young girls in theatre and soccer is a privilege. To be present in that moment and look back on how your heart felt that day because you lived that joy out is a blessing.

To be in the moment in your actions and enjoy being occupied in what is going on around you is something this trip has really made apparent to me. Because of my time in Merida, I now set aside daily reflective time for whatever I need that night. Although I am one of those people that used to claim I was too busy, to take 10 minutes every night for yourself and be present and take action does a world of good in the end. Be occupied. Enjoy right now.

“The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace” 
― Mother Teresa

This last quote is very special for two reasons:
1. We got to meet a woman who studied under Mother Teresa at the assisted living home we visited in Merida: La Reina da Paz. We were able to play lotteria (picture bingo) with the geriatric and special needs community. As someone who used to spend a great deal of time in nursing homes here in Erie, PA, I found this experience making me think about my own relatives that have come and gone from these settings. 

The sister who studied under Mother Teresa worked at the facility and then even gave us a little tour of the chapel and told us a bit about the facility. It was a blessing to be in the same room with someone who serves others as a career.

2. It is a poem. Even though I am a P.A. major, I have an english minor and have enjoyed all my ENGL credits. What I have taken away most from being a creative writer is my personal development from poetry in particular. After a long stressful day in the lab, or after meetings, or after anything really, to sit down and be able to write a poem and feel proud to share it with others is empowering. It is my personal outlet to keep me sane in an insane world. Mother Teresa will always be an inspiring woman, and being able to look back at even the shortest of her poems gives me hope in so many different ways. I feel jazzed about poetry. I feel jazzed about being spiritual and faithful. I feel jazzed about being able to serve. 

This trip was amazing and I could go on for a while, however, I think I will end here with a poem I wrote for my poetry fiction workshop class. It is a first draft that has revisions still to be made, however, it is a good start. I think that is a good way to classify this trip. It was a good first look at Merida, however, there is still a lot that can be done there. I plan on going back someday to work with the Mission again or even doing some healthcare providing! Only time will tell what opportunities blossom out of this trip. 

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more about our Merida adventure.

God Bless, 
Maestra Lexie

Occupied, Not Preoccupied

Is a mindset for the current life,
Not wondering about the what if.
Being occupied in life makes you
Appreciate the present. For example:

Be occupied playing with children,
Even if they don’t speak the same
Language; soccer is the same
In all countries. Be occupied
Listening to a story about the
Mayan Calendar, just to understand
A culture a little bit better.

Be occupied swimming underground,
Even if bats are flying overhead
Because they only eat insects,
Not human flesh. Be occupied
In greeting another person, not
Flying past them in the hallway
At a hundred miles per hour. Hug
That person, give that person
A kiss on the cheek, even a stranger.

Be occupied and listen to whom
Is speaking; the to do list in your
Mind could wait until tomorrow.
Be occupied and enjoy the moments
You are in right now, not waiting for
The ones that haven’t happened.
Be occupied not preoccupied,

Is a way of life for some people,
And if you haven’t tried it yet,
You just might want to give it a shot.
Be occupied in the present, because
No one can predict the future. 

Mexico 2014, forever changed!

Hola amigos! Linden Lester here to fill you in a little bit about my personal experience in Mexico last week. 
I went to Guatemala last year on an ABST, but this was a whole new experience for me. I truly am so blessed by this experience and wouldn't trade it for the world. I can sum up my experience in Mexico in two simple ways, a quote and a picture.  

First the quote 

"What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other!"

This quote was hanging on the wall in the mission house and I noticed it one of the first few days we were there.  I jotted it down in my journal and kept referring back to it throughout the week.  Coming back home I am trying to adopt that quote as my new motto for life.  For me personally I am happiest when serving others and giving myself to those in need.  Last year when I went to Guatemala I made the decision to major in education because that is a way for me to serve others everyday of my career. Teachers go out of their way to help their students and do whatever they need.  Being in Mexico has really reassured that fact for me and made me realize how happy I am to be majoring in education and have the opportunity to serve others on a daily basis in my career.  Even though it may only be a simple quote it has impacted my life in a major way.

Secondly the picture 

The little girl in front of me on the slide is one of the main reasons this trip was such a life changing experience for me.  Her name is Maria and she is eight years old.  From the minute we arrived at Nueva Vida (the after school program for girls run by the mission) her and I just connected on a very special level.  We played tag, ate together, went down the slide, and were just silly.  There may have been a language barrier between us, but that did not stop the fun from happening or from a friendship growing.  We found our ways of communicating and the language wasn't even an issue.  This little girl may only be eight, but I have learned so much from her.  The love, compassion, and generosity that Maria and all the girls at Nueva Vida have is indescribable.  All the girls and staff at Nueva Vida are a family and it is amazing how much they care for each other. These little girls have showed me that I really need to bring that compassion back to the states with me.  Yes there are lots of nice people here, but there are also some that are not quite as nice.  I think we all need to start living everyday to the fullest, have no regrets, and fill our lives with as much love, compassion, and generosity as possible and we would be much happier with our lives.  I truly am going to miss Maria and all the girls at Nueva Vida.

Being an education major I obviously love kids and love spending time with them. So being able to interact with these girls was an amazing experience for me.  It made me realize that I am truly happiest when I am either serving others or working with kids, and if I can combine them and do them together then it's even better.  This trip has made me realize that I want to be able to serve others as much as possible.  And it's also reassured the fact that after I graduate I want to be able to use my education degree to go abroad and serve and help kids as much as I possibly can.

Finally I have one tip of advice for everyone.  Go on a service trip at some point in your life.  It really will change your outlook and perspective on life.  Also just live life to the fullest and be filled with love and compassion. Peace!