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Meagan Chuckran '07 (June 21, 2006)

It has now been one full week since we left Mexico, and I have no doubt that it has taken all of us a little time to adjust back to our "real lives."  So much of what we took from Mexico is in the understanding that what is real to us is not the reality of the rest of the world.  We are now all working to put our actions together with our thoughts, and stay connected to Mexico.  We have already begun a long email chain, which will hopefully help us all as we continue the reflection process throughout the summer.

This process will be a significant one, as the phrase "life changing" would not be inappropriate to categorize our experiences in Mexico.  Everything from the food and the weather to the faces of the individuals with whom we met marked our experience profoundly.  The humility and faith that we saw in the desperately poor, as well as the wisdom and insight of our speakers, pushed each of us to our limits in our own unique way.  To walk with one another in our moments of greatest vulnerability created an incredible group bond that we hope will grow in depth as we continue to share with one another on our separate life paths.  Although saying goodbye to one another at the airport was difficult, our final speaker, Arturo Ornelas, reminded us that this experience was not our own to possess, and that it is something for the group to own together.  With that attitude, and a renewed faith, we went in our separate directions, confident that physical separation would not erase the incredibly moving experience that we had had together.

Going back to Mexico this year as a coordinator was a powerful experience for me.  Seeing each of the other participants deal with the same questions that I had dealt with, and am still struggling to answer, pushed me to further examine my own choices and faith.  Being witness to the true condition of the world is always moving, always startling, and always challenging.  But within this challenge was an incredibly life-giving aspect of the program that I will continue to hold on to in my prayer and reflections.  I could not have imagined a more rewarding experience, and I am confident that this trip will continue to inspire both our group and groups in the future to strive for positive change ourselves and in our world.

Elizabeth Hylton ’07 (June 13, 2006)

I came to Mexico hoping that it would bring me closer to God. I came to Mexico knowing that God had a plan for my life. My last three years at Holy Cross I have spent trying to figure out exactly what this plan may be. One of our speakers, ex-congressman Ingancio Suarez Huape (Nacho) spoke to us about a scream some of us might hear in our hearts calling for justice. This idea was very real for me because I have always felt that there has been one in mine. Although I will leave here still not knowing exactly what to do with this cry or scream, Mexico has made that scream much louder which is enough for me to know I am walking on the right path.

Being in Mexico HAS brought me closer to God because I spoke to him and encountered him in all the people we have met here. I realized that it is Jesus who is and has been speaking to my heart, so in a sense I WILL leave here knowing what God wants me to do with these cries — answer them in any way I can. Love God by loving and caring for all of his people.

Tomorrow I will leave Mexico, but not really, because Mexico will never leave me. It will stay in my heart and my mind forever and be fuel to that fire within my soul. Tonight for our last group reflection, we have been asked to choose one object that encompasses this experience for us. I chose my sandals. They have walked all over Mexico with its people, with Kim, Miguel, Gerald, and my fellow Holy Cross students. While walking this beautiful experience that God has brought me on I have come to this conclusion: when we all take that long walk home to Jesus, to see him, to look upon his face — black, white, Mexican, American, Jamaican, African, Cuban, Indian, Asian, rich, poor, whatever we may be — we will all be walking in one direction, in the same direction together to one God as we walked together here in these last two weeks. When we all go home I hope that we all will continue to walk together side by side with all of humanity, and on that walk if there is someone suffering, hungry, or tired, that we will reach out a hand. It is my hope that we will all walk together with love in our hearts, because God is Love.

Peace and Love,

A new Elizabeth Anne Hylton

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Kevin Cullinan with Bishop Alejo Zavala Castro in Chilpancingo, Guerrero.





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Women's Organizer Carmen Granados with Rebecca Cole.





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Kim McElaney with ex-Congressman Ignacio Suarez Huape.





Day12bishop Holy Cross group with Bishop Alejo Zavala Castro in Chilpancingo, Guerrero.

Moira Brady ’07 (June 9, 2006)

Rising to greet the new day, we were quickly ushered into pickup trucks this morning on our way to Cochoapa el Grande. Cochoapa is a village high up in the mountains, about four hours away from Tlapa, and the majority of our journey was on a dirt road. Needless to say, the somewhat bumpy road helped keep us awake at this early hour.

