Please check out this interesting and lovely new video highlighting the Jesuit ministries in Belize. It was created by Jeremy Zipple, S.J., assistant pastor of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Belize City and a documentary filmmaker.
Please check out the lovely article on Belize 2020 co-founders Tom and Maureen Nolan in the latest edition of Jesuits magazine. Click here for the article only or click on the magazine’s cover to view the full issue.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Monday, December 24, 2018, Punta Gorda, Belize
The Jesuits of Belize got together for their Christmas Dinner on December 17th. It was our first Christmas in our slowly renovating Melhado Hall. (Just for the record, Melhado Hall was built with money earned by a Belizean bootlegger who sailed his rum across the Gulf of Mexico and up into New Orleans from Belize [then British Honduras] during US Prohibition.) Santa made his appearance and distributed his presents and Willie John Snyders won the prize for the most festively dressed, most appropriate as he is the most colorful character amongst us.
While in Belize City for our Christmas dinner, I awoke one night with a dull, throbbing toothache. Went to the dentist. It appears Santa has brought me a root canal for Christmas. I will return to the city December 27th for this joyful experience, to be followed by a new crown. Until then it's ibuprofen and antibiotics. (LaBarge, do you realize that means NO booze over the holiday?!) So, while I close out the year with a root canal, I will begin the New Year with a crown!
On December 21st, the St. Peter Claver Staff had their Christmas Party, prepared by the Ms. Catalina, Ms. Olive, and Fr. Penn. We had a big fat dinner of turkey, ham, potato salad, cranberry, stuffing, with cakes and pies for dessert. We exchanged gifts. I thanked the staff for being such a hardworking and agreeable lot. Pointed out the changes that have already come to St. Peter's and warned them of the changes coming.
With Sunday falling the day before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Sam, Penn, and I have a marathon of Masses to do. When it is all done we will have said 18 Masses in 15 different churches. (So, LaBarge, as you can see there was no time for booze anyway.) The three of us will enjoy our own little Christmas celebration on December 26th at a lovely jungle resort restaurant.
A BLESSED CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL, AND THE MOST JOYFUL OF NEW YEAR'S.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Wednesday/December 12, 2018 /Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize
On December 2nd it became official. I am the Pastor of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Punta Gorda—–Wooooooo—–Hooooooooo. About 800 people crammed into and around the Church. Prayers and songs were offered in English, Spanish, Qeqchi, Mopan, Garifuna. And I understood every word………of English. When it was done everybody moved over to the parish hall for tamales and sandwiches.
The very first thing on my agenda is to push Mass attendance. I plan on doing this by boosting the many committees that went moribund in the last few years: Lay Ministers, Youth Group, Liturgy Committee. These things sound boring and inconsequential, but I assure you when these committees are vibrant they make ALL the difference on Sunday morning.
Of course our grounds need work, a lot of work. But here is the problem and it is a really big problem. Before we can repair our grounds, we need a fence in order to maintain our repairs. From the moment I arrived people were saying to me, “We need a fence. We need a fence.” After three months of being here, I see why so many teachers, parents, and parishioners want a fence. This Sunday past a local election was held. Our school is a polling station. The crowds trashed our grounds. Urinating in the yard, drinking their rum in the church garden and school verandah, mountains of trash discarded which the local canine crew spread across the grounds. Even without an election, vandals break into classrooms. People cut through the grounds on foot, on bikes, in cars, and on motorcycles. Folks have no problem stealing the few flowers we do manage to grow. Revelers and lovers will settle on our verandah at night with their weed and alcohol and radios. During the week anybody can just walk into any classroom they want to pester a teacher or a child. On the weekends our campus is literally treated as a public park. There once was an attempt at fencing one side of the school grounds, but money fell short and the fence is filled with gaps where there were supposed to be gates. I will begin the process of looking into fencing our 20 or so acres. This will be terribly adventurous as fencing is hardly a sexy sell and our Sunday collection averages about $700 per Sunday, or $350 US. And a fence is only the first stage in what needs to be a great overhaul of the grounds. I think I’ll be here a long time.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Patroness of the Americas is honored here with a candlelight procession around the neighborhood followed by Mass. She is important to us for many reasons, not least of which is her protection of us from hurricanes and devastating storms. As the Hurricane Season has concluded without a destructive storm, we give thanks.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Wednesday/November 28, 2018/Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize
November 19th was Garifuna Settlement Day, the day that celebrates the Garifuna people landing on the shores of Central America. The days leading up to Settlement Day were full of celebrations with Miss Garifuna and Miss Punta Gorda in attendance. There was a fete of music with Garifuna cooking, a Garifuna language translation contest, a Battle of the Drums competition, all culminating with a reenactment of the original landing followed by a parade to St. Peter Claver Church where Fr. Callistus Cayetano, a local Garifuna Catholic priest, celebrated Mass.
