From August 1-9, a group of 37 youth and adults from the Diocese of Crookston traveled to Guatemala for the Padre A’Plas Leadership Program.

The leadership program, named for Blessed Stanley Rother, is much more than a mission trip. It includes three phases: formation, the Guatemala experience, and a guided leadership project.

Participants met for two formation retreats to prepare for the trip.

While they were abroad, they served with three organizations helping local children, visited shrines and experienced Guatemalan culture.

Blessed Rother, a priest from Oklahoma, was known as Padre A’Plas to the Tz’utujil people of Guatemala that he served in Santiago de Atitlan for 13 years. He was martyred on July 28, 1981, and is the first American-born priest to be beatified. His example inspired Bob Noel, Formator for the Office of Formation and Discipleship, to create this program.

The group spent time in Santiago de Atitlan learning more about Blessed Rother, traveling in his footsteps, visiting the place he was martyred and praying at his shrine.

“I want our young people to know his story intimately. This was an ordinary man who became a great man,” he said. “This program is a way to provide young people with a role model that I think we can all relate to, but then take them to the very country he was serving, allow them to experience this, tie it to the Eucharist and then challenge them … to be Eucharist to the world, to be Jesus’ hands and feet to the world.”

Father Nate Brunn, Parochial Vicar of St. Joseph, Moorhead, was the group’s spiritual leader. He celebrated Mass with them each evening and led formation during the trip.

Students served at a school-sponsored by Project Genesis. The school was started outside of Chimaltenango, Guatemala by Ricardo Armas. He saw the need for schooling and quit his job to serve the children. It began seven years ago in a garage, but now 160 students attend classes in a small school building.

Noel said eight Padre A’Plas participants led lessons in English, math, and religion at the school. He provided them with resources but let them decide how to present the information.

“They put together some of the most fantastic lessons with the kids; even with the language barrier. It was incredible,” Noel said. “This is the leadership we are looking for, for kids to take that risk and to step out of their comfort zones.”

An orphanage called Luz de Maria (Light of Mary) was another stop for the group. Noel said the orphanage serves children from a few days old through nine years.

“A lot of the children struggle with development because they aren’t handled enough. A lot of them have flat heads and so the big ministry there is simply rocking and changing and caring for infants and playing with kids,” Noel said.

Their final service place was at Casa Jackson, a hospital for malnourished children. There the group spent time being with and caring for the children.

Emily Dufault of St. Joseph, Fertile, said being part of Padre A’Plas has pushed her outside of her comfort zone.

“It has taught me to really think before coming to any conclusion about someone and their situation, also to realize we do not need material things to be truly happy in our lives, but to be surrounded by people that build us up,” she said.

Dufault also said participating in the program and preparing for the trip caused her to answer questions about who she is, identify and use her strengths and work as part of a team.

Now that they are home, each student participant will discern and work on a leadership project in their parish or the diocese rooted in Catholic social teaching.

For more information about the Padre A’Plas Leadership Program, CLICK HERE or email Bob Noel. Noel hopes to launch the next round of the program in October.