We stopped for breakfast in Igualita, about an hour into our journey, and then continued on our way. The views were some of the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen — mountains carpeting the earth with small pueblos dotting the landscape here and there.

When we finally arrived in Cochoapa, we were greeted by Sr. Alicia, one of the Sisters of Charity who lives and works in Cochoapa. We were fortunate enough to be able to speak with her about what Cochoapa was like, learning about the ministry of the Sisters, as well as the culture and practices of the people in Cochoapa. Cochoapa is an indigenous village where the people speak a language called Mixteco, rather than Spanish. The U.N. has recently named Cochoapa the poorest municipality in Latin America, with poverty comparable to that of Malawi, Africa. It was so humbling to see the people of Cochoapa and learn about how they live, living off corn and the necessity of migration for any real source of income.

Up in Cochoapa we also met the spiritual leader of the village, Don Lecho. His deeply furrowed brow and wise eyes told his story for him — he was in his late seventies, and had lived in Cochoapa for his entire life, like most of Cochoapa’s people. For the people of Cochoapa, religion is not just a part of life, but IS life. Don Lecho showed us around, bringing us proudly to their Catholic church of St. James the Apostle, and introducing us to some of the priests who also live and work in Cochoapa. However, just as we were sitting down for a question and answer session with the priests, it began to rain.

It started about half an hour before we were scheduled to leave Cochoapa, so we decided to leave a little early — the earlier we got on the dirt (soon to be mud) roads, the better. Our ride back was a little rougher that the ride up to Cochoapa, with some rain scattered throughout the beginning of the return trip; however, despite the rain our spirits were high. We sang songs and gazed at beautiful views, waving at friendly strangers in the pueblos we passed through. To me, our journey — seeing the people in their villages and interacting with them, even with just a simple “Hola” — was as valuable as reaching our destination of Cochoapa.

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The following are shots of the group traveling to Cochoapa el Grande, two miles up in altitude to the region that the United Nations calls the poorest area of the Americas. The foggy shots were taken at 3 p.m. The group went in two trucks.

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Kathryn Scheinberg ’08 (June 9, 2006)

June 8th, our first day in the mountain city of Tlapa, seemed to mark a turning point in the Mexico Immersion Program. Whereas we had spent the first week simply experiencing the reality of the Mexican poor (talking with families, observing living conditions, and participating in traditional celebrations), we were all ready for some inspiration as to how we can help effect change in our local and global communities.

To start our day, we met with the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, an order of ordained Catholic priests who "insert" themselves into poor communities in order to live with and for the people. Having the blessing of returning to the program this year as one of the student coordinators, I was able to use many of my experiences from Mexico in my honors thesis titled "The Oppression of Silence: Young Women Coming of Age in Poverty." The gentle humility and warm spirit of these priests is highlighted in my chapter on the Mexico Immersion Program. I remember well an impromptu Mass we celebrated in their tiny bamboo hut, and the simplicity of their Gospel message. Needless to say, I was excited to return!

Father Pablo, a founder of the 17-year-old community, shared their idea of "insertion." He explained that in our Western culture, we want to constantly feel like we are doing something. In order to feel effective, we must take action. While it is certainly true that action is necessary for building a more just world, Father Pablo reminded us of the way in which Jesus conducted his life. Before taking action, Jesus always listened to the people he met with, and became a part of their communities. And like Jesus, the priests are "broken yet liberated." Their experiences with the poor have frustrated them, yet have also allowed them to be free to do the work they were meant to do. Their hearts are "greatened" and they’re able to think more clearly as a result of the constant cycle of death and rebirth. This process parallels the "Easter cross" and the great hope that out of death comes new life.

These wonderful men — along with Neela Kale, a Masters of Divinity student at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, who also shared her motivational story — showed us how one can retain hope amidst oppressive poverty. Their attitudes made me realize, if they can still have so much enthusiasm and passion for what they do, not despite living with the people but because of it, then we all can share this hope. As Father Pepe explained, "God made the world for everyone." This simple Gospel message, like the simple lives of the priests, carries great weight. Our responsibility is to share this egalitarian tenet of our faith with our local community, as well as to lead a life that allows such equality to exist. We can look forward to participating in the process of being "broken yet liberated" through our quest for justice in any community we find ourselves.

