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A saint speaks from Guatemala

Advent Guatemala Mission Rabinal

Dear Friends of the misión in Rabinal,


Advent poem for 2016

The new year came and went, but the old one is new again.

Happy new year in the grace of God.

Fall has fallen but where did it go?

The leaves, the colors, the smell of must in the air

Now gone, hidden, under the mantel of winter

Frost clinging to the branches, snow on the ground,

The year disappeared like rain in the desert,

And I can’t follow after to reclaim it.

It lies underground, hidden in the recesses of my mind.

I will try to dredge it up, like water from a deep well.

And this year is not so far down, but how deep the rest?


Is time speeding up or am I slowing down?

Time is slowing down and we are speeding up.

Ask the young what time it is and they will say

“Tomorrow”  because they always live for tomorrow.

The now is past, they are ahead of time,

Moving just below the speed of light, looking to pass it,

They push me aside to take over the computer.

I am too slow, stuck reading, they leap by intuition,

Yet they can’t grasp that time is always now for God.


This is the same time as it was last year, the time of Advent.

Are we repeating Advent, you ask?


It is a new year, never the same as the last, time that is eternal.

It is God’s time, and we are in his hands.

We await the God Man Jesus, his coming ever new.

He is always new, young, eternal, not growing old.

He comes as a baby, why not, what else reflects the newness of eternal life?

We grasp him in our arms, we kiss his cheeks. He is Hope Alive.


How new can new be, must it keep changing to something different to be new?

It is only new if it is in harmony with what it was from the beginning

Since if not it would be another thing, not the same thing new.

What is new is the baby, who is an addition to the family, not a new family.

What is new is the paint on the house, not a new house.

The world is new if you pull out of it what is inside it that is hidden.

We are new when we decide to make of ourselves what we always were to be.

Jesus put the finishing touches on what was us from the beginning, but got old.

We all get old but there is a new mind, heart, spirit that we receive if we ask.


We call it tradition. What is in the mind of God, what is good for us.

Tradition is what does not change since there would be nothing to replace it.

What was always meant to be, what keeps us all in union with what Is.

The Family of Jesus, the church is constantly growing older, but renewing.

The children, youth, young adults, like a school of fish, swim in murky waters.

The fisherman of Jesus, the apostles and their helpers throw out the nets

But many slip through, isolated in families shut in on themselves, sunk in deep waters.

They do not venture into warmer waters of participation in the feasts of God.

Lured by the tempting bait of easy doctrine, they fail to gaze at the face of God.


I got the first Thanksgiving card with a picture

Corn on the stalk and pumpkin in the field of late harvest

And I here with no turkey dinner on the horizon,

Yet every day I sit at the table of the Lord, celebrating Thanksgiving,

But waiting for the True Thanksgiving which is in view in the distance.



         I started this note on thanksgiving of 2016, but here we don’t celebrate it, although people might have read in the newspapers some mention of it in the USA.

         It is also one of the busiest times of year for me and for my little program of scholarships, but also for the other priests who are in the last weeks before the sacrament of Confirmacion for 1000 students, soon to be followed by first comunions for over 900.

         It is the time of vacation from school for most levels but some of my agronomy students in Alta Verapaz have another week of class, as do some university students. However, our program of vacation movies daily is already finishing the second week. During these weeks we pay for the students for their room and board here in town. 


Why Movies?


         Young people today are very visual.  All day long they are glued to their telephones with games, Facebook, messages, or internet, and besides they have a need of a break from the typical lecture style of instruction that they receive.


