By Sue Loudon Photos courtesy St. Thomas More
In 1990 Father Pat Rush led a group of people from St. Thomas More to a small mountain village, San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala. The pastor of the village cathedral took the group to a small Mayan community who had been victims of prejudice and civil war for years. They needed food, health care, housing, skills training and education. The relationship continued over the years and church members helped buy a permanent home for a local orphanage that services mentally and physically handicapped children. Members also built stoves, installed concrete floors in mud huts, replaced leaking roofs and organized co-ops to care for pigs and chickens.
Parishioners and friends still travel to the area to help. Volunteers include doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers and business people. There also have been builders and youth who help with repairs and construction. The average person in San Andres Itzapa earns $4 per day and lives in a mud or adobe hut with a dirt floor and little access to medical or dental care. Because they cook indoors over an unventilated wood fire surrounded by concrete blocks, they often develop lung and eye problems.
“After some students at Rockhurst and Sion went with us to Guatemala, they were inspired to organize groups in their high school…to serve and work with these people,” said Phil Smith, who has led more than 30 groups. “We go there to help them, but they end up helping us more,” he said, adding, “The U.S. government has sent millions of dollars to Guatemala, but it doesn’t get to the people who need it most. I don’t know why not.”
St. Thomas More usually starts recruiting volunteers in December to go to Guatemala the following summer, but not this year. Covid-19 is widespread there and they have no vaccines, said Smith.
Because of this situation, St. Thomas More has declared Sept. 25-26 as “Guatemala Weekend,” and they invite donations online or through the mail (write “Guatemala Mission” on the memo line of your check) and send to St. Thomas More Catholic Church is at 11822 Holmes Rd., Kansas City, MO 64131.
According to Smith, it costs $195 to build an outdoor stove or provide feed for co-ops. The orphanage also needs funds. All contributions will be sent directly to the parish serving these people, so there is no government involved, he said.