Xavier students think globally with Honduran mission

Being in solidarity with people from a different culture is one reason Xavier University of Louisiana’s Office of Campus Ministry has organized its inaugural mission trip to Honduras this summer.

Another is to further the work of St. Katharine Drexel, Xavier University’s founder, whose life’s mission “promoted a more just and human society,” said Xavier student Sarah Bertrand, who is coordinating the trip. “Sometimes the Catholic identity of our school gets lost, and we want to bring (St. Katharine’s) mission to light.”

Josephite Father Etido Jerome, campus chaplain and director of campus ministry, has worked with Bertrand to make the trip possible. He’s wanted to do a mission trip since his arrival to the university five years ago and was spurred, this year, by Bertrand’s enthusiasm. Mission trips, he said, reinforce Catholic social teaching by having students think globally while responding to the needs of poor outside of their comfort zones.

“I’ve been trying to get them to think not only about making money, but also having a vocation of service,” Father Jerome said. “To expose them to the global need outside of America and bring the mission of the Gospel everywhere. I want to show them that people elsewhere don’t have books or pencils like they do, so they can appreciate what they have, and what they have can help others.”

Helping villagers survive

Bertrand said her catalyst for the May 26-June 2 trip was lifelong friend Chloe Boudreaux, who extolled the mission trip experience at Tulane University’s Fr. Val McInnes, OP, Center for Catholic Life. Their conversations harkened to mission work as students at St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge.

“We were inspired to do something internationally, and it’s something I am interested in studying.”

Bertrand said Xavier’s group is working with Honduras Outreach Inc. (HOI), a faith-based, non-denominational organization with 30-plus years’ experience in Honduras improving agriculture, health care, sustainable food and irrigation sources, entrepreneurship and business development, education and faith.

“We like the fact that they are centered in Honduras and stay there all year long,” Bertrand said. “They’re not ‘one (project) and done’.”

The 15-member Xavier mission delegation will have dormitory-style accommodations at Rancho Paraiso in the Agalta Valley region of San Esteban and work several of HOI’s ongoing projects, such as helping out in English classes, conducting Bible study or some form of manual labor while they are there.

“We will plant, dig, build – anything they need us to do,” she said.

Catholicism will be integrated into their trip, especially at evening reflections, Bertrand said, adding that HOI starts each morning at the ranch praying with staff and volunteers.

Father Jerome said missioners will try to visit a Catholic Relief Services project in the area and create a daily blog on Xavier’s website: xula.org.

Long-lasting effect

Bertrand, who is a junior pre-med biology major, said doing mission work beyond New Orleans is essential for college students. While some mission participants have traveled outside of the U.S., others haven’t.”

“For me, it’s important to notice the difference in culture and the way people live,” she said. “So, in Honduras, there are not as many resources as in the United States, and, going for a week lacking ‘first-world’ resources will be insightful for students and help us appreciate our education and our community in New Orleans. It also will help us live in solidarity with the greater global community.”

Their trip should inspire others to expand their horizons and help strangers.

“Once other people see us doing service and making a difference outside of New Orleans, they’ll be encouraged to continue this global work,” she said.

Just from hearing about the trip from Bertrand, who is her roommate, Xavier student Rhea Lee from Port Allen said the mission’s impact is helping people in Honduras.

“By providing humanitarian acts, it brings the mission at its core to the forefront and Xavier students providing support to people in Honduras,” Lee said.

The cost of the trip is approximately $1,500 a person, so campus ministry members are fundraising. They have a table every Thursday and Friday in February (including Feb. 22-23) at the University Center from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and sell “Threads of Hope” handmade bracelets ($2 each; three for $5) from the Philippines (splitting proceeds with the families who made them) and custom-made T-shirts ($15) emblazoned with “Promote a Just and Humane Society,” from Xavier’s mission statement. There is also a Feb. 21 event at Blaze Pizza, 5001 Freret St., where 20 percent of proceeds between 5-8 p.m. benefit the trip, and a Go Fund Me account: https://www.gofundme.com/xulamissionhonduras.

Surging interest

Father Jerome said campus ministry is active, holding retreats; recently conducting a baby bottle campaign in partnership with Woman’s New Life Center during March for Life (in January); traveling to Washington, D.C., advocating for DACA immigrants, Medicaid for seniors and the poor, the housing tax credit and international health; holding a migration week campaign with lawyers who work with Catholic Charities (students endured a migration experience); and live-streaming the pope’s “Share the Journey” campaign.

Bertrand and Father Jerome hope this trip plants a seed for a 2019 African mission trip. They also are currently establishing a campus ministry leadership team for the 2018-19 year to help in that endeavor. In the meantime, members will be feeding the homeless in New Orleans.

“We are excited about going on the trip,” Father Jerome said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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