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11/16/2013 2:00:00 PM
College students serve in Central America
Newman Center photos
Catholic students from OSU and PSU take break during mission trip in Belize.  
Newman Center photos
Catholic students from OSU and PSU take break during mission trip in Belize.

A student spends a moment with children in Belize.
A student spends a moment with children in Belize.

Two dozen Catholic students from Oregon State and Portland State universities went on a two-week mission trip this year to the Central American country of Belize.

Stationed in the town of San Ignacio with 15,000 residents, the Oregon group offered two Bible school programs to more than 120 kids, led a day retreat for 40 high school students and helped with the organization of a four-night retreat for adults who had not been active in the church for years.

The students woke at 7 a.m., attended prayer and meditation, ate breakfast and cleaned the rooms before heading out to daily mission tasks, which included house visits. They prayed a rosary before lunch and the afternoon mission, then had Mass before dinner. They said night prayer before bed.

"I was afraid of doing something out of my comfort zone," says Megan Angstrom, explaining that the trip turned out to be one of the most important phases of her life. Among her most meaningful moments was helping a sad girl pray for her sick sister.

"Seeing her kneeling before Jesus, hands clasped tight in fervent prayer, I saw hope for the future," Angstrom said. "The children of Belize are what changed me the most."

The young missionaries were led by four members of the Saint John Society of priests and Society of Mary sisters, who serve in the Newman Centers at both schools.

In addition to meeting their enthusiastic bus driver and guide, the students were greeted by geckos crawling around on the walls, fire ants, and a multitude of bugs the likes of which they had never seen.

They stayed in school classrooms and had Mass in the simple school chapel, which had a concrete floor, plastic chairs, a wooden altar, a small plastic statue of Mary, two images of Jesus and a wooden tabernacle with the door covered in red velvet.

"This would be our place to go to after a long day of missioning, to converse with Jesus and recharge our souls for the next day," says PSU student Cirra Halter.

Halter recalls visiting a 77-year-old woman who lived alone, having been injured in a car crash. The woman had stopped attending Mass. Halter and Sister Isabel of the Society of Mary helped her pray about other suffering women whenever she feels pain. The woman's life became a ministry focused on others instead of a hell closed in on herself.

At the end of the retreat for adults, 45 inactive Catholics decided to attend confession for the first time in years. The retreat ended with a prayerful procession to Sacred Heart Church in the center of town.

Halfway through the mission, youths spent a day at Mayan ruins where they relaxed, prayed and took part in formation groups to help them spiritually recharge.

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