On November 23rd, I began celebrating my birthday with the Peter Claver staff with a big, fat turkey lunch, at which we also we also celebrated the birthday of friend and colleague, Claret Jacobs. On November 24th I turned 60 years old, celebrating with friends from Belize City along with Lissa and Tom Whittaker who traveled to Punta Gorda from Kansas City—God bless them! We all enjoyed a lovely dinner at a resort in the jungle. The Whittakers and I finished up the prolonged birthday celebration with a day trip to Placencia on the 26th. I am now 60 and officially on the road to Geezerdom.
I met with the St. Peter Claver Parent/Teacher Association. All are quite concerned with the direction of our school and frustrated with the lack of support the school has not been getting. I understand and sympathize with their litany of complaints. They want a fence around their school and have been requesting it for years. I explained that a fence around the school, especially a school with the acreage we have, is a big-ticket item requiring some planning. I asked what would be something that we could do immediately that would be a sign of hope. Agreement was fast, furious, and unanimous: fix the bathrooms. So our first project will be fixing up the grade school bathroom, a facility that has suffered Deferred Maintenance Syndrome for many years.
In the meantime the Parish Council is busy putting together the Installation Mass wherein I will be officially installed as Pastor. Our Parish Life Committee is also busy putting together our Annual Parish Fair to be held on December 15th. The Fair’s raffle proceeds will go towards a new church ceiling.
You can make a difference on #GivingTuesday, Nov. 27, a global day of giving! Please consider making a donation or a gift of your time to support Jesuit ministries in Belize by clicking on the Join Us button in the menu. Thank you!
By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Wednesday/November 7, 2018/Punta Gorda, Toledo District
Here at St. Peter Claver we keep our church doors open the day long. We have a little box for candle money that regularly gets rifled. But last week a fellow came in and rifled the Tabernacle, thieving a ciborium full of consecrated hosts. The fellow was apprehended when he tried to pawn the ciborium to a Catholic pawnbroker. I asked the arresting officer if he knew what the thief did with the hosts, and the officer said, "Ate them."
Despite this, we will not lock our church. I am not just saying this; it is true: Punta Gorda is full of prayerful, devout people. So many people drop into our church to pray and light candles it would be a sin to lock it up. So, with rebuilt Tabernacle and new lock, our doors remain open.
Well the countdown is on. Yours truly will be 60 years of age on November 24th. As a child I once asked my mother what it was like to give birth to me. She said: "Well, you were number nine so you came out lickety-split. And I remember them bringing you in with my Thanksgiving dinner. I was so happy to have a quiet Thanksgiving with my new son and not having to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner at home."
Tear downs. In Belize termites are very much a force to be reckoned with. They are Omnipresent Mighty-Mites. No Belizean home is a stranger to the little pyramid of sawdust that indicates termite presence. Two wood school buildings that had housed three classrooms apiece had to be torn down quickly after being shuddered. The buildings were ten-year temps that we had to use for twenty-five years. Finally, the termites had their way and they became unsafe for students. Vandals broke in and that would be just the beginning of the buildings being used for badness, such as fire, juvenile baby-making, habitation for homeless, drugs, et cetera. So down they came. In the last few years our enrollment went down so we can afford to lose the classrooms. However, enrollment is already on the upswing and we will have some decisions to make.
Plans are underway for our December 2nd Installation Mass for me as pastor. Villages are being informed, buses scheduled, choirs contacted, food planned. It should be, it needs to be, a celebration of Catholic unity amongst Toledo Catholics. Recall that the Toledo District of Belize is home to Punta Gorda and St. Peter Claver Parish. St. Peter Claver Parish has under its administration 36 village churches and 30 village grade schools all separated by washboard mountain roads: that's over 5,000 grade school students and 242 teachers. Languages: Qeqchi, Mopan, Spanish, Garifuna. So you can see how a unifying moment would be good for Toledo Catholics.
Speaking of the villages, our Jesuit Volunteers are working hard to animate Youth Groups in the villages. This year we must try another tack since Youth Groups run by the volunteers fall apart when the volunteers return to the States. Their task this year is to train local Youth Facilitators who will keep the Youth Groups alive after the Jesuit Volunteers depart. See the photo of Monica, Rebecca, and Matthew, our volunteers.
