We spent almost all of our time in the small indigenous village of Santa Caterina Palopo. The town has a population of about 7,000, virtually all of whom live a simple and meagre life, especially compared to American standards. At the same time, the residents live joyful lives – focused on their family, their honest work, their faith. In many respects, their life is more human than that of many people here in the States.
After spending the first night at a student residence in Guatemala City, we drove to Santa Caterina Palopo, where we would be living and working. We arrived at around 10 am, unpacked, and walked into town. Since this annual service project has been going on for two decades, the children by now know that “los americanos” will be arriving around this time of year and look forward to our return. The trip could not take place last year, which meant they were all the more excited this time around. Waving at us and laughing, they trickled into the parish hall to meet us.
We were shown around the Church property by Lucas, the father of two daughters, who has lived in Santa Caterina Palopo all his life and who would be our chief guide throughout our work project. First, there was the parish hall’s kitchen, with smoke-blackened walls, sinks that didn’t drain well (if at all), and a general sense of disorder. Our plan involved painting the walls and ceiling, giving a deep cleaning and new paint job to the parish sacristy, and finally refurbishing the priest’s residence. The latter was the most important task, since the town has not had a priest in residence for many years. The hope is that these renovations will help put the church in a condition to receive a permanent pastor, and in fact this may happen soon. Lucas’ excitement was evident in his eagerness to help us.