I voted in the Presidential Election


         We are in the weeks before Advent and Big News –I voted. I am writing this a few days before the national elections ln November 2016, which I have followed on the internet with the major news outlets.  I voted for the first time in the 18 years that I have been working in Guatemala. I took advantage of a group that was trying to drum up support for one of the candidates, but it gave me enough information to contact the San Francisco Voter Registrar  and they instructed  me on the internet how to get an email ballot, and they were quite helpful, but there was a glitch and I am awaiting final confirmation that my vote counted.  It cost me about $25.00 to send 12 pages of fax.  I had tried in other years to communicate to the voter register when I was in SF in order to ask if there as a way to get a ballot mailed, but never asked about voting on the internet since I figured it would not be possible. which shows how I am prone to underestimate technology.  The only proceedure I knew of was a mailed ballot, but the timing to get a mailed ballot seemed totally impractical.  Or maybe this is the first year they made the internet possible.  I think it is great, since it keeps me a little more connected, and it is only fair since people who live in the USA who are from Guatemala can vote here, so why would USAcitizens who live here not be able to do it in the USA?


Fact of Life here:  90% of people do not have a flush toilet


This month I gave my three agronomy students the project of instructing and  teaching two families  how to construct a letrine that produces human fertilizer. This is a project that I began in 1991 when I first came here, when I constructed two of them as a test run,  then again in 1997 when I came back for a visit when I did another two, and finally in 2003 when I began a big project with 37 more in 14 villages with the group LACA which was a group from Castro Valley, CA where my sister lives. 

         So it has been over 13 years since I was last making these letrines, but I decided that it was one of the very best projects I had done and deserved to be repeated, and since I still have the molds for the making of the letrine and I had three agronmy students who needed to do a social service project it was a perfect time. 

         Two of the students will graduate this year with a three year degree in agronomy from a state school. It cost us a bit more than $2,000 a year for three years for each of them.  Another student will hopefully graduate next year. As I have explained briefly in other newsletters, after analyzing the reality for the last 17 and helping multiple students in many careers over the years, I have come to the conclusión that agronomy is the best and really only career that offers a sustainable future for this country.  These students have studied far away from home for three years and could only participate in the month of vacation before Christmas each year so in my view they needed to do a service project for this community, as the rest of the students had done during their studies. They agreed.

         So this week we are finishing the first latrine and they have been learning first hand how to construct in cement, first the toilet bowl then the two compartments where the fertilizer will be deposited and cured. These are roughly 4 feet high and two feet wide each.  The cost will be $200.00, plus the sand and wooded beams which the family contributed and their labor to help.  It is a very scientific process that the students have studied with a very good field manual and they are instructing the families to understand to maintain the letrine. And I am remembering the process since I never had the time to devote to it much before since I was involved 100% in the pastoral ministry whereas now I have a bit more time since my ministry is reduced just to the town.

         You must realize that these students have never constructed anything with cement and cement blocks, but we have a carpenter and cement man who is leading it and I am accompanying them.  In the morning we see movies and in the afternoon we are out in the villages making the letrine.  I am exhausted each night, because I must prepare the reflections on the movies and sort of be on hand to supervise the letrine.  It is a lot of fun to see how the families appreciate the effort we are making. We explain how to use the letrine and yesterday we planted an orange tree as an example to show them how they will be able to use the urine that is produced to help produce fruit.  The solid fertilizer will be used on the corn crops or other plants, but it will take one year to finally get their first four or five sacks of fertilizer, and then after that each 6 months they will produce the same.

         I know that most of you are reading this thinking that it has nothing to do with your life or with what you know, but here it is a revolution.  People dig holes in their back yards and put a cement covering over it and a plastic bowl and when it fills up they did another hole and after 20 years there are 3 or four of those in the property.  As I said 90% of people here do that, but there are odors and flies, whereas this letrine is without either and the fertilizer is completely free of contaminants.  It is a great health and also economic boon.

         In general I can see many fields of corn that do not grow or produce ears because the people are too poor to have fertilizer, so this type of latrine can give a great crop in a field of 40 yards square which is enough for a family  of six to live for  half a year.


Graduation of 2016


This year we have six who will graduate.