And finally, I have officially gone over to the Dark Side. I have an iPhone. The pictures of the volunteers and the demolition are mine. Trying to figured out how to take and forward a photo amused little Monica so much, she took that photo.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Wednesday/October 24, 2018/Punta Gorda
It is called a Cursillo. It is the convening of the 34 Catholic Church leaders, Catechists, from the 34 Maya village churches administrated by St. Peter Claver for a three-day retreat. Fr. Sam Wilson organized the event hosted by St. Benedict's here in Punta Gorda. It succeeded as a first step toward putting order to the administrative chaos and divisions within the villages. Men and women arrived with their hammocks and notebooks. Sessions dealt with leadership styles, issues with Evangelicals, gripe sessions. The most important outcome was the desire of the Catechists to put an end to division and bickering and move forward, united in their Catholic Faith.
To celebrate that unity, St. Peter Claver will host a great gathering on Sunday, December 2nd, on the occasion of my being officially installed as the Pastor of St. Peter Claver. Buses will be contracted to bring the Faithful out of the mountains to Punta Gorda. Events will begin with Mass and Installation, presided over by Bishop Larry Nicasio, followed by the serving of great portions of food and drink as we feast seaside in the yard of the church. Choirs from the various churches will be invited to perform for the crowd. All in all a crowd of about 1,000 should be in attendance.
It is sometimes difficult in Punta Gorda to go out and get what you need when you need it. Sometimes supply and selection are limited. Sometimes cost is prohibitive. And so we find ourselves uniquely short of some of life's staples. Currently we have no phones due to lightning strike and cordless phones are not available here. No TV due to the same lightning strike. Our stove is on the fritz: two burners work out of four, no oven. Our washing machine is falling apart. And last night, Fr. Sam ate a cold supper: microwave had gone out. So, Fr. Penn will travel to Belize City tomorrow and visit a friend of mine who works at COURTS, a department store. He will return with a new stove, new phones, new washing machine, new microwave. Interestingly, nobody was hoping for a new TV. Our evenings are spent on the verandah talking, with Fr. Sam frequently strumming some Delta Blues on his guitars. We retire to our rooms to read around 7 p.m. Lights out by 9 p.m. Everybody is up and at 'em by 4 a.m. Nobody misses the TV at all.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Thursday/October 4, 2018/Punta Gorda, Belize
OK—time to get back to work and writing. I had a busy but delightful three weeks in the States. A week and more was spent up on Kodiak Island in Alaska with seven friends rallied together by Mark LaBarge. Each of us brought home 100 lbs of filleted fish consisting of salmon, halibut, and rock fish. We saw Kodiak bears on land and a pod of killer whales on the sea. There was some dispute between Mark LaBarge and Jim Heinie about who should get credit for catching a 96-pound halibut, but Judge John Weller heard the facts and rendered an opinion that satisfied all but Mark LaBarge, who, had in fact been interfered with while trying to reach the fishing rod with said fish. Mark’s son Eric managed to haul in a 134 halibut which awed us all to the point of forgetting the 96 pounder.
Back in Missouri the Ruhl Clan gathered at Truman Lake for our second family reunion in three years. A family Mass preceded a fish fry that consisted of the Alaskan halibut and salmon along with bass and crappie pulled out of Truman. It is a blessing to have a family that sincerely enjoys getting together. The number of grand nephews and nieces and dogs continues to grow unabated. A brand-new set of twins was too young as yet to travel. Looks like we had better start thinking about our next reunion.
Before returning to Belize I had to go visit my cancer doctor at KU Med. It had been one year since I had a cancer removed from my lip. After examining my lip and surrounding area he said he did not need to see me again. Wooo—hoooo!!!
Back in Punta Gorda school, of course, got started while I was away. At St. Peter Claver our enrollment is up slightly this year, bringing our student body up to 575. I am continuing my St. Martin’s habit of visiting each classroom every morning, reminding teachers and students alike that they have a pastor who cares deeply for them. We have many issues to face in our village schools such as bat infestations, crumbling buildings, and of course, personnel issues. Thank God for my Assistant Local School Manager, Claret Jacobs, who effectively investigates and deals with most problems.
