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Trip to the Hogar Rafael Orphanage - Part 1

Fr. Steven C. Kostoff

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Dear Fathers, Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

I returned from a short visit to the Hogares San Rafael and San Miguel in Guatemala City last Friday. I usually write a short descriptive piece of my stay and experience there, so if you would bear with me, I would like to try that again with this particular meditation. Presvytera Deborah and I have committed ourselves to adopting one of the older "senoritas," a lovely girl by the name of Estefani. So my discussion with Madre Ines that sealed this commitment, made this trip the most significant one yet that I have made to Guatemala and the Hogares. Since this was not my primary intention when departing for Guatemala, I must say that we remain rather overwhelmed - and "surprised by joy!" For those of you for whom this is news, please keep us all in your prayers.

As I reported from our Mission Team trip last June, there now exist two distinct Hogares (the word simply means "home") - the original San Rafael where all the girls and the younger boys continue to reside; and San Miguel which houses the older boys form ten years old and up. The thirty or so older boys of San Miguel are clearly in transition, for they are now in temporary residence at the "Tabor House" near the Orthodox women's monastery of Lavre Mambre (of which Madre Ines is the abbess). There they await the construction of their new home that, though underway, is still in its earliest stages. Improvement and refinement of the initial plans has led to an inevitable increase in costs, and the current lack of necessary funds has brought the construction phase to something of a grinding halt.

I had the privilege of handing over to Madre Ines a significant contribution based upon a Hogar Christmas Appeal carried out within my parish and beyond, but their need remains great. Many of you receiving this meditation - parishoners and non-parishoners - contributed to that Appeal, and Madre Ines wanted me to convey her warm appreciation and thanks for your generosity and thoughtfulness. Here indeed is a "cause worthy of a blessing:" participation in the building of a new home for these abandoned, abused and orphaned boys of Guatemala, so that they may live in a clean, wholesome and protective environment as they are being prepared for the vicissitudes of adult life.

For the moment, the boys struggle with their troubled pasts, the uncertainties of their future, and fluctuating "mood swings" between their present security and comradeship and a brooding discouragment over the absence of normal family relationships and their ultimate prospects. Yet, the abundant fruits of the healing process are much in evidence and it is wonderful to interact with these boys.

By now, I know most of the boys pretty well and I have become quite recognizable to them. Their warm shouts of "Padre Esteban!" as they began to encircle my taxi as we drove up was deeply moving. What understandably sounds sentimental from a distance - the smiles, the hugs, the games, the friendly banter, etc. - is anything but that "up close." The slightest gestures and contacts take on a certain "weightiness" and meaning as they intensify and strenghten relationships. I was only there for three days, but these were three rich days indeed!

The natural beauty of the new home's location is both awesome and spectacular - a veritable "paradise" in the words of Madre Maria. As I jokingly said while there, I highly doubt that many internationally-rated resorts could provide such a splendid view as found at this site. The boys will awaken every morning to a one-hundred and eighty degree view of Lake Atatlitlan, a large and peaceful body of water, surrounded by mountains and (active) volcano peaks in the background. Waking up in the middle of the night and looking out my window from the Tabor House, I saw the red glow of the one volcano in the distance across the lake. Each morning at around 5:30 a.m. the boys begin their day by taking about a one hour trek down the path winding around the lake. (For some mysterious reason, my alarm clock refused to ring at 5:30 a.m.) This is meant to combine both exercise and immersion into the stunning environment. The "consolation of beauty" as Madre Ines said, hopefully able to soften and touch the wounded souls of the boys.

The approach toward the boys at the Hogar is holistic - both body and soul are treated in the long healing process. Proximity to the monastery allows for the boys to be immersed in the various liturgical cycles - daily, weekly, monthly, and annual - that are the very heartbeat of an Orthodox monastery. The boys regularly participate in the daily cycle of Matins and Vespers. There is also usually a week-day Liturgy. Lining up in the morning at the Tabor House at around 6:30 a.m. (for this my alarm clock responded) for the short walk to the monastery was quite invigorating. The monastery chapel is warm and inviting and the boys are always respectful.

Since the monastery does not have a priest attached to it at the moment, the services are "reader services." And certain of the boys do a great deal of the chanting and reading, quite competently and soberly. They always receive the blessing of the abbess, Madre Ines, before the service begins and often hear her words of guidance or admonishment following the service. She is a rock of stability and security for them. Together with Madres Ines and Maria at the monastery are Hermanas Beatrice, Evgenia and Irene. The closeness of the Mothers and Sisters with the boys is quite evident. It all "works" because the boys know that they are loved. The Hogar remains a sacrament of God's love.

Read Trip to the Hogar Rafael Orphanage - Part 2 here.

Fr. Steven C. Kostoff serves Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit Orthodox Church. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Posted: 25-Jan-05

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