A summit experience in every physical, spiritual sense

Clarion Herald Guest column

Over Christmas break, a ragtag group of 11 young men, two youth ministers and a priest traveled to Mexico for a 10-day adventure of a lifetime. This was a joint trip through my home parish, Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville, and Christ the King Parish at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Beginning with four impactful days of working with St. Teresa of Calcutta’s order –  the Missionaries of Charity – we then trained arduously and attempted to scale North America’s third-highest peak, a striking volcano called Pico de Orizaba. We ended our trip with a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our first stop was in Mexico City, where the Missionaries of Charity have a home called “Hogar Paz y Alegría” (Home of Peace and Joy). Here we were able to serve alongside the sisters, who care for 60-plus disabled and abandoned women and children by cleaning, doing laundry, feeding the disabled, looking after young children and more. It was among the most physically and emotionally exhausting work that we have ever done, and we only stepped into the sisters’ world for four days. Our youth minister, Austin Ashcraft, said, “It is an absolute mystery how they do it every day.”

Through spending time with them, we began to realize that their lives would be impossible if not deeply rooted in prayer. Every day, they celebrate Mass in the morning, have four different group prayer times and time for quiet reflection and adoration. It is truly a convicting and rewarding experience to spend time with the sisters, and I strongly recommend looking into it.

Next, we attempted to climb to the top of Pico de Orizaba. Father Brad Doyle, a priest from  Vacherie, Louisiana, joined us here. Father Brad celebrated daily Mass for us, whether camped in the hostel or halfway up the mountain. It was a beautiful gift. We hiked for three straight days, acclimatizing ourselves before we attempted to scale the volcano.

It’s an incredibly beautiful area (Google: Pico de Orizaba sunset) where we really got to know each other, pushing ourselves to new limits and experiencing God through nature.

Unfortunately, the glacier’s conditions during our visit were too dangerous for climbing. We did hike up to the base of the glacier (at 17,000-foot altitude), and many of us made it a little way farther before deciding to turn around.

Through these two experiences, I was able to see wild beauty from different perspectives. On one hand, I experienced the beauty of giving. Before I started serving, I prayed for the grace to be able to completely give of myself. As I poured myself out alongside the sisters who were radiating the love of Christ, I discovered a peace that transcends understanding and a joy that runs contrary to how many pursue happiness in this modern world.

On the other hand, there was the beauty of creation revealed to me as I slept on the mountain and immersed myself in nature. There was the beauty of sacrificing for your brother when he ran out of water or needed a protein bar, and beauty in turning around with someone who had altitude sickness so the others could keep hiking. This is the beauty that overflows, the beauty that is begging to be shared with the world, and my desire upon returning home from this trip was to do just that.

“Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth,” said Bishop Robert Barron.

Trey Braud is a sophomore at the College of Charleston.

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