Friday, March 20, 2015

Light, Love, and Responsibility - Sunday with NPH

Below is a wonderful reflection from Rory Cooney, the Director of Liturgy and Music at St. Anne Catholic Church in Barrington, IL that highlights the children of NPH and the recent Pequeno Tour in the Midwest region. 

No, not Neil Patrick Harris. "Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos."

Our parish almsgiving project this year was tied to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos ("Our little brothers and sisters"), a project that began 60 years ago based on the vision of Fr. William Wasson. A newly assigned associate in a parish in Cuernavaca, México, Fr. Wasson intervened with a court to dismiss charges against an orphan boy who stole from the church's collection box to buy food. He petitioned the court for custody of the child, and not only got custody of the boy, but continued to received other orphans as a ward of the court. Ten years later, beginning in Arizona, charities were incorporated in the USA and elsewhere to support the NPH project, which later became affiliated with one another. In addition to the house in Mexico, there are now NPH houses in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru.

I discovered that I have my own strange ties to the people involved with NPH as well. A former associate pastor of St. Anne, Fr. Jim Hurlbert, left his pastorate about 5 years ago at St. Alphonsus Liguori in the city of Chicago, and, with the blessing of the cardinal, went to NPH Guatemala as a spiritual guide with a vision to build a chapel for the pequeños there, which he has done with donations from friends and colleagues in the States. And an Arizona family, Trisha and Jim Hoyt, whom I've known especially through Trisha's catechetical work around the country (Jim is a deacon), has at least two children who are intimately involved with NPH, and their daughter Melissa is the special events officer for NPH in the midwest, with an office in Chicago. A video that her brother Chris made about his work with NPH is shown below.

The preacher at all the masses was Fr. Ron Hicks, a young priest who had worked with NPH after college and then for several years as a priest. Ron is now, thanks be to God, the new Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In his homily, he challenged us to be light for a world full of darkness by our continued support of NPH. He told stories, and had Alexis, one of the young men who was visiting with the NPH group, tell a bit of his story so we had some idea of who the kids are who are in the NPH project. Alexis told us that he was born sickly, and that his mother was extremely poor. At the age of two, she abandoned him, and when he came to NPH he was malnourished and sick. The boy who stood before us had obviously recovered completely, had just finished high school, and was giving back a year of service to NPH by teaching physical education and being a "big brother" to younger boys in the dormitory.

What struck me was that these were not ordinary orphanages at all: these kids were not going to have foster homes. NPH creates communities. Those who work there give the children who come to them unconditional love, food, education, and an environment for growth. They teach the children the responsibilities that come from love; particularly, they expect that, after graduation, the children will give a year of service back to NPH in some capacity for which they have a gift. Fr. Ron said that many people ask him if children leave without doing so, if, after graduation, they just walk away. He said that in 25 years of association with NPH, he has not heard of that happening in any of the homes.

A Guatemalan cultural group in Chicago gave NPH the use of their beautiful twin marimba set, and the kids sang songs during mass, danced, and performed at a fiesta for the parish on Saturday evening. During mass they sang some of their own liturgical songs ("Vamos al altar," and a Marian song called "Es Maria la paloma blanca") accompanied by marimba and drums, as well as the more familiar "De Colores" and an arrangement with Spanish text of the Sebastian Temple Prayer of St. Francis, "Hazme un instrumento de tu paz."

The kids stayed with host families in the parish for two weeks while they visited churches and schools in Chicagoland, and the parishioners I spoke to had a great time with them in those visits.

As you might suspect, there was a time when the "old Rory" would have had una vaca about this irruption into the Lenten liturgy on a scrutiny Sunday, performing at mass, etc. etc. But being older has some benefits, and one of them is clearer vision (I hope) about what liturgy is for, who belongs, and (thank you, James Alison) who the real protagonist is. Maybe that vision, in fact, was created in this blind man by the same fingers that made mud paste on the Sabbath by the pool of Siloam, who gave the light of creation to one who was born blind. I may have earned that blindness through education, and clung to it tenaciously for some years, but I would like to say some day that "now I can see," and that my sight was restored, as we proclaimed in the gospel and in the scrutiny, by the one who is light of the world.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Better Vision Comes to Rancho Santa Fe

Enjoy this reflection from Jean Parker on her recent experience at NPH Honduras. The mother is currently living at a home for the blind, while her daughter is enrolled at NPH Honduras.