Jody Grimm ’07 (June 7, 2006)

After the flood of emotions experienced yesterday at Tlamacazapa, our day of relaxation at Las Estacas was just what we all needed. Before leaving on the bus this morning we had the privilege of speaking with Jaime Brito, chief editor of La Jornata, the most respected newspaper in Mexico. We spoke about a variety of issues surrounding American foreign policy, misinformation of the American media, the upcoming presidential election in Mexico, and the effects of closing our border for the Mexican community.

By the time we arrived at Las Estacas, the wind and rain had ceased and made way for the most beautiful day of the trip thus far. Las Estacas is a natural spring creating crystal clear blue water, a beautiful site to say the least. Overall we spent the day floating down the river and soaking up all the sun we could (but do not fear, for there was a serious intervention by Becca and Nora for all those who were not wearing sunscreen).

One of the most exciting events of the day included Ned and Kate mastering the art of diving. As Ned so eloquently put after his first success, "I nailed it." With boys being boys, they couldn’t sit still and instead spent the afternoon jumping off cliffs and flipping off rope swings. Surprisingly, their hunger for danger resulted in few injuries, only to be transformed into a greater expression of their manliness. The girls, on the other hand, took this opportunity to enjoy the natural peacefulness of the surroundings. Meg and Nora, although not the strongest swimmers among the bunch, found their niche floating in rented tubes down the river. Yet not to be outdone by the athleticism of the boys, Kate and I proved our strength by answering Chris’ challenge to swim against the current. He still has yet to accept the blow to his pride and acknowledge our achievement. 

Tomorrow, our adventures will lead us into the mountains of Tlapa, seven hours away from our dear Hotel Papagayo. While the idea of packing proves difficult for some, even though inquisitive Averie helped the group get some much-needed answers, we are sure that the underwear we bring will suffice for the next few days.

We hope these experiences which lie ahead will continue to open our eyes and hearts and we hope, for Ned’s sake, we don’t cross paths with any flying scorpions.

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Day6gerardo_sarah Gerardo Debbink, one of the program coordinators, and Sarah Fontaine '08.





Day6tina_mike_kate Tina-Marie Rosenberger '06, Michael MacDonald, program coordinator, and Kate Scheinberg '06.

Sarah Fontaine ’08 and Kevin Cullinan ’06 (June 6, 2006)

Yesterday was a very emotional day for everyone on the trip. We woke up early to travel by bus to the village of Tlamacazapa to visit with indigenous families. The bus ride began with an hour on the highway and proceeded to turn into a 45-minute ride through the mountains on a bumpy dirt road. When we arrived at Tlamacazapa, we broke up into two groups and began our climb farther up the mountain into the village.

It would have been difficult to prepare for the poverty that greeted the individual groups upon entering the houses. Many of the houses we visited had only dirt floors. The walls were constructed of bamboo or cornstalk, and the people wore mismatched shoes and dirty clothing, but the hearts of the people who lived inside are made of gold. The families we visited opened up their houses and their faith with us.  At first glance it seemed as though God had given the people of Tlamacazapa nothing, but after spending the day with the villagers we came to realize that God has given them himself, as their faith is so strong.

Today we are heading off for a day of rest and relaxation at a beautiful place called Las Estacas. We are sure that not only will we spend the day having fun swimming and talking, but also reflecting on what we were privileged to witness yesterday at Tlamacazapa — and how we can use these experiences to somehow change the world we live in so all people have the opportunity to improve their lives.

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Kate Scheinberg '06 and Tina-Marie Rosenberg '06 admiring Guatemalan handicrafts.





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Holy Crossers walking in Tlamacazapa.






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Abriela, Rosy and Matt Vicidomino '08 in Tlamacazapa.





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Maya, a 1-and-a-half-year-old Guatemalan baby, and Dave Floyd '09.







