This weekend, Christine, Jose and I decided to take a trip to visit our new friend Katie in San Lucas Tolimán, a small town on the edge of Lake Atitlán in central Guatemala.
We asked our teachers if we could quit school early on Friday, and we hopped in a van with our very kind driver Manuel. Manual took us on a spectacular adventure through the Guatemalan countryside, switchbacking up and down curvy mountain roads. When we came to a bridge that had been washed away, Manual drove us straight through the creek it originally crossed. When we came to a truck that ran into the side of a mountain, he waited until Jose jumped out to help the drivers push it aside, then he drove on unfazed. Up and down he went, stopping on occasion to allow us to snap a photo of vistas that overlooked gorgeous valleys. Manual, uber talented professional driver, got us to San Lucas Tolimán without trouble.
Our meeting with Katie was providential and fun, especially given the random nature of how it came about. Christine met Katie via email through a random meeting with a lovely family at our language school, which consequently led them to discover they had mutual friends. We decided to visit her mission, which led us to discover that we also had mutual friends. From all over the world. And while we had never met before this week, God has been recycling us among different places and people at different times. Such is life among active Catholics: there’s only two degrees of separation between me and the Pope. I’m working up to one.
Katie runs a bustling mission in San Lucas established by a diocesan priest from Minnesota more than 40 years ago. Today, the mission has completely transformed the community with its numerous ministries, including a hospital, a school with more than 400 students, and several environmental projects including an experimental farm and a fair trade coffee project. When he passed away about two years ago, several thousand people came to line the streets during his funeral procession. Katie made an amazing documentary about the life of Monsignor Greg, the catalyst for change in the community. The movie and more about the mission can be found here. Katie was so kind to show us the various ministries of the mission, and it was amazing to see the beautiful impact the mission has on the community of San Lucas Tolimán.
We spent our Saturday morning touring Santiago and San Antonio, both small towns on the edge of the lake. The boat ride across the lake was the loveliest part of the day, as the water is so blue it’s almost unbelievable that the lake is real. We pulled up to Santiago, a bigger town with plenty of tourist stalls and steeled our nerves as we were immediately accosted by vendors. Young kids working in the tourist stalls spoke English, if you count the phrases “You think about it,” “It’s very beautiful,” and “Please, I give you good price.” Vendors are very persistent bargainers and shopping wasn’t too fun until the frenzy died down a bit as we got some distance between ourselves and the stalls closest to the docks. After we had gone up the street for a while, browsing the stalls was lovely as Guatemalans are known for their beautiful weaving and amazing traditional clothing, and some of their wares were absolutely gorgeous.
Santiago was also the home of Father Stan, a priest who was martyred during a brutal civil war in Guatemala that lasted years. We visited the town church which houses a memorial in the room where he was killed. His story is quite heartbreaking, as he fought for the dignity of the poor in Guatemala during those tumultuous years and was eventually murdered because of his work. He worked alongside Father Greg, and they were good friends.
San Antonio, our other stop on our lake tour, is home to a famous local ceramics studio. It’s a much quieter town, but we had a lovely time talking to the family that runs the studio and strolling aka climbing a rather steep hill up to the church which overlooks the lake and the town.
All this walking, shopping and learning made for a rather full weekend, as well as a long blog entry. But so many exciting things managed to jam themselves into one and a half days! We even snagged some time to say evening prayer together and chat with a new friend Gary, who rode his bike from Texas to Guatemala. That’s right, bike, not motorbike.
In the end, we managed to return ourselves to Antigua safely early Sunday morning, and even managed a relaxing Sunday in town to boot.