I am on my bike each afternoon, cycling down the highway and out of town. I love bicycles. I love them. Greatest invention ever. I love the sound of rubber on pavement; I love the feel of gears turning; I love the breeze; I love seeing people who wave; I love unexplored bends in the road; I love the flora and fauna (saw a big red-butt tarantula crossing the road the other day); and I love the way riding makes me feel physically, emotionally, spiritually. I have never had a bad ride! Speaking of love…
Love is in the air here in PG as the air is full of love bugs, those uninhibited copulating critters that float affectionately all day on their billowing pillow of amorous air. Even after they have spent their passion they remain attached to one another for days, discussing perhaps what schools their children must attend.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday, August 15, 2018, Punta Gorda, Belize
On Sunday, August 5th I drove about 40 minutes into the lushly forested jungle mountains to preside at my first village mass as Pastor of St. Peter's. (Recall that St. Peter's has administrative responsibility for 34 villages, each with a church while 30 villages have grade schools. Under my care are 5,265 students with 242 teachers. Please pray for me.) As the Maya village Crique Jute (creeky HOO-tay) is made up only of farming families, the church is named after the Patron Saint of Farmers, St. Isidore. About thirty villagers of two hundred were in attendance. The rest have been siphoned off by evangelical churches, a topic to which we shall return at another time. I truly enjoyed St. Isidore's, the good people and the beautiful mountains.
Billikens for Clean Water visited Punta Gorda last week. Their goal was to test water in the villages and offer solutions. In one village they asked about gastro-intestinal issues. The mothers all reported stomach complaints especially with their children. Some village members guided the Billikens to the village water source, a spring pond in a cave. Upon testing they discovered large presence of bat guano. The Billikens are investigating alternative water sources after giving a boil water recommendation.
The new Jesuit Volunteers have arrived in Belize. As they toured the country they visited us here at Peter Claver where three JV's will be working. Of course we introduced them immediately to the verandah and all enjoyed pizza, beer, and view.
On Sunday August 12, I drove to Big Falls to say Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe. A mix of Mopan and Ketchi Maya, this is one of the few villages that can be reached by paved road. Halfway through Mass, I beheld on the clean, whitewashed wall of the church a lovely and sizable tarantula. Fortunately the hairy and long legged beast did not move throughout the Mass. I did not offer hug or handshake at the Sign of Peace, and... I am not sure... but...was that a tarantula tear that fell to the floor? Listen, we all need to be more accepting of each other...even if we are tarantulas.
It is that time of year again when I return to the States for a little R&R. There will be a Ruhl Family Reunion at Truman Lake. Before that I will be fishing in Alaska with my good friend Mark LaBarge. I shall return to PG on September 21st, a date that has threefold significance: It is Belize Independence Day; it is the Patronal Feast of my namesake, St. Matthew; it will mark my one year anniversary of having a cancer excised from my lip. So with all that....see you in September.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Friday, August 3, 2018, Punta Gorda, Belize
On Sunday, July 29th, I celebrated my last Sunday Masses at St. Martin’s. After the 7 p.m. Mass the parish hosted a little farewell in Swift Hall for me and for Fr. Quang who left St. Martin’s the day after I did. At the same party the parish welcomed Fr. Brian Christopher as “the new sheriff in town.” It was all very warm and kind and loving. It was for me a perfect farewell.
On July 31st the Jesuits of Belize gathered at St. John’s College. It became a celebration of St. Ignatius and our Society, but we celebrated as well the numerous transitions all of which officially took place on August 1st. Fr. Quang cooked up a great batch of delicious gumbo; Willy John Snyders baked my favorite and his, pumpkin pie, and the “new sheriff”, BC, took care of the salad. Me? I brought the bourbon.
Miracle of miracles: On Ignatius Day I became a legal Resident of Belize. I have been pursuing this for three years. My newly-issued US passport now has a beautiful red seal on a stamp that declares me a “Permanent Resident” of Belize. No more trips to the Labour Department for temporary work permits, no more visits to Immigration for temporary visa stamps—nada. Home free!!! Yeeeeeee-Hawwwwww.
On August 1st I arrived at St. Peter Claver Parish in Punta Gorda Town, Toledo District, Belize. I have been settling into my room and office, both of which face the Carribbean sea at Amatique Bay in the Gulf of Honduras. In Belize City one simply hopes and prays for a cooling rain during the summer. In PG we get lots of nighttime showers with lightning and with thunder that can knock a person out of bed. I love it. When it doesn’t rain, I can hear the waves on the seashore. Beautiful. I woke my first morning with the temperature in my bedroom below 80 degrees for the first to me this summer.
At St. Peter Claver Parish the Jesuit Community consists of me, Fr. Sam Wilson, and Fr. Penn Dawson. Under the administrations of St. Peter Claver Parish there are 34 village churches and 30 village schools. The roads to most of these villages are dirt washboards, demanding travel in first and second gears. Geographically Toledo is coastal, mountainous, and jungle forested. The dominant cultures of Toledo District are Garifuna, Maya, and East Indian, with significant populations of Spanish, Creole, and Chinese. Also under our administrations is what is often called “the best verandah in the province.” Our verandah overlooks the sea, perhaps 50 yards away, with unobstructed view and breeze.