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Maggie, a Mexican woman, with Rebecca Cole '06 at Maggie's 20th birthday party.





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Kim McElaney and Rebecca Cole '06 enjoying sandwiches at a park in Mexico City.





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Matt Vicidomino '08 at Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City.





Day5cirena_2Cirena in front of her house in Tlamacazapa.

Emily Hastings´08 (June 3, 2006)

Our first eye opener took place after a breakneck taxi ride to a settlement called La Estacion. The appearance of this village was reminiscent of those old National Geographics you look at when you’re a little kid in grammar school — houses pieced together with any available sturdy material; children running around barefoot on rocky, trash-covered ground; dogs yipping from roof-tops as you pass by; and everyone stares at you and smiles and utters a friendly “Hola.” In high school I shied away from Spanish in favor of four fun-filled years of French and for whatever reason I´ve been having a strangely difficult time remembering that it doesn’t generally work to say "Bonjour" or "Merci" to people in Mexico.

We were invited into the homes of a handful of gracious, generous people — their floors are cement if they’re lucky (otherwise they’re walking on mud) — and everything inside — the beds, the chairs, the tables, the kitchen appliances if they have them — are similar to those seen most often in landfills in the United States. Something that struck me was the amount of stuff these people seem to accumulate and the items they choose to use for decoration. The most common items displayed on the walls of these homes were photos of Jesus Christ and various saints, but one home sported a variety of tennis rackets and guitars, though no one in the household played tennis or guitar. Another home I noticed had a Christmas gift bag hanging from the wall — what these decorations mean and represent to these people is still a curiosity I’m toying with.

Though every person we visited had incredible stories of suffering and difficulty, our last visit affected me the most. She is a single mother named Lorraina and she lives in an incredibly decrepit home with mud floors and no sewage system. She and her three adorable and surprisingly happy children live in one room. The children are young, all under the age of 8, and they attend school only after selling roses and washing windows at stop lights every night from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. I sat on the edge of her bed next to a dusty television set perched on a rickety wooden table, and while she spoke I was overwhelmed by how strong, smart, and responsible this woman seemed. She appeared so together that it was difficult for me to believe she and her children suffer the way they do. I pictured her and her family in the United States, with abundance of resources and opportunities available to them, and I realized that they are taking advantage of everything they possibly can and still they live in a one-room shack with mud floors. During a group reflection yesterday, Gerardo, one of our leaders, entertained this concept: What if the bare minimum was all you could ever obtain? How would it be for us if there was no possible way to move upward, grow, or increase any aspect of our lives?

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Day3

Meagan Chuckran '07 (June 2, 2006)

We have finally arrived in Mexico — all 29 of us made it safely. We met up with our guides, Miguel and Gerardo, in the Mexico City airport and took a two hour bus ride to Cuernavaca. After a delicious dinner of chicken, rice, soup, and fresh fruit, the entire group took an excursion to the “Mega” (the supermarket around the block) to purchase phone cards and other things that we may have forgotten back home. After some debate about how to say toothpaste in Spanish, many of us called home to assure our parents that we were both safe and happy. Standing out on the sidewalk at a payphone was not the ideal environment for long heart-to-hearts about how we have found Mexico to be so far though, so we tried to keep our calls quick.

The rainy season is just beginning here, so the lighter sleepers amongst us heard thundershowers overnight. (I, however, slept through everything.) When we woke up this morning, there were mangoes all over the ground, and a wonderful breakfast waiting for us after our morning prayer. This afternoon, we took a trip downtown to the town square and the market to take a tour of Cuernavaca. This is where we learned that Miguel MacDonald (our program director here in Mexico) is personally acquainted with every single resident of the city of Cuernavaca (or that is how it seems). Perhaps our favorite moment thus far has been seeing hanging pigs’ heads in the meat market (for those back at home: we took pictures).

Everyone in the group is doing well, the weather is great, and the hope is to be completely fluent in Spanish by the end of the week. It has been a little overwhelming, but we have met some incredible people, and are looking forward to going to La Estación, a squatter settlement on the outskirts of Cuernavaca, after lunch this afternoon. We are slowly settling into the rhythm of being here, and as I write this, most of the other group members are sitting out in the sun by the pool, getting in a little rest and journal time before we continue with our day.

