My Loyola Memories – Faculty and Staff Immersion Trip to Belize (May 21 - 29, 2011)
A special memory for me at Loyola was the immersion trip to Belize, organized by The Jesuit Center with a group of 14 Faculty and Staff, between May 21st and 29th May 2011.
Since the beginning we were invited to an immersion trip. We use the word “pilgrimage” as a metaphor of life. This trip was an invitation to experience - short and intensively - what is life. We were invited to have an experience with people and places from other cultures. We were invited to open our sense to see with new eyes, to listen with new ears, to take off our shoes because we would be touching sacred territories.
Education and the improvement of the social conditions of the population is one of the priorities of the Catholic Church in Belize where the mission and the presence of the Jesuits has been a very important factor since 1893.
We had the opportunity to meet with the students of the “Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension Program” (LIMEX). Loyola has offered these degrees and certificates in the extension format since 1983 through partnerships with local sponsoring agencies, a diocese, parish, retreat center, or other established institutions.
At the end of the meeting with LIMEX students, we were touched by the depth and motivation of their reflections. They asked us to stand up, sing together, and blessed us saying prayers like this: “May the God of Love be with you, telling you secrets, giving God to you, drawing you close as you tremble on the edge of self-gift. May God’s love in you light fires of faith and hope. May the fires grow, burn, burst, and inflame the earth. May God’s love in you glow in the eyes of your friends. May the blessing of Love, the blessing of Friendship be upon you.” I was nurtured by what I heard and the joy and hospitality of these LIMEX students, proud of the efforts and support that faculty and staff from Loyola offer to them.
We had the chance to visit the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich. It was like going back in the time machine. With the information provided by the guide and the use of our imagination we could imagine the splendor and beauty of this place and culture. In the top of the Pyramid, I had the opportunity to be silent and observe the magnificence of the view, plains, and mountains…It was a “thin” territory, special place to embrace heaven and earth, the sacred and the human, our lights and shadows. Here I had the gift to be “Astonished” and I realized that this is one of the conditions that leads us to open our mind and heart to the transcendent.
We spent two days painting the walls of San Luis de los Reyes School. In the midst of high temperatures, lack of running water, and some “mosquitos,” we did our job in collaboration with the teachers. We finished little and big walls. We were tired with paint all over our face and arms, but there was a lot of joy and satisfaction. The pleasure of feeling useful nurtures the meaning of our lives. Generous service, just for the sake of service, and doing good to others is a source of joy and life.
Our trip ended in the beauty of Caye Caulker. It was a time to relax and digest the previous experiences. We had the chance to spend a day doing snorkeling, swimming with manta rays, sharks, turtles, and all kind of colorful fishes, listening the breathing in and out of our lungs, in the immensity of the blue and emerald ocean. It was another peak moment of astonishment, beholdment, gratitude, and communion with all the creatures of the sea.
During the nights, under the stars, in the pier, we had our reflections and learning of the day. What was significant for each of us as a person, what challenges were present in the reality for us as professionals in education at Loyola, what were the “new signals” or messages of the day? In a circle, listening with attention and respect, we enjoyed everyone’s experiences and reflections. We honored our encounter finishing with a collective hug and appreciation of the time shared. These small, but significant rituals reinforced our bounding, friendship, and the sense of belonging to the Loyola community.
This experience created strong ties of friendship between us - friendships necessary to carry out the educational mission of the university. Something that St. Ignatius insisted. The more complex and universal is the mission, the more close bonds of friendship are necessary among those who carry it.
The trip was for me a practical experience of the Ignatian way of learning. If you want to learn something, come and see, “follow me,” said Jesus, have your own experience and taste it deeply, Ignatius will say. Think, reflect, so you can extract new meanings, change your perception, and be aware of the complexity of things. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, so you can feel “consolations” and “desolations,” so you can empathize with the joy and sadness of the people, to be “magnanimous” (big soul). Make a silent and open space to listen your inner voice, God within. Pray, contemplate the “transcendent” in the “immanent.” Evaluate, do your own exam in the light of compassion and love. Align yourself with the sacred music of Life and go back to your daily actions. Do this again and again to live in abundance and to be an active member of the “kingdom of God.”
Thanks to Loyola and Fr. Dziak, S.J., who has been for years the soul of this experience.
Ricardo J. Márquez, Ph.D.
Assistant Director of the Jesuit Center