From June 25 to July 2, a group of 11 Holy Spirit Prep students joined 19 others on a mission trip to Quintana Roo, organized by Mission Youth, an apostolate of Regnum Christi. Quintana Roo is a vast tropical jungle just west of Cancún, where most of the population is of Mayan descent and still retains the language and many of their traditions. We stayed at Nuevo Durango, a town structured around a plaza with a church, a school, the town store, and the police station at its cardinal points, with no more than 150 residents. The local pastor (who heads over 35 parishes!) asked for help fixing up the church building – painting, cleaning, beating back the jungle overgrowth, and enlarging the grotto to Mary – and reaching out to the local community through catechesis and games.
Fr. Andrew and I served as the chaplains, together with Fr. Michael O’Connor and Natalia Santos, who are both ECYD directors in Atlanta. Katherine Tanko, one of our beloved middle school teachers, and William Oppermann, an HSP alum, generously went as chaperones.
A Typical Day in Quintana Roo
We wasted no time getting to work. With temperatures in the mid-90s and relative humidity at almost 100, we divided up into four teams to build and install doors and windows, paint, clean, and work in the grotto. We would work until 2 p.m., then enjoy a typical Mexican lunch and spend the afternoon in catechesis and games with the local children. Missionaries went to one of the three Masses celebrated at Nuevo Durango and the neighboring towns, and we still somehow found time to enjoy a few afternoons at the local cenotes. What is a cenote, you might ask? They are natural sinkholes all around the Yucatán peninsula filled with crystalline water, occasional fish, and lots of bats. The ones frequented by tourists can be accessed by staircases, and occasionally ledges.
We would end every day by gathering in prayer and reflection, sharing highs, lows, and moments where we experienced God, then carefully made our way back to our maze of hammocks. (Full disclosure – priests and chaperones got our own rooms, the very height of luxury despite the heat and insects.)
Visiting Our Lady Undoer of Knots
A weeklong mission with the poor in Quintana Roo taught us many lessons: gratitude for the things we have and the country we live in, appreciation for and solidarity with the poor, a newfound wonder for the marvels of nature, and a unique perspective on the friends travelling with us. As we put all these life lessons into practice at Holy Spirit Prep, a desire springs from the depths of our hearts to return next year.