They visited the sick in the barren hospitals, and the homeless in the streets.
They hung out at the town dump, providing sustenance and clothing for the desperately needy.
The 13 Jesuit High School boys who traveled to Nicaragua from June 28 – July 5 gave fully of themselves and gave all they had brought with them.
Led by chaperones Fr. Patrick Hough, S.J., and Dr. Angelo Pastore, it was the fourth straight summer a Jesuit contingent has traveled to Matagalpa, Nicaragua, in Central America, on a service immersion trip.
The Jesuit students serving the people of Matagalpa this year were: Chris Busser ’17, Max Campbell ’17, Chris Conn ’16, John Davenport ’17, Devon Diaz ’16, Jonathan Galvez ’16, Jack Knipe ’17, J.J. Miller ’16, Jarrett Roop ’17, Jake Salzsieder ’16, Mike Swenson ’17, Jorge Viso ’16, and Spencer Wallace ’17.
Among the Jesuit students was Swenson, who also traveled to Appalachia (Jasper, Ga.) on a mission trip with a Jesuit contingent last summer.
“This trip was night and day compared to Georgia last year,’’ Swenson said. “Georgia was much more physically oriented – we built houses, painted them, etc. But in Nicaragua the labor came mentally.
“We played with little kids who sniffed glue to avoid the pain of hunger. They were sent on their own to get money and food for the family, most without attending school. If they didn't bring back enough, they usually got cigarette burns.”
With an average per capita income of a little more than $5,000 in Nicaragua, poverty was everywhere. The Jesuit group moved throughout the Matagalpa area, wherever they could be of service.
“What I will remember most from the trip is handing a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to man lying on his death bed,” Chris Busser ’17 said. “As I walked away, about 10 steps, his machines started (beeping) and two doctors rushed in. Later, I learned his heart had stopped and he passed away.
“I will also remember the joy of handing out that picture to others in the hospital. I would pass out 2 or 3 in a room and have to go back and pass out more to everyone.”
View the photo slideshow above from the Nicaragua mission trip
The group stayed at the facility of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal on the outskirts of town. They had to help provide food, as the Friars have no income and subsist off charity.
“I expected the Friars all to be very quiet and secluded, but they all were very funny and outgoing,” Swenson said.
Matagalpa is inland and has a population of 109,000. The beautiful surrounding mountains and rainforest - the group spent a memorable day hiking - juxtaposed the hard-edged, coarse life in the city, where the Jesuit contingent frequented the local dump to provide food and clothing to the needy.
Busser said he “witnessed some things that I will remember for life,” such as police officers with assault rifles exchanging weapons with people in the street, prisoners picking up trash in the road alongside armed guards, and drug dealers “holding wads of money.”
Yet there was positivity pervading the culture. Despite the bleak conditions, many parts of the city had an uplifting spirit.
“The people of Nicaragua all seemed to be very optimistic toward their situations and very hardworking,” Swenson said. “You rarely went anywhere without people selling their wares on the street, and they were always filled with laughter.”
The daily interactions with the local children made a big impact.
“I will definitely remember the kids we met and played with everyday, Andres, Sander, Gerardo and Juni,” Swenson said. “They loved just playing soccer with us even though they had nothing.’’
The trip provided the students with a deeper understanding of the world and their faith.
“I experienced a bond with my fellow Jesuits that I will hold to for the rest of my life,” Busser said.
“We all felt the same emotions and experienced the same things which definitely made us closer friends,” Swenson said. “I really learned to appreciate my life more, and that even though things may seem tough, God will get you through it.”
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