Female kindergarten teacher   from very distant village

Male agronomy student from the same village

Female agronomy student from village 8 miles away

Male business profesional from mountain  village

Female Highschool student who studied in the capital

Male University student from distant village in Computer Science


Two of the students are ladino, which is a mix of pure Spanish blood and indigenous, but they appear to be very white and one of them may be from the original Spanish settlers, and the other four are pure indigenous.  I mention all that because we do have these cultural and ethnic divisions historically here and we try to make sure everyone gets a chance to advance. They are all poor. 


Christmas is a time of sharing


I suppose people who have read this far are people who are really interested in the missions.  Others may read what I write and think that our situation is hopeless and not think they could make a difference.  If you want to help poor people you need to know what life is like for them and how we can make it better. These are people who work hard every day to survive but they do not have jobs or fertile land and even though they struggle to educate their kids, there is no pay off because there is no work.  I am doing what I can to help the situation but it takes money to do it. I have come to see that agonomy and the environment are key solutions for Guatemala, but it takes money to promote that.  The fact is my resources have been shrinking substantially these last few years so I can do less and less. Perhaps you can help if you think I am on the right track.    


The Bible reading in Achi


         We had a great year again this year 2016 with the program of teaching 250 young people to read the bible in Achi. We just finished some of the few villages that had never had that course with the lectionary, places that I doubted would have students who would want to study Achi, but amazingly we had a very good response. We also returned to two villages with a new course using our new enciclopedia of the bible in Achi which we produced before I left on vacation in June.  We plan to continue using that book for next year. We have sold 150 copies and so we have 350 more for next year.  Only one profesor is working on this at this time due to funding cuts, but we think this new book offers a lot of insight into the Catholic faith and will help promote a deeper understanding.


The Immigration Issue and how it affects us here


You have heard from me before that the over 6 billion dollars that Guatemalans send back home from the USA keeps the economy here afloat.  But there is a downside to immigration here and there.  First let’s get the facts.


As of 2015, more than 2.5 million undocumented people had been deported by immigration authorities since President Obama took office in 2009, a total which is indeed record-setting. During the two terms of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, just over 2 million people were deported.


   The year with the highest number of persons deported from the USA to anywhere was 2013, with 435, 498 deported, but it has begun dropping and 2015 it was the lowest in many years, with 414, 000 apprehensions .  However the Congress mandated policies that require quotas and this has then led to more agressive searches for illegals, and the focus is on people who have committed violations of laws that could result in deportation, which is kinown as the Priority Enforcement Program, which prioritizes "threats to national security, public safety, and border security."

         Without going into all the details of how they round up the illegals, you can imagine the trauma of an ilegal immigrant being sent back since almost all of them must pay up to $6,000 to a hire a guide to get to the USA, and even if caught and deported they must pay fhe full amount.  So many of them who have to return have heavy debts.  Many have sold all their land in order to immigrate, so when they return they have no means of support. 

    And often times they have been victims of crimes by gangs that rob, rape, kidnap and extort payments, and many have been injured and over 200 a year die in the attempt. 

   Of course, many succeed, which always makes me wonder just how effective our border patrols are, even though the budget for the two agencies who control the retentions is over 20 millon dollars a year.  I also suspect that there was a lot of corruption from drug money that may be influencing the border, although there have been many more apprehensions in these last 8 years. 

   There has been a lot of debate about the policy of building a wall, and even the Pope got into it and seems to be sort of an advocate of open borders.  The presidential candidates are quite opposite on the views.  The truth is that neither extreme will work since criminals with all the money in the world can blow up any wall or desperate people are more clever than we imagine.   

    We heard about a young man who got dropped by his guide and was quite lost but was found by the drug runners and they were quite kind to him. He told about their very sophisticated system of having cameras which reported on the drones that were keeping vigil or helicopters approaching, so they could hide and eventually he got to safe houses  with all the amenities.  They even took him to his destination, and all they asked was for him to help take a backpack of drugs, which he was happy to do in order to survive.

