The Catholic University of America

May 2, 2008

Nearly 50 CUA Students on a Mission

Jamaican Ambassador Anthony Johnson speaks to CUA students who will travel to Jamaica for a mission trip during the last two weeks of May.

Mission trips have been a tradition at Catholic University for many years, but this summer a record number of students - nearly 50 - will be traveling overseas following the close of the spring semester to spend two weeks learning about and helping people in Belize, Honduras, Jamaica and Tanzania.

In years past the Office of Campus Ministry has sponsored two mission trips after the spring semester, but following the submission of a record number of applications last fall - more than 70 for 24 positions - it was decided that four trips would take place this year. Students will begin their trips either May 19 or 20 and return the first week of June.

"I think the level of student interest is a direct reflection of students' experience last fall with the Opus Prize," says Rev. Robert Schlageter, O.F.M. Conv., university chaplain and director of campus ministry. In the past, no more than 50 applications were ever received for the summer mission trips.

The $1 million Opus Prize is awarded annually on a college campus to an unsung humanitarian hero. One of the prize's purposes is to inspire students to a life of service. Last November Catholic University co-sponsored the awarding of the Opus Prize. It was given to Brother Stan Goetschalckx, F.C., founder and director of AHADI International Institute, in Kigoma, Tanzania. One of the mission trips will be to Kigoma.

"We've already created a wonderful relationship with Brother Stan through Opus and we want to continue that through mission trips," says Emmjolee Mendoza Waters, associate campus minister for community service. In Tanzania, six students will live in community with the people of Kigoma and teach children.

Anthony Buatti, a senior politics major from Downingtown, Pa., went on the March 2007 CUA mission trip to Jamaica during his spring break. The trip "gave me the first taste of what life should really be like," he says. He will be going back to Jamaica following graduation as a mission trip student leader.

Rev. Brad Heckathorne, O.F.M. Conv., assistant chaplain (right), and senior Anthony Buatti listen to the presentation by the Jamaican ambassador.

"Here in the states, and specifically in college, we fill our lives with so many unimportant things that we lose sight of what really matters," Buatti says. "The most striking thing was that I went to Jamaica thinking about what I would give to the people there, but I never had the opportunity.

"They took nothing from me, despite their economic conditions. They only knew how to give their laughter, their help and their love. Experiencing that attitude and the way it pervaded Jamaican culture was, in my estimation, what life should be like."

In Jamaica, students will spend time in Above Rocks Mission, a parish with three mission churches, schools, a health clinic and a food distribution program for the poor. Two nursing students will be going on the mission to work in the clinic. Other students will work in after-school programs, paint and do other manual labor. At least one day will be spent visiting a home for abandoned elderly in Kingston.

"I always find that these trips are life changing and what I hope the students get out of it is a greater appreciation of what they have," says Rev. Brad Heckathorne, O.F.M. Conv., assistant chaplain who has been leading the mission trips to Jamaica for several years. "I hope the students learn from the poor that the most important things in life are not material goods, but people and the love of God."

In Belize, students will spend one week building a church and one week working at St. Peter Clavier School while staying in the homes of local residents. In Honduras, students will do manual work at schools, homes for children and a housing project for abandoned mothers while also spending time with the children and families at these locations.

In addition to working while on their missions, students have also done work beforehand to raise money that will be donated to the organizations they will work with. They raised more than $6,000 by selling T-shirts to mark the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to CUA last month, sponsored the Cherry Blossom Ball and hosted a concert by Red Line, one of CUA's student a cappella singing groups.