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Tiffany Lee '08 holds Janet, a six-month-old Mexican baby.

 

 

 

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Students listen to Janet's mother talk about life in her poor squatter settlement of La Estacion.

Chris Amenta '06 (June 1, 2006)

There’s an interesting energy about an airport. I think it comes from the frantic combination of emotions. The goodbyes and hellos, the trepidation and enthusiasm sort of sink into each other to amass this indescribable spin. An airport is shiny and full of bustle and full of Starbucks and newspaper stands and movement. There’s something about it.

Early the other morning, we arrived at Logan and caught our plane regularly enough to Texas, where we were to board our connecting flight. I had little feeling about this trip to Mexico, mainly because I was a fourth quarter add on to the roster and had missed every single information session. Also, though, I had felt an urge to enter the trip blankly, with little inclination toward any conclusions. My first impressions came to me as we exited the plane in Mexico City.

The pilot was curious. We were 28 and one, unmistakable with our Holy Cross Nalgene bottles dangling unobtrusively like campus dog tags. He approached one of the group and asked about us. He wanted to know what we were. He was a guy who had just navigated us through invisible pockets of turbulence, manipulating this complicated technological force and he wanted to know what we were up to.

It’s sort of hard to explain, actually. Are we going to help? Well, no. Vacation? Not so much. We’re really just going to observe, we explained. As we say it, though, none of the curiosity or admiration dwindles. There seems to be something inherently good in observation, as though it implies impending action. I guess that’s why the whole world envies the college student. Just kids observing and preparing. He wishes us luck on our trip and we get off the plane.

We drive from Mexico City in a bus. The seats recline, there’s a TV that stares blankly at us from its perch in the front. The air conditioning is on high. We drive down a crowded highway, stopping for construction and traffic lights, weaving in and out of desperate merchants. There is a depressed park that bisects the road and couples stroll through it, not in public displays of affection but merely in affection. It seems significantly genuine.

Several things strike me as we drive. Propped above the road are crude dwellings with clothes lines sagging between them. Women rush outside to spare their garments from the rain, which goes just as quickly as it had come. As we abandon the city, dogs — dogs that wouldn’t want Taco Bell, dogs that wouldn’t cozy up in a designer purse — chase us beyond the city limits. I get the feeling that they can smell my body spray through the air conditioning and it makes them angry. And then, I wonder if their barks, their bared teeth, will be the most genuine reaction I will receive from a local while I’m here. I know the Mexicans too will smell my body spray. I don’t anticipate hostility, though sometimes body spray ought to warrant it.

The drive is long, about two hours, but we are comfortable. The scenery isn’t so much beautiful as it is remarkable. We toil around steep ledges. Every so often, a statue with some sort of religious significance pierces the horizon beside the road. Soon, we have reached the town. It feels claustrophobic around our lumbering bus. The walls are old and stone and high and dirty and clean. The streets are jumbled. We seam through, eventually arriving at our hotel.

The Hotel Papagayo is unimpressive from the exterior. Once we collect our bags, we are heralded through an archway into an expansive courtyard. Thick, heavy fruit trees labor through the clustered stone floor. There is a pool. Leaves that a gardener in the United States might have removed meander poetically across the surface. Our rooms are simple. Two beds, a dresser, a bathroom, maybe a lizard or two. We are fed a meal and then released to our own devices, for most of us, some conversation and a bed.

Laying in my bed, reading some book I was once given, a thought occurs to me. There is an interesting energy about the hotel, not wholly unlike that of an airport.

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Day1

Introduction

Approximately 30 students and recent alumni from the College of the Holy Cross embarked on a two-week trip to Mexico on May 31 as part of the Arrupe Immersion Program. For nearly 20 years, the program has provided Holy Cross students the opportunity to witness first-hand the reality of life in Mexico, Jamaica and Kenya by visiting with and learning from people in poor and marginalized communities. Students who have participated in the program in the past have reported back that it was one of the defining moments of their college career. This year’s participants share their personal experiences in this online journal.

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