Connecticut Mercy Mission: 1971
The Guatemala Mercy mission officially began on August 6, 1971, when Maria Caridad Desell, RSM and her lay companion, Natividad Alonzo, traveled by horseback over treacherous Guatemalan terrain to the isolated village of Chanmagua, Esquipulas, Chiquimula. At the invitation of a secular institute and the Benedictines in Esquipulas, Caridad and other Mercies had spent several summers doing catechetical work in rural villages of Esquipulas. Motivated by Vatican II and the Pope’s call to assist the Latin American Church, Mercy leadership in Connecticut responded to the Benedictine Prior’s request for a permanent Mercy presence. With a joyful heart, Sister Caridad traveled to Guatemala and left us her account of that official Foundation Day:
“After Mass at the Basilica of Esquipulas we began the trip to Chanmagua. It was the first Saturday of the month and the catechists from Chanmagua who had come to Esquipulas for Mass and classes joined Natividad and myself to begin the 22-kilometer trip to the village. One of the catechists had a horse. Natividad and I had two horses – one for baggage, as I would be setting up house in Chanmagua; the other for Natividad and me to take turns riding. Nati, whom I had met on my previous two visits, had offered to help me get adjusted. She was to stay a month in Chanmagua and then return to her village to take care of her mother.
The pace was rather slow because there were about five catechists walking and Natividad and I spent time on the horse and time on foot. We had probably been traveling a couple of hours over rivers and up hills when at the top of the hill at the peak of the mountain, there was a big muddy water hole in the middle of the road. The catechist tried to lead the horse around the muddy spot, but instead, the horse walked into the deep mud and couldn´t get out. The men had to take all the baggage off the horse and pull the horse out of the mud, put the baggage back on the horse, and keep moving another three hours until we arrived at the village of Chanmagua. It was a great initiation into our rural pastoral ministry!!!”
Caridad and Natividad continued to serve the people of Chanmagua with that same tenacious spirit for the next 46 years. Natividad first became an associate and later in 1982 was welcomed as a member of the Sisters of Mercy. With frequent short- and long-term assistance from Sisters and other volunteers, their parish and catechetical ministry extended to the far-flung rural areas surrounding the village of Chanmagua. Projects of potable water and sanitation were organized and implemented; catechists and health promoters were trained; and a prize-winning coffee cooperative was formed. In 2006 the Connecticut Mercy mission in Guatemala became part of the emerging Community (Province) of CCASA: Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. With the death of Natividad in August 2016 and of Caridad in October 2017, an era in the history of Mercy in Guatemala ended. However, a vibrant group of Associates is keeping their legacy and commitment alive. In them, the compassionate spirit of Catherine McAuley continues to be incarnated in this still-remote corner of Latin America.