The mission began when we got on the bus at 5:15am on Friday, December 7. I had a great conversation with the person next to me on one of our two flights about some of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. We finally arrived after night had fallen at a center for the formation of missionaries run by the Comunidad Misionera de Villaregia, which a missionary community (for most purposes, a religious community) that started in Italy.
We spent a day listening to missionaries about the culture of Puerto Rico, but that evening, we were able to receive a local community of orphans for something like a youth ministry night: we ate pizza together, played a number of games, threw together a play, and gave them Christmas presents as we parted–all within the span of three hours. As I spent time with the kids, I could feel the Heart of the Good Shepherd rising up out of me, and that proved to one of the central graces of the retreat. The following day (Sunday), our own Archbishop Gregory addressed us (in person–he came all the way to Puerto Rico to be on mission with us!) about the importance of mission work.
The next days were spent working on the houses of two families whose houses had been severely damaged by Hurricane Maria, with theological reflections as a group in the evening which focused on the Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on mission work, Redemptoris Missio. The following day, the local bishop (Bp. Daniel Fernández Torres of the Diocese of Arecibo) met with us for Mass followed by a private conference and lunch. We ended the day visiting a nursing home.
The next day, we had Mass followed by street ministry with the Missionaries of Charity in the morning. That afternoon, we toured a beautiful rock structure that overlooked the Gulf of Mexico.
The last full day of our time in Puerto Rico was a silent day of reflection to unpack all the graces we had received all on the trip. That didn’t stop us from singing a song on the bus that one of our seminarian missionaries had made up that was a parody of Toto’s “Africa” that spoke instead of our particular trip to Puerto Rico. We returned on Dec. 15.
I am extremely grateful for the Acompaño trip–for the experience of being on mission, for seeing the gratitude of the people we served, for the generosity of our benefactors and prayer warriors who made the trip possible, and for the leadership team headed by Fr. Joseph Krafft. Though I have been on several mission trips before, this one excels the others in its being so intentional about forming our hearts to be missionaries in everyday life and enkindling in our hearts a desire to lead mission trips in future ministry.
–Dan Fitzgerald, First Theology, Archdiocese of Atlanta