         The whole idea that illegals are taking jobs from americans seems weak, since they should be helping the economy if they work for a bit less, and how will we compete with China or other countries if our wages stay so high.  I cannot imagine our steel mills will undersell or be competitive with asia.  I can say that here we see only asian cars and lots of them.  We have not been competitive in cars.  We are in a global market and it is tough. 

         Drugs pour into our country because people use them and want them.  Drug dealers don’t need to go to jail, they need education and jobs, although it is the wealthy and well  educated who are the worst offenders. We are legalizing marijuana and what will be next?  We are in a moral crisis in so many ways.  The poor of the world will sell whatever they can to survive including drugs.  We are the ones who promote the drug industry.


Young people are the immigrants


         200,000  college students will graduate this year from a career college or a junior college in the country, but I estimate that not 5% will find a full time job, so what do they do. Most will try to keep studying for the next degree in hopes that they will qualify for something in the future, but what happens is that the job market just raises the qualifications for any work. Pretty soon the dog cátcher will need a Ph.d. 

         The only real option for most is to join the pólice force or the army or to immigrate to the USA.  Otherwise they devote themselves to the informal market which means they set up a stall in the plaza or go door to door selling some product. Over 70% of the economy is informal. It is like a product exchange system.  People do not save money, they live day to day.


The Greatest Need


         Guatemala is a rich country with corrupt leaders who sell off the land, mineral rights, and anything else in order to enrich themselves.  The poor have a really hard time getting educated, but enough are doing so, so that in the future there may be a true revolución by young people to put in politicians who know how to address the wrongs.

         In the meantime what is needed is a basic system of survival and that depends on farming which must be developed far more greatly than in the past. There are close to 17 millon people in Guatemala and it is growing exponentially, so there is a crisis looming.  That is why I have devoted my few resources  to scholarships in field of agonomy,

         But what we also need are jobs.  For example, I have been thinking that perhaps I need to return to my former projects in 2004 of creating latrines that produce fertilizers.  I organized a project that built 40 latrines, it gave employment to two persons  and helped all those families to have better crops.  Of course, I had a group that funded the Project since it costs about $200 per latrine.  It may be time to do the same thing again.


The Chapel in Rio Negro


This is one project that unfortunately I could not complete this year. I got it all organized with an architect, and had a plan to take my students out there, but it turned out that the construction that was partly done would need to be substantially modified and our original plans would not be adequate.  So it i son hold until we have more time, and also the community was in a very difficult time after the death of the man’s wife and daughter who had been the main constructor.  After going out there and investigating the construction with my construction engineer, it was clear we needed more time.  Then on leaving I ruined one new tire of my car, which cost about $170.00 to replace, and that was not easy to do. Patience is required.


The year’s end and the end of this letter


I am presently trying to fit in our three year-end excursions for the young people. One is closet o home for an afternoon. But the other two are a bit father away.  I asked the young people yesterday if they had been with me to the capital and they had not. I was surprised since I had lost track of the last two years in which we had not done that. This year  I also wanted to take the graduates to a famous ruin far away.  It is all part of education for them to get to know their country and its history and the way people are living today. 

I want to thank all of you who have helped me in the past, and ask that you think about it again or maybe do it for the first time. 

You can send any donations to The Dominican Mission Foundation at 2506 Pine St., San Francisco, CA 94115.  If you tell them the gift is for the Fr. Tim in the Guatemala misión it will all come here and they notify me about it, and they can send you a letter at year`s end to verify your donations for tax purpuses since they are a charitable entity.  They can also send you the monthly misión newsletter which tells about our other misión efforts also at the same address. I usually get an article in the newsletter once a year or so, and so you can look for that also. If you want to alert others to this longer newsletter you can send me their email address, or give them mine and tell them to ask to be included.  You can check out our web page at with all the information we give on scholarships for youth here, or you can tune in to my homilies at  to listen at 6:30 AM Sunday at mountain time.  Just clik on the image of the microphone.


Peace in the Lord.  Fr. Tim Conlan

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