Spring break at Franciscan University of Steubenville means it is time for mission trips. Hundreds of students travelled domestically and internationally between March 12-19 to serve in soup kitchens, schools, medical clinics, parishes and other locations to bring the light of Christ to people in need.
Completely funded and led by students, Franciscan mission groups traveled to Arizona, the Bronx, Denver, Los Angeles, New Mexico, North Dakota, San Diego, Belize, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Sophomore Eleanor Blair participated in the mission trip to Gallup, New Mexico, from March 14-18. Her team ran retreats for children at a local school and helped with renovations at a separate school nearby.
“There’s something that’s so lifegiving about serving others, and when you’re doing that with a team, that’s lifegiving times two because you get to behold God working in the people that you’re serving and the people that you’re serving with,” Blair said.
In the morning, Blair and the other members of her mission team ran retreats for kids in grades K-6 at Sacred Heart Cathedral School. The missionaries played games and gave talks about topics such as prayer and baptism, afterwards breaking into small groups for discussion.
Doing Gospel reflections as a mission team before the trip prepared them for talking about the faith with the children, Blair said. The preparation helped her team “pick out main points about what the Church teaches and (make) it relatable for the kids.”
Blair said she loved getting to see the joy and wonder of the children who attended the retreats.
“I saw God so much in the kids that we served, especially the little ones because they attack you with love, and they just want to know what your favorite color is, and they want to be your friend,” Blair said.
After putting on retreats in the morning, the New Mexico mission team helped with renovations at St. Michael’s Indian School in the afternoons. They worked on manual labor projects, including removing old flooring and organizing a storage unit.
“For example, the guys would pull out some of the cement from the chapel floor because it’s being refurbished,” Blair explained.
Some of the girls one day cleaned out a storage unit and reorganized it, said Blair, adding that the group also cleaned up a garden area and cemetery.
The missionaries stayed at the Sacred Heart Retreat Center on the outskirts of Gallup, starting their day with Mass every morning and closing with a holy hour in the evenings. They ended their week with a silent 5-hour retreat on their last afternoon in New Mexico.
Reflecting on the trip, Blair said, “one of the most beautiful things from mission is just getting to see God work in each of the team members and see how he used them to serve the people that we were there to serve.”
Senior Manny Toledo was part of a mission team that travelled to Benque, Belize, over spring break. The group split up to teach at three schools in the area.
Toledo taught theology to students at Mount Carmel High School with a partner from his team. The missionaries talked about “how to begin a relationship with Jesus through scripture” and discussed different types of prayer with the kids.
Toledo and his partner led the students in an exercise of Ignatian contemplation to practically apply what they were learning. The students pictured themselves in biblical scenes to encounter Christ as a person who wants to form a relationship with them, Toledo said.
The Belize mission team engaged in a “ministry of presence” after school hours, playing soccer and talking with the kids. Toledo noted that it was during this time that the missionaries got to know the children.
“That was the one thing that they told us that the kids appreciate the most: just you being there and you just getting to know them and them wanting to get to know you,” Toledo said.
At the end of the week, the missionaries were met with a surprise as they boarded their flight to leave Belize. The airport was shut down suddenly for over an hour due to the arrival of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who were on a tour of the Caribbean.
“And then because of that we missed our connecting flight from Miami to Pittsburgh,” Toledo said, “and we couldn’t get another flight until Monday night, so we were stuck in Miami for two days thanks to the royals.”
Toledo encourages those considering going on mission to “not be afraid and just do it,” adding that the experience has changed both his life and that of his team members.