By Liz Sullivan
While the visit was brief, the impact is everlasting.
Bishop Patrick J. McGrath traveled to Guatemala for the first time March 14-17 as part of a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Immersion Trip with CRS Board Member Charmaine Warmenhoven, of Saratoga.
Those four days were the first time the Bishop had been to the Central American country; and he said it had a profound effect on him.
“It greatly impacted my life,” said the Bishop a couple of weeks after returning home. “We did a lot of things while we were there and there were many highlights. It was wonderful to see the great work CRS is doing and the changes they are making in people’s lives.”
Founded in 1943 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), CRS is an international humanitarian agency. What originally began to help war-torn Europe and its refugees recover as a result of World War II, CRS now carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas. As part of the universal mission of the Catholic Church, CRS works with local, national and international Catholic institutions and structures, as well as other organizations, to assist people on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality.
The Bishop said he was especially touched by his visit to this country during Lent. In their brief time in Guatemala, the Bishop and his traveling party visited the capital of Guatemala City, along with the cities of Antigua and Santa Cruz del Quiché.
“I was struck by the faith of the people,” said the Bishop. “I truly believe they see the face of Christ in each other. I was struck by how they live out their faith.”
Bishop McGrath said wherever the group went, the people were excited to see them and thanked them for visiting, especially at a school.
“It was actually very humbling,” he said. “I felt like we should be thanking them for letting us into their lives. The people were very grateful for CRS and what CRS has done for them. CRS has helped them with things we take for granted in this country. It is really life-changing.”
In addition, another area which touched the Bishop was the work CRS is doing with migrants. The Bishop and his group, which also included Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, visited a resettlement center in Guatemala City. Most of Guatemala borders Mexico and Guatemala serves as a funnel from Central America to North America.
While at the rest center, the Bishop said he met a family from El Salvador, with 11 children, including two daughters who had been threatened with death.
“That was very poignant,” said the Bishop. “It was very interesting to see how CRS treated everyone at this center with kindness and compassion. CRS was there to take a look to see what they could offer. I wonder what happened to that family I met.”
As for the impact this trip had on the Bishop, he was quite honest.
“It took a while for me when we returned home to think about what happened,” he said. “It all happened so fast. It was a very moving experience for me. Many of them don’t have much, but as far as I am concerned they have everything – that which is most important – their faith and support of each other.”
To learn more about CRS, please visit www.CRS.org.