Catholic Awesomeness

Haiti Immersion Trip 2016

Mindful of the manifold gifts of God dispersed throughout the world, ten Hope College students and two Catholic leaders from the local parish traveled to Haiti over spring break to learn more about the beauty and wonder of God’s Spirit at work through the people we encountered.

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We did not travel as tourists but as guests having been invited to “Come and See.” We understood we were on mission in so far as we love those whom we come in contact with. However, we did not travel as missionaries coming to bring a truth that the persons of Haiti do not know.

We went as students to listen and to learn from the experiences of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Haiti, about how they experience Christ in their life and how Christ gives them hope.

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Throughout the week, we met with orphans and sick children at the Missionaries of Charity nutrition center, the severely disabled at the Missionaries of the Poor home, the hungry at the Food for the Poor distribution center, the tireless workers at the orphanage, the talented doctors and nurses at two local hospitals, and entrepreneurs at local businesses.  We also had the privilege to worship with Mother Teresa's sisters every day, to walk through Port-au-Prince in the Palm Sunday procession, and to celebrate the Triduum with our Haitian brothers and sisters.

The students who went offered a series of reflections on their experiences and the profound impact the trip had in their lives.

The Trip in Three Words

Eye-opening, Growth, Moving

Beautiful, heart-breaking, soul-filling

Eye-opening, heart-breaking, humbling

Humbling, eye-opening, pivotal

Illuminating, transforming, vulnerable

Unforgettable, thought-provoking, joyful

Humbling, divine, and inspiring

Humbling, introspective, challenging

The Impact in One Sentence

This trip showed me that if you have Jesus you are richer than you could ever imagine and if you have Jesus you have everything you need.

This trip was a slap in the face of the blessings I take for granted, as well as the enormity of God’s love that I haven’t appreciated.

The Haiti trip encapsulates the essence of faith, friends, learning, and serving by meeting with the most unbelievable and inspiring people, and having some of the most humbling experiences that at the end of the day brought us all closer to one another and Christ.

This trip not only broadened my vision of the Church, letting me experience the universality of the Church in a way that will remain with me forever, but it also opened my heart to the most vulnerable among us, helping me to better understand the inviolable dignity of the human person.

Thanks to Haiti, I’ve become more at peace with myself and hold more good thoughts for not myself but for others as well.

This trip had a profound impact on the way that I view the world from the standpoint that these incredibly beautiful people who have almost nothing are still able to work as a community and lend a helping hand when someone is in need.

I have a greater appreciation for the many blessings/struggles in my life and I have gained knowledge about more effective aid to countries in need.

My time in Haiti was entirely eye-opening for me as to the incredible privileges that I have in my own life, the great needs of the world that echo Christ's thirst on the cross and call of each one of us to service, and the universal community that we have through fellowship in one Catholic faith.

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Highlights and Stories

One highlight for me on the trip was having Monsignor Pierre Andre Pierre washing Dr. Page and my feet. Not only was the washing of our feet truly a humbling experience, but after he washed them he came back to us. He looked me in the eye and said “God Bless” and finished with a big hug. It was at this moment when I realized that this man is filled with Christ.It felt as if I was in the presence of a Saint. It was a beautiful sight and words cannot describe it. I will always remember that hug and that moment.

When we visited the Missionaries of the Poor, I had the privilege of helping to bathe some of the severely disabled children while others in our group played with other, less disabled, kids. Despite my plans of pursuing a career in medicine, I have very limited experience physically caring for anyone other than myself, and at first I felt very intimidated by the intimacy of helping wash, dry, and clothe a dozen children, whose names I was never even told. After the nurse bathed a child in a tub of soap and water, she would place the shivering, often whimpering child on a table in front of me, where I would dry them with a towel, put a diaper on them, and dress them in the outfits that another nurse laid out for me. As I did this and attempted to playfully talk to the children to cheer them up, I was overwhelmed by the joy that they exuded as they were clothed, comforted, and their fear and feelings of vulnerability faded away. Many of them laughed as I picked them up after having dressed them and moved them to their crib or wheelchair. By the time I was placing the final child in their crib, I was moved to tears remembering Matthew 25:40 "whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me." I had literally clothed the naked and held a vulnerable child, a child made in God's own image who by our world's standards is the least among the people, and my understanding of my dependence on the Lord suddenly made so much more sense than ever before. I will truly never forget the experience I had and the lesson I learned about the simplicity of human dignity that afternoon with the Missionaries of the Poor.

