by Antonio Taiga Guterres, Belize, ’15
Loyola Marymount University ’15
Go and rebuild my church! was the invitation St. Francis of Assisi received from God.
Thirty miles from town lies one of many Mayan villages. Not long ago, another denomination of Christians in the village physically took over the Catholic church. The church still stands with the word “Catholic” painted over above the doors. Since then, many families have been converting from the Catholic Church, leaving four families remaining.
A few days ago, I got into one of the parish trucks to help run an errand there and just before leaving, one of the men at the parish waved me down.
“Are you heading out to the village by any chance?” he asked.
“Actually, yeah.” I responded.
“Could you deliver something there?”
He ran back into his little workshop and brought out a wooden cross he had built. It was almost the size of me. We loaded a broken piece of foam padding in the truck bed and gently placed the cross on top. Over an hour of dirt paths, flooded trails, and rocky roads, checking on the cross every few minutes, we finally reached the village.
After finding the parish catechist , Mr. L, he led us toward the newly-built church. We parked a good distance away since the road was too muddy for the truck. Mr. L grabbed the heavy wooden cross and began hauling it through the mud in the 90 degree weather (with 80% humidity!). We walked through the back of the village toward the edge of the jungle, our feet squelching in the muddy path until we reached the church, built in the middle of a grass field.
My glasses began to slip as I wiped the sweat out of my eyes. As I took a sleeve to my face and put my glasses back on, I saw Mr. L gently placing the cross inside the church, his entire shirt now wet with sweat. I looked above the wooden doors to see the small painted sign: St. Francis Catholic Church. I stood in amazement at the surrounding trees of the jungle, the butterflies dancing, and the birds singing. I thought to myself, “This is exactly where St. Francis would have wanted a church.”
As we stood in the shade resting for a bit before heading back, Mr. L shared a bit about himself. Before the old church was taken over, Mr. L would sit in the back and not participate in the mass very much. When the takeover occurred, only four families were left and someone had to volunteer to be the catechist. Having been fired from a previous job, Mr. L had more time than the other three. He explained how he still had so much to learn and but he was willing to do so. In this moment of vulnerability and humility was a raw beauty—his desire to grow in faith.
Today, I had the privilege to return and celebrate the Feast of St. Francis with him in that same church. People from the surrounding villages came to help decorate, rejoice, and break bread together for this celebration. The church was overflowing with people—heads looking through each of the windows and doors, people standing by the walls, children running around. and elders singing hymns in their Mayan Kekchi language.
In this beautiful place tucked by the edge of the jungle, there is a humble man serving his people, there is a community supporting one another to rebuild, there is a faith that keeps on living, and there is the spirit of St. Francis watching over them.