by Fr. Manny Gallo, SDB
Fifteen volunteers from St. John Bosco Parish in Port Chester, N.Y., and other Salesian presences flew with Fr. Manny Gallo to Nicaragua on December 27 and did service projects and Gospel reflection there until January 5.
The 15 volunteers visited the Salesian schools in Granada and Masaya and made a pilgrimage to the house in Granada where Blessed Maria Romero, FMA, was born. They visited the local garbage dump, where 80 to 100 people work for a dollar a day, and distributed food and supplies to the people. They visited the various homes in the neighborhood and interacted with the youngsters.
The trip was organized by the Mama Margarita Foundation with the help of Fr. Manny. The Mama Margarita Foundation is a non-profit organization that was conceived in 2012, after Vicky and Manuel Gallo, Fr. Manny’s parents, witnessed the deprivation of Nicaragua’s most forgotten residents, the children. Vicky realized something had to be done; children were not meant to live the way they were living. With financial support and the help of volunteers, the Foundation has already built five homes for people in the neighborhood of Masaya, Nicaragua. Additionally, Vicki, the Foundation’s “mother,” feeds at least 60 children each day.
The Foundation’s daily program consists in praying the Rosary at 3:00 p.m., after which the children are fed and then have time to play. It is an oratory in the poor neighborhood in Masaya. The Foundation also sponsors eight children to attend the Salesian school in Masaya.
Part of the Foundation’s vision is to provide a base where missionaries can stay and give their time to serve, evangelize, pray, and connect with the poor in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. Sixty percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. In 2013, one of our mission teams built a home for a family of four, strengthening ties with the local community. The Foundation looks forward to continuing construction on more homes and supporting impoverished children, to change their present so that they will have better future.
Video about the Foundation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC7-UR8B3PQ&t=79s
Lucas Gemio and Katie Church, two of the most recent mission trip participants, contribute reflections on their experiences.
God Leads Us to Greater Trust, Greater Love
By Katie Church
Every story has a beginning and an end, and my story is no different, except that it starts the same way it finishes, with God leading the way. When I started this mission trip to Nicaragua, two things became clear: first, I was going to have to trust God more, and second, God was going to redefine who I was and what I wanted.
The Mama Margarita Foundation is a special place. Every soul you encounter will leave a really big imprint on your heart. Last year, I was blessed to be able to go to Nicaragua with Gospel Roads III, led by the Salesians. My life was forever changed, and all I wanted to do was to go back and serve the people more. Finding out that I could come back for a second time made me so happy.
From painting, to teaching, to serving food, our whole group built a relationship with the community around us. We opened our hearts to new experiences. We were willing to put our needs aside and serve those who needed it more.
My favorite experience was teaching English to the kids at the Mama Margarita Foundation. Half of our group spoke Spanish, which really helped us communicate what we wanted to do. We gathered kids who were interested, and used books that were donated to teach kids animals, colors, and phrases in English. Seeing their faces light up when they got a question right was priceless.
And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
In America, we tend to take everything for granted. In Nicaragua, the people are so excited when they get a new pair of shoes, or the little ones at Mama Margarita when they get to play in a little blow-up pool. This experience has made me really reflect on how I take everything for granted. It has also shown me that I am very much loved by the Lord, and so are the people in Nicaragua. Although we are living in two different places, God loves us just the same. I want to take all the love I received there, and share it with everyone I encounter for the rest of my life. I am forever grateful for the Mama Margarita Foundation and all the beautiful souls in Nicaragua.
Katie Church is a graduate of Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, N.J.
Los Niños de Mama Margarita
By Lucas Gemio
Throughout my time in Nicaragua, I was blessed to be in the presence of many inspiring children. These kids have encountered many horrific experiences, yet they are filled with joy and are such resilient individuals, carrying bigger hearts than many of us, including me.
Lucas Gemio and Kevin Cavaluzzo teaching math to group of kids at the Mama Margarita Foundation.
All of these children have a story, but one in particular made an impact on how I view life. There is a young boy wh
o rises early in the morning and never fails to pray the Rosary before starting his day. When he has equipped himself with the mantle of our heavenly Mother, he is off to an unusual adventure. Why unusual? Instead of receiving an education, this young boy, at the age of ten is faced with a great responsibility by being the sole provider of his family. He sells candy every day at the market and averages about $5 a day. Unfortunately, his father is an alcoholic, and neither of his parents has a job. This does not hinder Steven’s love for his family, however. Through his faith he finds the courage and the strength to care for his family. I am on my knees because I am humbled by Steven’s story. He is truly an inspiration and my hero.
When I think about my problems, my worries, or my struggles, all of them together don’t measure up to the problems these kids face. As a misionero, I experienced so much, but if I were to summarize this trip into one word, it would be LOVE. The love from these children is unique. Their smiles bring immense joy to my wounded heart. Their hugs healed my soul, and when they called out my name, “Lucas! Lucas!! Lucas!!!” throughout the day, it was our Savior reaching out to me through these kids. How could I ignore that? I couldn’t; it was impossible because Christ resides within their hearts.
I will never forget these children, because they left an imprint on my soul. I owe it to them because they taught me how to love, and I love them as if they were mine. In the wise words of our beloved Mother Teresa, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” I thank our heavenly Father for allowing us to come to together as a family. He truly revealed his love through these kids.