The Apparent Project was a beautiful workshop, store and cafe that displayed many forms of entrepreneurship. It was so inspiring to see people come together for a blood drive hosted by the Apparent Project.

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Going to the Missionaries of the Poor on Thursday was one of my highlights of the trip. It was awesome praying with the bothers there and helping them clean and make beds. However, the best part was being able to hang out with a little boy who was blind and in a wheelchair. He was so joyful! And every time I would spin him around in his wheelchair or tickle his neck he would lean back and burst out in laughter. It was so fun and inspiring to see his joy! It was also a very humbling experience feeding the children there.

 I had a very difficult experience when we went to an orphanage for disabled children. When we were given a tour, we were led to a room where two little boys with cerebral palsy were lying in a bed together. One of the little boys was moaning and didn’t notice it at first, but at a closer glance I realized that they were covered in flies. I walked over and brushed the flies off and later returned to sit on the bed with them. I didn’t hold either of them because I was scared to hurt them because they both looked so frail. I just sat there and stroked their arms and brushed away the flies. Neither of them said a word, but one looked at me and smiled. It wasn’t the full healthy smile that I’d been so accustomed to seeing on the kids in Haiti, it was more of an attempt at a smile like he was trying it out for the first time. In that moment I was unbelievably frustrated and I wanted to do all I could to make these kids comfortable and happy. I wanted to be able to feed them and give them all the love they deserved but all I was capable of doing at that moment was stroking their arms. The little boy smiled at me a second time, a more self-assured smile and I realized that where I can’t, God can. In that moment I didn’t have the power to fix the brokenness in front of me, but I could show love and trust in God to help where I can’t. 

On one of our last days we went to the Missionaries of the Poor where there is home for the mentally and physically disabled. The home had mostly children, but the brothers explained that when people are there, they are there for life. One of the things we did there was help feed the children lunch. A woman gave me a big bowl of some kind of rice porridge and motioned to a boy lying in a crib nearby. One of the brothers came by and told me that the boy’s name was Mario. I wasn’t quite sure how to feed Mario at first. He looked like he was maybe six or seven, and didn’t seem to really be able to use his arms and legs. Eventually he opened his mouth wide enough for me to just put the spoon in and see what he did with the food. He ate it, and I gave him more. For probably half an hour I stood there with a big bowl of porridge, watching Mario slowly chew each spoonful. I talked to him even though he couldn’t understand me or communicate back. But I kept talking and waiting for him to finish each mouthful, smiling at him and wiping up when food fell out. I couldn’t get over how happy he was. I know I was the one giving him physical food, but he was the one with the real gifts. He gave me an understanding of vulnerability that I’ve never known before, the purest example of faith, and best of all a look into the face of Christ hidden in his crippled bones.

The Orphanage of the Missionaries of Charity was the first of many events that cracked my harden shell and left me feeling vulnerable and exposed. Every detail within the orphanage stirred up feelings with a new degree of intensity that in that moment I was unsure how to comprehend them. The moment I looked into the eyes of the first child, I felt my body clench up. It pained me to see a child no more than two years old already carrying such a heaviness of sadness in their eyes. At that moment, I finally understood what it meant when people said that the eyes were the windows to the soul. Immediately I wanted to hold the child, and hoped that within my arms he could feel all the love I had for him. I noticed that many of the children showed no desire to be held when I stuck my arms out. They felt distant and withdrawn, however when I did pick them up, they clung onto to me like their life depended on it. I can only guess how many times they have been picked up to be put down by people who end up leaving them. The turmoil I felt caused by this simple small room of children gave me light as to how important it is to always show love and how wasteful it was to ever show anything but it. These children show me how to never be ungrateful for the love I receive from my family, friends and even strangers.  It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not; the importance lies in acknowledging the other person as human and as a child of God that deserves love regardless of any other titles he or she holds. Love, at least to me, is what holds the most value in this world.