My daughter, Joanna (14) had been nagging me to return to Rancho Santa Fe in Honduras since our first visit in 2013. When a trip planned by Monica Henry, NPH Northeast Regional Director, coincided with a school break, Joanna’s resolve went into overdrive and she convinced her friend, Laura (14) to join us. In the end, Laura, her brother Kevin (16), and her father, Dr. Richard Seeger – an ophthalmologist - would round out the Rochester contingency.

Dr. Seeger was interested in putting his medical skills to use during the visit, and had pre-arranged with Monica Henry, NPH USA Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Region Director, and Michael Kavanagh, the International Volunteer Coordinator of Holy Family Surgery Center at the Ranch, to see pequeños for a special, three day Vision Clinic.

While the children explored the Ranch and got to know the pequeños, Dr. Seeger checked equipment and set up the examination area.  My job was to record exam findings. A translator was provided and kept the paperwork and patients flowing.  Thanks to this team effort, Dr. Seeger was able to provide eye care for over 60 Pequeños and others during the three-day period.

Each day, Dr. Seeger worked tirelessly with only limited breaks. Some children required minor attention, but most received full ophthalmic exams with pupil dilation.   For those needing prescription eyeglasses, Dr. Seeger had come prepared, bringing an assortment of frames from which to choose.  Girls were drawn to the brighter colors.  Boys chose darker ones.  Dr. Seeger had the eyeglasses prepared back in Rochester, and they were shipped down to Honduras afterwards.

As word spread that an eye doctor was at the clinic, several staff also requested appointments.  Dr. Seeger accommodated each one.   Doña Gloria – the Ranch’s beloved tortilla maker - was the recipient of two pairs of glasses:  one for reading and one for everyday wear.

Although it was immensely gratifying to me to be of assistance during the Vision Clinic, the most poignant moment of the trip came on the last day, as Dr. Seeger and I were walking back to the visitor’s residence.   We were met by a group of women who were leading a blind teenaged girl and a younger girl by the hand.  Monica was with them, and we were told that the blind teenager was the mother of the young girl, and that she was concerned that her daughter might be going blind, as she had when she was her age.   This was of great concern because the child had become her blind mother’s ‘eyes’ – guiding her everywhere.  Dr. Seeger did not hesitate; he pulled out his ophthalmic light, dropping to one knee to examine the petite child.  Happily, he determined that her eyes were healthy.

Monica translated this to the girl’s mother and Dr. Seeger offered to look at the mother’s eyes as well. After only a brief glance, he asked to speak privately to Monica and the accompanying Tia.  I was perplexed, but remained with the young mother, her daughter, and the others.  It was only later that I learned the reason for Rick’s action.

Although the young mother had been initially reticent to share the truth about her blindness, the facts soon emerged.  She had been the victim of a horrific crime and had been intentionally blinded by acid.   Dr. Seeger knew the instant he had looked at her eyes that her blindness had been caused by trauma, and not as initially described.

Upon closer examination, Dr. Seeger established that although one eye was irreparably damaged, there was optimism that some vision might be restored in the other. A trip to the USA for delicate eye surgery would be necessary, with the hope that she would be able to ambulate on her own – a remarkable improvement over her present situation.

This event brought a bittersweet, yet hopeful closure to the Vision Clinic at Rancho Santa Fe.  Led by Dr. Seeger, the team brought the gift of better vision to many. To me, those few days were truly a blessing and I was grateful to have been able to play some small role in the outcome.  I thank God for Joanna’s determination in returning to Honduras, because in the end, it set the stage for so many Pequeños and others to see life more clearly… quite literally.