Preparing to leave for the IXIM mission trip to Guatemala has inspired me to pray about the purpose of the trip and what will make it a success.
From our North American view, we might be tempted to say that the trip is successful if we have accomplished our task of building the water purification plant. We would know then that people will have clean water to drink, that fewer people will be ill, and that the community will see improvement in people’s energy levels. That is true, but that is not really our final goal.
Maybe we could say that the trip is successful if our medical clinics are able to see many patients. Then we could say that people’s lives have been improved because they are receiving the appropriate medicine and have a treatment plan, that their fears have been relieved or that they have learned that they need to see a special doctor in one of the bigger cities. That is true, but that is not really our final goal.
Maybe we could say that the trip is successful if our school team completed the fluoride treatment of the schoolchildren and that the teachers were able to teach the local teachers a few new skills to improve the teaching environment in their classrooms. Then the lives of the children would be improved through healthier teeth, better classroom settings, and improved teaching techniques. That is true, but that is not our final goal.
The success of our trip rests not in the good work that will happen, but in the relationships that will happen as the good work is being done. Those relationships will be the clear sign that the Catholic virtue of solidarity has taken place, for solidarity is the final goal of our mission trip. That is not as easy to see or evaluate as the work projects because it involves an internal change of heart – for both groups.
Solidarity is about valuing our fellow human beings and respecting who they are as individuals. As Pope Francis said, “The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fueling that throw-away mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered useless.” Solidarity is a truly universal bond, linking together all human beings. This bond is much more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress”. It is in fact a commitment to the common good. Solidarity is what is meant in Ephesians when St. Paul writes that we are all “members one of another”. Therefore, the opposite of solidarity are things like inequality, exploitation and oppression, greed and selfishness.
At the heart of solidarity is the life of Jesus, because it is through the incarnation that God is in a very real way in solidarity with us and that we are in solidarity with God. The life of Jesus as a human being lifts solidarity beyond the fellowship of people into something altogether more mystical. As Christians, we know that all of us are formed in the image of God; loving our neighbor then becomes an act of solidarity towards and with God. Every act of solidarity, understood in this light, becomes an act of communion with God; an action in which we transmit and reflect the love with which God loves the person and with which we love God.
The most recent popes have all encouraged us to live a life of solidarity. Pope John Paul often spoke about solidarity and it is a favorite topic of Pope Francis. Recently he said, “I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity.”
Please keep us in your prayers during the next two weeks as we work to bring your love to the people of Guatemala – our brothers and sisters.