The Clavius Project at St. Louis University High School came to Belize this month and made history. On Friday morning, July 6, a team of students from St. John’s College High School and St. Martin’s Grade School built the first robot ever created in Belize. The students were participants in a summer robotics camp sponsored by the Clavius Project and held at St. Martin’s. This video captures all the fun!
The Clavius Project @ SLUH began in 2014 as a collaboration among students, faculty and staff to bring education in STEM to St. Louis urban middle schools. Named after Christopher Clavius—a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer responsible for the Gregorian Calendar as well as the first to confirm his former student Galileo's Heliocentric Theory of the universe—the program has achieved considerable success and momentum in just a short period of time. The Clavius Project offers FLL robotics, EV3 Lego Mindstorm click & drag and Robot C program language; and math & science tutoring. Platforms in development include rocketry, coding, advanced robotics and quad copters. Click here to learn more.
Thanks to program moderator Jeff Pitts and his team of fantastic volunteers for inspiring a new crop of future engineers and scientists in Belize!
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/July 11, 2018/Belize City
On Sunday, July 1, night after the 7 p.m. Mass, the parish officially, and finally, blessed SWIFT HALL. It was a quiet, understated affair with our parishioners only. There had been a public opening of the hall earlier in the year, but we wanted a to do a blessing with just the Martin’s family. After the blessing we enjoyed a little snack and then everybody went home to bed.
The school year has officially ended — praise God! The decibel level on the campus has fallen from jet engine levels to a much more modest and humane level. Yet, PROJECT HEAL and its programs are in full swing and…wait…what do I see? Ms. Dawn Wade is back in the classroom and do we enjoy having our freshly minted, 4.0 Billiken back in the fold with her Master’s in Special Ed. Welcome Home, Wade!!!
My old St. Louis friend John Godar has brought his daughter and two more Cor Jesu girls down to help out with the HEAL programs. It has been twenty years and more since I was there at Busch Stadium watching Cardinals baseball with John, Steve Murphy, and his sister Tina at the precise moment when sparks began to fly between Tina and John. I presided at their wedding and baptized their first two boys.
Speaking of old friends, Jeff ‘Panty-Ripper’ Pitts has returned to Belize and has brought with him his Robotics Course. The very first robot ever created in Belize occurred on Friday morning, July 6, 2018, by a team consisting of St. John’s College High School students and St. Martin’s Grade School students. I am personally very happy and proud of this moment and of this course. I believe this will ultimately transform education in Belize. Three cheers for the Panty-Ripper!!!
As if to constantly remind us at Martin’s what we need to be about, we buried a 17-year-old male this week. Shot in the face. A vicious execution.
At Mass last Sunday during the Consecration a young man wearing only shorts and carrying sticks marched up to the altar and started yelling at me and Fr. Quang about holy water and a police beating while showing us wounds on his back. A parishioner escorted him out after some tense moments. Police later informed me that earlier in the day the man had been at Martin’s bathing himself in the holy water font when a parishioner asked him to leave. Shortly after leaving the poor fellow got a beat down during a run-in with police. He thought someone at Martin’s had sicced the police on him. We certainly had not.
I am saying my farewells these days as I now have less than three weeks remaining in my Martin’s tenure. I had my last Mass at Mercy Kitchen. I had a little “fried chicken farewell” with my Bible Study Women. I celebrated my last Mass at the river village of Bermudian Landing, home of the Howler Monkey Preserve. A big loud howler made sure he said his farewells. The Farewell Tour is just getting underway, however, as there are lots of ‘goodbyes’ to be said.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Belize City
Praise God!!! Success!!! Last year 49% of our students at St. Martin’s passed the Public School Examination. This year, St. Martin’s Grade School has hit a milestone. This year on our Public School Examination, 56% of our students passed. Our goal was to break that 50% ceiling which has been dogging us for years. This may seem small potatoes to many, but it’s big potatoes to us. It signals not only a halt to the dismal sub-50s but a 7% turnaround that augurs well for the future. I believe the following years will find more and more students passing as our programs continue to take even firmer hold.
My friend, fellow pastor, and brother Jesuit, Willie John Snyders has turned 86 years old. He is still terribly active as he pastors the church on Caye San Pedro and spends a great deal of time with his Prison Ministry. We celebrated his 86 years with dinner and cake on the verandah at St. John’s College Jesuit Residence. Willie John Snyders, S.J. is one of the hardest working, charitable men I have known in my entire life. He is most always smiling while devoid of guile. And he has a GREAT sense of humor because he laughs at ALL my jokes.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” So declares John the Baptist of Jesus and himself in the Gospel of John. On June 24th we Catholics celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist due to that dates’s proximity to the summer solstice, June 21st. For the next six months daylight decreases symbolizing the ‘decrease’ of John the Baptist and ourselves. Exactly six months later, on December 24th (Christmas Season begins at the Vigil Masses of Christmas Eve), daylight increases once again, symbolizing Jesus’s ‘increase’ in the world and in our lives. (There is an old Catholic grade school song about this: “The Mass is ended / all go in peace / we must diminish and Christ increase.”) All of our liturgical seasons, Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas, are all strictly arranged by the sun. And really doesn’t that give you a just little pagan titillation?