Aside from all of the silliness that ensued within the group thought the week one of the most profound moments for me was while playing with some of the toddlers at the orphanage and how incredibly kind and giving they were with everything they had from toys to the snacks that they were given. My heart instantly broke when in the midst of playing with some of the little boys I looked over to see a girl, no older than 3 or 4 years old, rocking and consoling a little boy who was upset. The magnitude of this moment extended far beyond her kind gesture but the fact that in having nothing she was still able to give of herself to comfort someone else.

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Dawn Eden Gives Hope to the Hurting (VIDEO)

Dawn Eden Gives Hope to the Hurting (VIDEO)

On September 16, author and popular speaker, Dawn Eden, gave two talks on the campus of Hope College: "How Jesus’ Sacred Heart Healed My Memories" and "Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On"

Casting the Demons Out....of the Dorm Room

Casting the Demons Out....of the Dorm Room

A blessing of dorm rooms? What’s that about...? Last year, the Saint Benedict Forum organized the first-ever blessing of dorm rooms on the campus of Hope College. The event was such a hit that it was brought back again this year. This year’s blessing of dorm rooms took place during the second week of school once students had time to settle in . . . and to give them an excuse to do some possibly needed housekeeping.

Immersion Trip 2015: Franciscans of the Eucharist

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By Daniel Karlovich, Hope College '15, Engineering Major

During Spring Break this year I was blessed to go on the Hope College Immersion trip sponsored by the Saint Benedict Forum to Chicago. With 10 other Hope students and two adult mentors from St. Francis de Sales Parish in Holland, Michigan I lived and worked at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels alongside members of the religious order Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago. It was a powerful and blessed experience for us all.

A View of the Hope Students from Chicago's Famous "Bean"
A View of the Hope Students from Chicago's Famous "Bean"

During the course of the week we learned to live simply like the Franciscans. A significant part of the trip was spent doing simple tasks such as cooking and cleaning. We quickly learned from the sisters that even such “boring” chores take on great meaning when done with joy and love for Christ.

We also ventured into the community in which we were living. Inside one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in Chicago, we spent a few hours every day at the local YMCA with the children in their after school programs. Helping teach a junior class at the local high school, a school with a 67% dropout rate, was particularly powerful for many of us. We also visited a Catholic school, Cristo Rey, and learned about all the wonderful work they are doing to help underprivileged children get a good high school and college education.

All these great things were secondary to what the trip was mainly about. The trip was about self-reflection, learning what it means to live as a Christian in a broken world. It was here that the trip made a lasting impression on me.

I don’t think this trip was easy for anyone. We all were blessed by our experiences, but it wasn’t comfortable. It was a week of both great joy and great sorrow. Joy seemed to just flow from the sisters and it influenced our whole week in our work and in our relationships with each other and the people we met. What a contrast to the pervasive sorrow caused by the poverty and violence that was so prevalent and normal in the neighborhood and in the lives of those we met. Living for a week in an area of so much violence and poverty made all of us ask questions of ourselves and of God that we perhaps had never asked before.

What were these questions? We questioned what purpose was there to come into these people’s lives for a week and then leave. How could we change anything in so short a time against such overwhelming odds? We also questioned ourselves, where are we in our own spiritual journeys? Where is God in our lives?

Some of these questions are easy to answer. Immersion trips are aptly named because we really do not go to help others. We cannot change anything in a week. We go to learn about ourselves and to deepen our own understanding and love of God. In this aspect, this trip succeeded. Some of us left hopeful despite all the struggles. Others left frustrated. It wasn’t the frustration that comes from failure, but the frustration of struggling with a hard question that taxes us spiritually and mentally, but which always leaves us better for the struggle.

