June 20, 2005
CUA students helped work the soil in Caizan’s family fields.
Rev. Robert Schlageter, O.F.M. Conv., and a team of 17 CUA student missionaries returned to the United States late in the evening on Wednesday, June 8, after spending three weeks living and working with the citizens of Caizan, Panama. This trip was CUA’s second annual mission to Caizan and the fourth to Latin America under the direction of Father Schlageter, who is the University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry.
Caizan is a small community of subsistence farmers, many of whom live in homes with no electricity or running water. The families in Caizan are usually large — a small house often will shelter 10 people or more. With many mouths to feed, parents often rely on the assistance of their children, neighbors and volunteers to help manage their land and the crops they grow to eat.
CUA students traveled to the small town in western Panama to work alongside host families. Students helped cultivate and harvest tomatoes, cut down plantains with machetes and turned the soil in family fields. Other members of the CUA Campus Ministry team worked with pickaxes and shovels to help residents build a road.
CUA students bonded with their host families during the Caizan trip.
shared their hospitality with CUA’s mission team, offering the visitors places
to sleep and three meals a day. These meals usually consisted of rice and
beans, as well as chicken or Spam for those meals where the family had some
extra money to spare. Caitlyn Weiss, a CUA junior majoring in music and
education, said she felt “humbled” by her host family’s “tremendous show of
gratitude,” adding that she was moved to see her host family dine on meals
consisting of nothing but rice and beans while they “saved the best food they
could afford for us.”
Kathleen Luby, a junior nursing major, likewise was impressed by her host family’s hospitality, saying that her host mother “called us her daughters and treated us like we were her own,” cooking breakfast for her guests every morning and hand washing their laundry every night. Though Luby admits she was intimidated at first, she says she became comfortable after her hostess taught her how to cook tamales and tortillas. “It felt like I was a part of the family,” Luby said.
The familial acceptance by the residents of Caizan extended into other aspects of the team’s mission experience, as a number of the host families crowded nightly into the one-room chapel that served as the town’s church attend Mass celebrated by Father Schlageter. Though the church was small and the décor was sparse, junior politics major Mark Fellin called the daily services in Caizan “as alive as any mass I’ve ever seen,” pointing out that “children sing at the top of their lungs” and noting that “the sign of peace lasted for nearly 15 minutes as parishioners exchanged hugs like they’d known you forever.”
Luby is convinced that the “profound hospitality in the face of such extreme poverty” demonstrated by the people of Caizan is the greatest lesson she took back to the United States.
“It sounds obvious,” Luby said, “but we don’t need so much of the stuff that we have. They are so happy with nothing. The real joy that radiates from these people doesn’t come from their material possessions, but just from embracing their families and seeing God in one another.”
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