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Monday/May 31, 2018/Belize City, Belize
On Saturday, May 12, St. Martin’s held its Mother’s Day Fair, our biggest fundraiser. I always pray that the day is, first of all, peaceful and, second of all, successful. Frighteningly, the day began with a non-lethal shooting right outside the parish office, and I thought “Oh God, this is not good.” But police apprehended the youthful shooter. And the day turned into the very best Fair of my tenure here at Martin’s. The rest of the day was safe and peaceful as hundreds of kids enjoyed the day, with all kinds of booths and prizes and foods. And on top of all that, the parish raised $23,000.00 BZ. Yeeehawww!!! All credit goes to a very hardworking parish staff and Fair Committee.
The following day at all the Masses I announced my imminent departure from St. Martin’s. That is right, I am leaving St. Martin’s. After seven years and long and thoughtful deliberations on the part of my Superiors and myself, it has been decided that I should report to St. Peter Claver Parish in Punta Gorda, Toledo District, in the south of Belize. Yes, it is heartbreaking to leave Martin’s, but I clearly see the necessity of it. My last Mass at St. Martin’s will be July 29th. Fr. Brian Christopher will be acting-pastor until a permanent replacement is named, likely by next summer.
I must humbly report that a couple of gifts will allow us to fix up the soccer field of St. Martin’s with fencing, drainage, seating, and seeding.
Why must his be reported with humility? Because it is to be called RUHL FIELD. (Thank you to those anonymous benefactors who have made this possible.)
Eighteen boys graduating from St. Martin’s this year will be attending the Jesuit St. John’s High School next year. This will make 29 Martin’s boys at SJC after the second year of our program wherein St. John’s receives all our qualified boys on scholarship. I cannot convey the impact this will have on our school and on our neighborhood. Few things make me as happy as seeing our Martin’s boys enrolled at St. John’s. God bless St. John’s and President Alice Peralta!
Project HEAL has just been awarded a three-year grant from the O’Shea Family Foundation for READERS FOR TOMORROW LITERACY IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVE and the ongoing HEAL counseling and emotional intelligence efforts. (Let me explain something here. We just had to expel an 11-year-old for viciously disruptive behavior. Two of his older brothers have already been shot. This generous grant helps us deal with children enduring this kind of debilitating trauma. I would like to personally thank the O’Sheas for this very generous and much needed grant. Thank you.)
In collaboration with Saint Louis University, Belize 2020 is sponsoring three speaker events during the university's Atlas week, April 6-14. The Belize 2020 events will be held in various venues on SLU's North Campus, located at 1 North Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63103. Click here for a campus map. Participation is free and advance registration is not required.
The Atlas Week Program at Saint Louis University increases awareness of the global issues that confront us today in an effort not only to promote discussion but also to inspire and inform action. Through a week of programs, discussions, and speakers, the focus is on what we as global citizens can do to contribute to a better life for all people now and in the future.
SLU and Belize 2020: Reflections on a Growing Partnership
Monday, April 9
12:00 - 1:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Center for Global Citizenship Auditorium
Sponsored by: Office for Mission & Identity, Office of the Provost, School of Education, School of Professional Studies, SLU Madrid Campus, Office of Diversity & Community Engagement, and Belize 2020
SLU has a long-standing partnership with various institutions in Belize, and plans to grow those partnerships in breadth and depth in the coming years. This semester SLU faculty and administrators visited our partners in Belize to deepen relationships and dream about what we could accomplish together. The panel will reflect on that experience from the SLU perspective and share ideas about where we might go from here. Chris Collins, S.J., Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity, will moderate the discussion with SLU Provost Nancy Brickhouse; Dean Molly Schaller, School of Education; Dean Tracy Chapman, School of Professional Studies; Dean Paul Vita, SLU Madrid Campus; and Vice President Jonathan Smith, Office of Diversity and Community Engagement.
Belize 2020: Seeking Input, Advancing Ideas
Tuesday, April 10
2:00 - 3:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Busch Student Center 251AB
Sponsored by: Center for Service and Community Engagement, Belize 2020, Office of International Services
This roundtable will be an opportunity to provide updates on the work of Belize 2020 and to solicit student feedback on ways to advance our work in Belize.
