In late June, a group of six Green Knights (and friends from nearby Marist High School) hopped a flight from Newark airport. Their destination? The Marist Development Center at Merida, Mexico.
2019 marked the second consecutive year that Director of Campus Ministry Joe LoGiudice has led an international mission trip. The excursion to Merida doubled in size this year - despite the hard work involved on the adventure.
After arriving, the group spent no time getting acclimated - enjoying mass in the Mayan language before taking a bike tour of the city (and a stop at Dairy Queen).
On Monday, it was straight to work - and a long day of it.
"Our first full work day was in 104° heat," explained LoGiudice. "We learned important words like 'la sombra' for 'the shade,' but we also finished almost two days of work in one!"
The New Jersey contingent was joined by a group of high school students from Monterrey, Mexico enabling the Green Knights to building new friendships and relationships while sharing and learning cultures.
After a hard day's work, the group enjoyed reflection and prayer as well as meals together. They even took to the pitch for an impromptu Mexico vs. United States soccer match - a preview of the CONCACAF Gold Cup finale as it turned out. In Merida, the game ended in a 6-6 tie.
The students made benches and dividing walls from rock that they dug up on the property. They mixed cement by shovel and laid the groundwork before arranging the rocks to form the structure. At one point, they were joined by more than 80 local students who were studying English. The Americans were named captains of each work team during the "English-only" afternoon.
In the evenings, friendships began to blossom with more time spent together.
"At times, I think they came here together as long time friends," said Loguidice. "They are always together, playing cards or different sports at night."
Mixed in with all of the labor and painting was scheduled down time. The party headed to the beach for some much needed relaxation and also took in the sights with a trip to Mayan caves, the Cenotes and Chichen Itza.
"We enjoyed the caves and shared so many laughs as we crawled and climbed around to get to the sacred Mayan fertility statue deep inside the cave," said LoGiudice.
On the way home, the group took advantage of a layover in Houston to catch an Astros baseball game before making it safely back to New Jersey.
The mission trip was the first of three scheduled this summer with students headed to Buffalo with Young Neighbors in Action as well as West Virginia with Nazareth Farm still to come.