Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

051017 jamaicaCHARLOTTE — Twenty-two Charlotte Catholic students traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, for their spring break – not to spend time on the beach or to see the sights, but to work alongside the Missionaries of the Poor, providing help and companionship to those with little or nothing.

The Missionaries of the Poor run several different centers in Kingston, tending to the needs of orphaned children, adults with AIDS, and adults with severe mental and physical disabilities. The high school sophomores, juniors and seniors clothed, diapered, fed and played with the children. The young men in the group shaved and talked with the men at the centers, assisting with many of their needs. They cleaned and helped wherever they could at the adult center, rubbing cream on the elderly, feeding those unable to feed themselves and providing companionship – all the while respecting the dignity of each person they encountered. In addition, they worked alongside the MOP sisters at the mission, helping the elderly and orphaned children in their care.

Junior MeKayla Gough was taken aback at first by the joy that exuded from the children.

“These kids at the orphanage have nothing,” Gough said. “No parents, toys or even clothing to call their own. Despite their situations and personal disabilities, those kids are the happiest children I’ve ever had the joy of meeting.”

“These kids have changed my life,” she continued. “One little boy named Bob is missing an arm and a leg, yet I have never seen a wider smile on anyone’s face. He’s my hero, because despite the hand that life dealt him, he can somehow still see the joy and hope in life.”

The students immersed themselves in the missionary life, living with the MOP brothers, praying daily with them, and partaking of the life to which the brothers have committed themselves. They attended Holy Thursday Mass with the Missionaries of the Poor and engaged in the washing of the feet with the Church community.

“It was most joyful when we offered each other the sign of peace,” said Jen Murlless, Charlotte Catholic High School counselor who accompanied the students. “The church sang out with ‘Amen’ over and over, to the beat of the drum and the clanging of the tambourine, while everyone walked around the church shaking hands and hugging the brothers, sisters and church members.”

“We were welcomed into the community with open arms,” Gough added. There were no barriers whatsoever and I think that’s what was so beautiful about the entire trip. I’ve honestly never experienced such an engaging and joyful Mass. I think I hugged every person in that church!”

On Good Friday, the students walked throughout Kingston praying the Stations of the Cross. Michael Neel, a sophomore, and Gary Hoilett, a chaperone, carried the cross while many of the students carried an image of each station.

“It was an intense experience,” Gough said. “It was sweltering hot, and we were kneeling on the burning-hot street. When we got back to the church, 051017 CCHS Jamaica trip2051017 CCHS Jamaica trip2Father asked his how we felt. We all said we were exhausted. He then asked us how Jesus must have felt, because we had only walked 200 meters around a park. And that was something to really think about.”

“The week was so very meaningful,” Murlless said. “The people we served are at the mercy of those who help them, yet they are filled with great joy for what little they have or what they can do. I was so proud of our students as individuals and as a group. They were wonderful to the people and to each other.”

The high school’s Campus Ministry Team, Mary Jayne (MJ) Dawson and Theresa Hintz, provided organization and direction to the effort.

“We began these mission trips in 2007,” Dawson said. “We started with a trip to Peru that first year, and have been to many other places, including coal-mining areas of West Virginia and places hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. There is such need in Jamaica, but our students experience such love and joy, as well. We are already looking forward to next year.”
— Carolyn Kramer Tillman, Special to the Catholic News Herald