Improving Education through Scholarships: The Saint Louis University and Belize Partnership
Thursday, April 12
4:00 - 5:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Busch Student Center 253B
Sponsored by: School of Education, Belize 2020
During this event we will highlight the educational aspect of the Belize 2020 Project and Saint Louis University educational partnership.
Belize 2020 Project is a partnership between Belize City, Belize and Saint Louis University. This relationship seeks to bridge the learning gap in our schools. The partnership empowers and enables the Belizean teachers and students to become leaders in their community. The Belizean teachers are the strongest link between the students and the surrounding community. The teachers are equipped with the knowledge to build a better future for the students through this partnership.
This partnership has grown through the training of teachers in Special Education: Learning Disability. Presently two teachers are attending Saint Louis University in the School of Education in the graduate program. Rose Mes recently completed her master’s in special education with the emphasis of learning disabilities. She is currently a learning consultant in at Our Lady of Guadalupe and working with her students in Belize.
For more information on 2018 Atlas Week programming, click here.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Monday/April 2, 2018/Belize City, Belize
Wednesday: On Wednesday of Holy Week the Diocese traditionally celebrates the Chrism Mass, a Mass at which all the priests gather with the Faithful. The Bishop provides a noon meal for the priests. Then we gather again at the Cathedral for the Mass at 6 p.m. It is a hopeful occasion with priests renewing their Priestly Promises before the Bishop blesses the Holy Oils used throughout the year.
Holy Thursday: This year Holy Thursday took on a particularly somber tone that reflected the realities of Belize City. Thus far in 2018, the City Council staff has lost four employees to murder. They called Martin’s, requesting a Memorial Mass. We obliged. Then we had to bury yet another parishioner who had been bludgeoned to death with a frying pan and a stool at his home. He was a businessman in his 60s and robbery the motive. At last, in the evening, we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It was my honor to wash the feet of 12 people who will be joining the Church at the Vigil on Saturday night.
Good Friday: Good Friday at Martin’s is particularly beautiful. At 1:30 pm about 100 parishioners pray the Stations of the Cross by processing around the neighborhood to predetermined outdoor stations. It takes an hour-and-a-half to do all the stations, pray all the prayers, sing all our songs. When the Stations of the Cross conclude, we return to the church to celebrate Good Friday’s Passion of the Lord, a service that includes the Veneration of the Cross. Few things evoke the kind of pathos I feel when I see the old, young, crippled, sick, and poor all venture up to venerate the cross. There is such a purity in the prayers of suffering people. From my presider’s chair I watched the faces of the faithful come forward. There was not an ounce of nonchalance. Not a bit of “What are we doing this for?” I saw only humility, the kind of humility that comes with understanding the suffering of Christ on the Cross.
The Easter Vigil: My friend Fr. Quang Tran, S.J. answered the call at the Easter Vigil: He sang the Exsultet and sang it wonderfully. Every year I fret about that most lovely but difficult Easter Proclamation. “Q to the rescue,” that’s all I can say! But Angie to the rescue as well. Our Easter Candle failed to arrive in the order placed earlier this month. Angie found a Martin’s teacher, Karen Garcia, who was visiting Chetumal, Mexico, on Holy Thursday. And Ms. Garcia came through like a champ, finding us a beautiful Easter Candle. We brought 14 catechumens into the church at the Vigil. Life! Hope!
Easter Sunday: Two Masses and an Easter egg hunt, after which Fr. Q went to the Caye with some friends and I stayed home to enjoy Cardinal baseball and some sweet solitude.
On Monday morning, I am now on my way to Merida, Mexico, with the Jesuit Community of Belize for a little much needed post-Holy Week/Easter R&R.
HAPPY EASTER SEASON TO ONE AND ALL.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/March 21, 2018/Belize City, Belize
St. Martin de Porres experienced a true grace on March 11, 2018. At our 7pm Mass, Fr. Brian Christopher, S.J. pronounced his Final Vows in the Society of Jesus before our local Superior Fr. Tom Greene, S.J. The church was packed and prayerful. All the Belize City Jesuits were in attendance. Good humor abounded. A reception followed in Swift Hall.
In the past week we have lost two parishioners to murder. Both were murdered in their homes. Both were murdered in front of their children. In one case two children themselves were shot, one of them is special needs. Between the two murders, 11 children have lost parents. Please pray everyday for peace. And pray for solutions.
Our students took the first part of the PSE (Public School Exams) on Monday. In a first ever event, most of our Standard VI kids came to Mass on Sunday morning to get a blessing. Their Principal, Annie Palacio, had reminded them that the basketball team got a blessing at church before the National Tournament and they won the National Championship. Let us pray for similar success. Results will be published much later in the school year. Please say a prayer for our little scholars.
