As part of my work as a deacon, I led a mission team of 24 teenagers and adults to South America over spring break to serve impoverished immigrants in the encampments, known locally as "campamentos," outside of Antofagasta, Chile.
The missionaries from St. Theresa Parish in Sherborn and Most Precious Blood Parish in Dover began planning and preparing for this trip last fall. I presented this mission opportunity to the parishes, and interested teenagers and adults volunteered.
The Sisters of St. Anne have hosted groups from these two metro-west parishes for over ten years. In Antofagasta, the group worked with Sister Sandra Rodriguez. Sister Sandra's ministry is involved with helping immigrants find basic services and completing the paperwork they need to obtain visas.
At the parishes, we organized the team into committees to handle fundraising, forms and paperwork, communications and travel support. Each traveler paid for their own airfare, but the group raised funds for other expenses including food, lodging, local transportation and building supplies (about $700 per person). The group met once a month and had a retreat and pot luck dinner before departure. The recent earthquakes in Northern Chile put the trip on hold for a few days until the team fully researched the risks and determined that it was safe to go.
Located in northern Chile, Antofagasta is a desert area that abuts the largest copper mines in the world. Families move there from Peru or Columbia seeking jobs in the mines. They are also attracted to Chile because of the availability of basic healthcare and schooling for their children. The conditions in Chile, while austere, are better than life in their home countries.
A campamento is a type of camp with wooden walls and tin roofs on the very outskirts of the towns -- on the far side of the barrios (poor neighborhoods.) In the camp, the team repaired several roofs, installed a wooden floor and solved a sewage problem for three families. While the work was important, the presence of adults and teenagers from the U.S. seemed to be more powerful to the residents of the encampment. The families could not help but hold hands, play games, and work side by side with the missionary teenagers. Young children called out cheerfully, "Hola Gringos!" when the work groups arrived and waved goodbye at the end of each day.
There was a prayer group and discussion every evening for the teenagers. While the construction work was significant and will improve living accommodations, the impact of witnessing the face of poverty -- the daily struggle of the families living in these campamentos -- is what will endure in the minds and hearts of young missionaries.
The Sisters of St. Anne have created an organization, "Vacations That Give," to help individuals serve the poor. The organization offers many trips to various areas of need each year. We worked with this organization to help with the logistics and on-the-ground contacts.
My service as a deacon on the mission trip gives a small glimpse into the ministry of the diaconate, but throughout the United States and the world deacons serve the Church in a variety of ministries.
A deacon is an ordained member of the clergy and serves a three-fold ministry of Word, Liturgy, and Charity, working in obedience to his bishop and in close fraternal cooperation with priests. Through Holy Orders, the deacon acquires a special relationship with the bishop. While all Christians are called to serve others, the deacon is called to be an icon of the Servant Christ in the Church -- imparting an understanding of the acute need to live out the mission of Christ.
Currently, more than 16,000 permanent deacons minister in the United States. There are more than 265 deacons in the Archdiocese of Boston and 43 men are currently in formation.
The deacon is called to be a creative leader, one who gradually initiates a meaningful response of loving service from the community to those who are in spiritual or material need. For more information please look at the diaconate website (www.bostondiaconate.org), or contacting Deacon Dan Burns, who is the Director of Formation at email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deacon Tim Donohue serves at St. Theresa Parish in Sherborn and Most Precious Blood Parish in Dover.