When five student friars were invited on a mission trip to Nicaragua, they expected to be nudged outside their comfort zones while building a school for 240 students in Dario, a small city in western Nicaragua.
“What we intended was to build a school to help those we would meet,” said Casey Cole, OFM, who wrote about the trip on his blog, Breaking in the Habit. “What we discovered was there was much more to a Franciscan mission than simply giving of ourselves.”
From July 25 to Aug. 2, the student friars — Casey, John Aherne, OFM, Dennis Bennett, OFM, George Camacho, OFM, and Edgardo Jara, OFM — accompanied 12 laypeople from St. Camillus Parish, Silver Spring, Md., as well as pastor Michael Johnson, OFM, to Nicaragua. The parish has sponsored its Build Nicaragua program for several years, assisting communities there with building housing, schools and other projects.
During the 10-day trip, the group learned to acclimate to a different culture, listening to and working with the locals who shared their hearts and homes with the missioners. Their days consisted of a myriad of activities — everything from mixing concrete and laying bricks to entertaining the local children and making tortillas with their parents.
“As a student friar, I do most of my work with my head and not with my hands, so it was really refreshing to get back outside and to work with our hands to actually build something,” said John. “We talk a lot in the Franciscan charism about the ministry of presence, about being there for people, about being a calming presence, the presence of Christ. There’s a great deal of truth to that. But there’s also a great deal of truth in building something through the work of your hands.”
Throughout the mission, Michael reflected on a sense of minority.
“Most of us in the Province are English speakers,” he said. “We work in an English-speaking world. When we traveled to Nicaragua, many of our people [from St. Camillus] didn’t have the language ability. For the first time, they understood what an immigrant deals with when they go to another culture. If you have a graduate degree and you’re forced to communicate on a second-grade level, that humbles you.”
The trip was chronicled in a documentary created by Casey, who shared the finished product on his YouTube channel.
- “Student Friars Prepare for Summer Assignments” — May 13, 2015, HNP Today
- “Reflection: Mission in South Africa” — July 31, 2015, HNP Today
- “Maryland Parishioners Work with Local Habitat for Humanity” — Aug. 12, 2009, HNP Today