The weekend of the 17th has left the city in shock. Five murders in the city. Two women were killed in retaliation for the murder of the woman I wrote about in the second paragraph. That is a particular disgrace, for I knew her and a revenge killing in her name would have been unspeakably abominable to her. But such is the law of tooth and talon. The bloody violence has caused the Prime Minister to declare a quasi-martial law, declaring certain areas of the South Side “Emergency Zones” while ordering the Belize Defense Force (the army) on patrol with the police. The entire city and social media are abuzz with the crisis. Everybody is asking the same question: How do we stem the homicidal violence in our country?
The BELIZE 2020 group met Saturday the 17th to discuss our way forward. About 30 people were in attendance and while there was an inordinate amount of information and work, attendees all agreed on the worth of a long day in meetings. The retreat was organized by Dr. Dionne Chamberlain Miranda, a professional in Development. She is also a former student of mine from wa-a-ay back in our days at St. John’s College.
Friends, I must confess that continually writing about all the ugliness that continually surrounds and deeply impacts our parish and school grows wearisome. You must wonder at it all. Yet, it is life on the South Side. You are reading about it. We live it. We have to pick up the pieces. We bury the dead. Console the afflicted. Encourage the community to carry on. (Even now as I write the police have stopped a young man on his bike to search him.) I think to myself, “This is part of the Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus. We are the same Province as St. Louis U and U High. Rockhurst and Regis universities and high schools are also in the same Province where I bury so…many…murdered people. Same Province, but what a different world.” So be patient with me and my writing. And pray for us.
Each morning I pray this prayer: “Almighty God, please help us make Belize as peaceful, prayerful, and prosperous as it is beautiful.” Feel free to join me in that prayer.
By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/February 28, 2018/Belize City, Belize
The congregation at St. Martin’s has been growing ever so steadily. That is the good news. The bad news is some people leave in a huff because there are no seats available. That really distresses me. We definitely need a bigger church. Drier, too, as yet a new leak appeared recently. But in the meantime I have my ace maintenance man Esidoro building benches to go along the walls. We also have room for a few more pews.
Statistically speaking it was bound to happen despite the most earnest of hopes and the most fervent of prayers. A 12 year-old boy in one of our HEAL programs was murdered in Pregnant Alley on the South Side. He was the intended victim. An adult was also killed, apparently in an effort to shield the child. So many of our boys know the older they get the greater the likelihood becomes of them being killed. I wish I could say they were being melodramatic, but they aren’t. Death hounds our boys.
Last Saturday in a house directly across from our pre-school playground a husband murdered his wife as she slept, then took his own life. The bodies were discovered and the gawkers gathered as HEAL held a BINGO fundraiser in SWIFT HALL. This ghastly event has sent a chill through the neighborhood. And this tragedy is just one more bloody moment that colors the horizon of our children. Horizons of hope can be hard to come by on the South Side. Her funeral repast was held in SWIFT HALL.
On Thursday St. Martin’s hosted a Mass of Thanksgiving for outgoing Mayor Darrell Bradley. It has been the Mayor’s habit in his two three-year terms to have Masses for his Civic Employees at St. Martin’s. In his remarks at the end of Mass he credited his Jesuit Education at St. John’s and at St. Louis University for making him all that he is as a man of service. He told the crowd his parents could not afford post-St. John’s education but that he had been awarded a Jesuit scholarship to SLU. Frankly, in my view, he was a darn good mayor, and I am gratified that he publicly lauds his Jesuit training.
On Friday night I blessed a train. That’s right, a train. The new train at Old Belize. I also blessed all the Belize Tour Guides present who are the face of Belize to thousands of tourists who visit this beautiful country.
St. Apollonia. Do you know who she is? She is the Patron Saint of Dentists. And through her intercession, I regularly receive my oddest donation. My dear old friend Dr. Bob Butler, DDS, whose marriage to the lovely Ms. Tina I happily presided at years ago in St. Louis, keeps the gold he extracts from the mouths of his patients, with their permission of course, and when his drawer is full, he sells the gold and sends St. Martin’s the check. Splendid fellow. A bit macabre, but I’ll take it!
Yes, life on the South Side can be rough, but not unremittingly so. God sends us sunshine to keep us hopeful. Last week that sunshine arrived in the form of beautiful little bundle Madison Arthurs born into this world February 19th, the child of HEAL employee Pheona Staine and Michael Arthurs of our Parish Council. Mother and child are happy, healthy, and home. Congrats Pheona and Michael.