For me, being in the midst of so much violence and poverty left me feeling more hopeful than I have in a while. Despite the conditions of the neighborhood, I found so much good there. All the residents we met were loving and welcoming. The kids were a constant joy to be around. The YMCA employees worked tirelessly to get the kids off the streets, to do their homework and have a hot meal. And, of course, there are the sisters who are respected and loved within the community, doing everything with so much abundant joy and love for God. I realized that despite the evil in the world there are so many people who go about their lives humbly and lovingly in the midst of suffering, helping those in poverty both spiritually and physically.

It is always good when facing hard questions to draw on the wisdom of other godly people. In the car ride home one of the girls, like the rest of us still struggling to come to terms with all we had experienced, read a reflection on St. Veronica. The message was clear, “sometimes all we can do is wipe the sweat from someone’s brow as they suffer” (Kerry Weber, Mercy in the City).

Before the trip we may have said we went to help the poor, but we are wiser now. Like St. Veronica, the best we could do was to wipe the sweat from those in pain as an act of love. The real change came in our own hearts.

The Blessing of the Dorm Rooms

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“Do you know how to make holy water?” Fr. Charlie asked. “You take ordinary tap water and boil the hell out of it.” Then he chuckled and apologized for the bad joke. But it seemed like a fitting comment to start his visit to Hope College that night. Fr. Charlie Brown, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Holland, MI, was on campus last week to bless the dorm rooms. Fr. James VanderLaan, the associate pastor, accompanied him.    Fr. James VanderLaan Blessing a Room

The blessing of dorm rooms is a common sight on Catholic college campuses, an annual tradition that marks the beginning of a new year.   But this is the first time it has ever happened at Hope College. The event was organized by the Saint Benedict Forum.

“We wanted to find ways to bring our priests into closer contact with our Hope Catholic students,” said Dr. Jared Ortiz, assistant professor of Religion at Hope and Director of the Saint Benedict Forum. “Pope Francis says that the shepherd should smell like the sheep. And after walking through Durfee, our priests will surely do that . . . Just kidding (Sorry, Durfee).”

The dorm room blessing is rooted in the more traditional blessing of new homes. Since the students will be making these rooms their homes for the academic year, it seemed fitting to extend this blessing to dorms as well. “The blessing is not magic,” Dr. Ortiz insisted. “It is a way of consecrating our things—in this case our room—for a holy purpose. By blessing our home with holy water, we say that we will use our room for prayer, for study, for fellowship and not for anything contrary to God’s will. And the blessing helps to bring about this good intention.”

dorm (2)Before the priests blessed the rooms, they met students for dinner in the newly-renovated Phelps Dining Hall. Only a few students were scheduled to dine with the priests, but once they entered the dining hall such a large crowd gathered that two tables had to be put together.

After dinner, several students guided the priests to the rooms of the students who had signed up for a blessing. “It was great to be there,” Fr. Charlie said. “We got a lot of double-takes, but also a lot of smiling faces. I think people appreciated it.”

At each room, the priests would talk to the students for a few moments and then pray,

Lord, we have prepared a place for you here. Be with all who will live in this dorm room this semester, Bless their studies with your Spirit of Wisdom. Be their shelter when they are at home, Walk with them when they are away, And welcome every guest that comes to visit. And, when life’s journey is done, May they dwell with you in the place you have prepared for them in God’s House, Where you live forever and ever. Amen.

Then they would sprinkle holy water on all four walls of the room and say, “Let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ, who has redeemed us by his death and resurrection. Amen.”

20140918_105422During a breakfast for Hope students at St. Francis a few days before the blessings, Dr. Ortiz explained, “You don’t know who lived in your room before you or what they did there. Jesus talks a lot about demons and how they dwell in certain places. No amount of Windex can clean that out! Holy water will help.”

The blessing of dorm rooms was so warmly received by everyone involved that the Saint Benedict Forum wants to make this an annual tradition at Hope College.

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