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April 19 - May 2, 2015

Archdiocese forges links with ‘nuestros pequeños’

By Michelle Martin

Staff Writer

Dancers Juan Bautista, Odilia, Gustavo and Adela perform at St. Anne Parish in Barrington on March 14. They were part of a group of young people from Guatemala visiting Chicago with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Mariachis play for parishioners. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Maggie Windon, Marin Lacson, Nick Larcon and Clayton Windon make a plate of food during the fiesta at St. Anne's on March 14. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Juan Bautista says a prayer before dinner. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

The visitors that St. Anne Parish in Barrington hosted from Guatemala in March were billed as “Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos,” or “Our Little Brothers and Sisters,” but in reality, the travelers weren’t little at all.

The group of 14 “pequeños,” all in their late teens or 20s, are little brothers and sisters in the sense that younger siblings are always considered “little” by their elders, even when the younger ones tower over the older. The young men and women who came to share their cultural music and dance all grew up in the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos home in Guatemala, and they were traveling in Indiana and Illinois to raise awareness about the organization.

The group enjoyed a fiesta of sorts after the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Anne, a chance to celebrate with the parish and the families that had hosted them for the last two weeks of their stay.

Cesario, 25, a university student, said the group was very grateful for the hospitality and support the St. Anne community provided.

“It’s very nice of them to help our NPH family,” Cesario said. “When we go back, we will share our experiences with them.”

Alexis, 19, said that in some ways, he would be sad to leave the new friends he made in the Chicago area, but it would be good to return home.

“There, we all have jobs to do,” he said. Alexis this year is the coordinator for the house where the high school boys live. He, like all NPH children, was expected to give a year of service back to the organization after finishing high school and before starting university.

NPH is home to 285 children and adolescents in Guatemala. Overall, the organization cares for more than 3,200 young people in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In addition to hosting the travelers, St. Anne devoted all of its international almsgiving for Lent to NPH, said Adrienne Kalmes, who co-chairs the parish FaithJustice committee with her husband, Paul. Families were encouraged not only to donate, but to sponsor children to help them develop ongoing relationships.

The parish also wants to take advantage of opportunities for its members to travel to NPH homes, perhaps sending groups of young people or families to help with service projects.

In previous years, the parish has directed its international almsgiving to Africa — it raised money to build three schools in five years in Congo — but Kalmes said it was too difficult for parishioners to forge the connections that come with face-to-face interaction.

“We definitely want to see the fruits of what we do,” Kalmes said.

Such connections will extend a long-standing, if informal, relationship between NPH and the archdiocese. Several archdiocesan priests have spent time working for NPH, including the vicar general, Father Ron Hicks, who volunteered for a year at NPH prior to his ordination and was NPH’s regional director for Central America for five years starting in 2005. Father Jim Hurlbert, who at one time was an associate pastor at St. Anne, is now serving as chaplain at NPH Guatemala.

Hicks spoke about NPH at all the Masses the weekend of March 14-15. The organization succeeds by giving each child both unconditional love and responsibility. “We tell them, this is your family, and this is your family forever,” Hicks said. “If you give a child enough love, they will grow and thrive.”

Giving them love means also giving them the responsibility to help one another. Every child has daily duties to perform, in addition to the year of service they are asked to give when they graduate from high school.

Hicks said he is sometimes asked what happens if a pequeño refuses to do the year of service.

“I’ve been with this organization for 25 years, and I’ve never seen that happen,” he said. “They have been loved, and they know how to share love.”

The group’s stay with St. Anne parishioners garnered more sponsorships for the pequeños who came.

Parishioner Mary McKenna said that she plans to sponsor Adela, who stayed with her and her daughter, Isabella, 8, and also another girl, one of three who planned to come on the trip but did not receive a visa from the U.S. government.

McKenna was especially pleased to host because she adopted Isabella from Guatemala when she was an infant, and had been looking to support an organization that helps people in Guatemala.

“This was like a calling,” she said. “We had a wonderful week with Adela.”

McKenna said the young people who came are happy and healthy, but that they come from a far different situation than the Barrington-area families who welcomed them.

“It was humbling for Isabella to see that she came with one small suitcase,” McKenna said. “They are very limited when it comes to clothes.”

Emma Waliczek, 14, an eighth-grader at St. Anne School, said she got a chance to practice her Spanish with Odilia, 20, who stayed with her family.

“She said she had to do like three hours of chores a day,” Emma said.

Julie Andrews, another host, said her 15- and 17- year-old sons enjoyed hosting two of the young men, Alexis, 18, and Mynor, 17. Her sons practiced their Spanish and the boys bonded over playing FIFA soccer on the Xbox.

“If we can’t help support these boys and help them complete their education, what are we doing this for?” she said.

While the Guatemalan visitors were kept busy with their performance schedule, they had some time to spend with their host families. Groups visited the Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science Industry and went to the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade and just hung out and played pool or bowled.

Ben Laning and Lauren Burns, both 18, said the pequeños who stayed with them enjoyed coming to their school for international day, where student cultural groups shared activities, food and dance.

Laning, who studies Latin, was the only one who did not speak any Spanish, he said.

But that didn’t block all communication.

“There’s something about the bonds between people,” Burns said. “They just bonded as boys. They would look at each other and just start laughing.”

For more information, visit NPH.org.