The Catholic University of America

June 15, 2011

In Costa Rica's Rainforest, Students Find Treasure of Humanity

  Costa Rica Mission Trip 2011

Catholic University student Mairead MacCrory, Class of 2012, was reunited with her young friend Isabeth, whom she met on a previous mission trip to Costa Rica. 
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Student Reflects on Mission Experience

I went to Costa Rica last year, and had the most amazing experience. I learned so much about myself and the people of Costa Rica. This year, I was honored to be asked to return to Costa Rica as a leader.

Last year, we worked on building the foundation of a church for two weeks in a place called Palo Seco. By the time we were finished the two weeks, we had dug the foundation, mixed and poured the cement, and established the rebar. The walls and roof were not yet set in place and we were told that another group from Ohio would work on it when we left.

While there, we made friends with the neighborhood children, in particular two adorable little girls that lived next to the work site. Their names are Isabeth and Allison. Isabeth is the one in the photo with me. She proudly gave me the yellow ring I am wearing in the photo.

This year, I was hoping that we would get back to Palo Seco, and Father Andy (who was the adult leader) made sure that we did. So, Monday was saved for our trip to Palo Seco, and I was thrilled to return. Upon returning we had a very warm welcome (everyone on this second trip had never been to Costa Rica except my co-leader Collin Colburn). When the two little girls saw Collin and I, they ran into our arms. I was so touched by the fact that they remembered us and that the Church was nearly finished. The church still needed stained glass windows and a ceramic floor, but the building itself was so impressive. The people of Palo Seco are still currently raising money to finish the church.

Both trips were some of my most memorable and amazing experiences to date in my college career!

– Mairead MacCrory

This summer, as eco-tourists were gliding along zip lines between treetops in Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest, Catholic University students were nearby in the dirt, washing, sanding, and restoring a little church for the vacation spot’s forgotten poor.

It was a labor of Christian love, said Rev. Andrew Santamauro, OFM Conv., Catholic University’s associate chaplain for faith development, who led the May 17-31 Campus Ministry mission to the tiny city of Puerto Jimenez near Corcovado National Park, a rainforest on Costa Rica’s southern Osa Peninsula.

Serving the poor, Father Santamauro explained, is “what Jesus called us to do.”

As service is a key component of Catholic University’s mission, Campus Ministry hosts three mission trips a year, typically to Jamaica during spring break and to Belize and Costa Rica in the summer. According to Campus Ministry, annually about 65 Catholic University students take part in the international missions “to meet, serve, and be welcomed by the poorest of the poor.”

This year, the Costa Rica mission trip students have logged their service hours in an ambitious service campaign marking Catholic University’s 125th anniversary. The University’s students, alumni, faculty, and staff are striving to perform 125,000 hours of service by next Founders Day, April 10, 2012. The 13 student missionaries added 3,536 hours of service toward the goal.

The Costa Rica mission was coordinated through the Missionary Cenacle Volunteers, the lay volunteer arm of the religious congregation the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity.

Fourteen students volunteered for the May mission, although one suffered a health crisis while en route in the U.S. and had to return home, accompanied by a CUA residence life assistant area coordinator.

The remaining 13 student missionaries and Father Santamauro spent two weeks renovating the Catholic Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman in Puerto Jimenez and teaching catechism to children living in the outlying areas.

Scraping paint, sanding walls, and scrubbing the church’s floors were “heavy labor, big time, especially in 88-degree heat,” said sophomore Kinya Alexander, who joined the mission out of a “passion” to help others and a desire to connect with fellow Catholic students.

They didn’t find any usual comforts. The students stayed a half mile from the church, and they walked to the worksite each day. They went without modern plumbing and cell phones. And the missionary laborers had only “warm pipe water” to drink under the midday sun, said Alexander.

It was an eye-opening experience for the students, observed Father Santamauro.

In their daily lives, he explained, “all of their needs and a lot of their wants have been taken care of, and so it’s really a beautiful thing to go and watch the students see people who are very poor…and just to minister to them and to see that people don’t have it as good as they do.”

What has stayed with Alexander about the mission isn’t the exotic location, the work, or even the poverty. It is the poor.

“The most memorable experience was the people that we were with,” she observed – strangers who became like family, particularly at Mass.

“Especially in the same faith, we come to the same terms. Even though we have a language barrier, we believe in one God,” Alexander said. “It’s amazing to see how different cultures are so similar when it comes to our religion.”


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