Learning about Latin America firsthand

By  Hillary Windsor, Youth Speak News
  • November 20, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA  - Some call it an act of charity while others call it an act of compassion. But for Fr. David Shulist, S.J., Catholic chaplain at Carleton University in Ottawa, travelling to Latin America — to learn from the locals and help in whatever ways he and his students can — is an act of being human.

Shulist is the program director of the mission project Global Connections, an initiative run by Catholic chaplains in Canada to educate students about worldly conditions through trips to developing countries.
Shulist, who has been involved for 11 years, aims to open the minds of young Catholics to the daily injustices suffered by millions around the world, and to help them become more globally aware. The young people he travels with are “awakened to a mature sense of hospitality,” he said.

“We believe the poor have something to teach us,” Shulist said. “They have a wisdom we are in need of.”

In May, Shulist took Carleton students to Cuernavaca, Mexico, where they stayed at the Cuernavaca Centre for Intercultural Dialogue and Development, built to promote learning of the Christian struggle in Latin America.

Shulist made his first mission trip outside of Canada as a student himself, when he had found his calling to the priesthood while doing a minor in international development at the University of Guelph. He recalls an encounter with an old lady who gave him a basket of tomatoes as a parting gift, and claims it as the experience that evoked his vocation as a priest.

“I realized I had been missing the whole dimension of human life,” he said. “A science degree wasn’t going to give you this knowledge — the power of human beings… this expression of love and trust (would).”

While in Mexico this year, Shulist and his team helped the locals as much as they could, working and helping to feed children in orphanages, harvesting crops, re-routing water for irrigation and helping to build schools.

But Shulist does not consider these trips as a means of charity — they are focused more on gaining knowledge from the people. He said there was much to learn from the Mexicans’ perseverant and ongoing faith.

“They’re being eucharistic in their lives. Even in harsh, adverse conditions, they pray.”

The young people on these trips are exposed to developing countries’ many challenges and struggles, such as corruption in politics, Shulist said.

Shulist added he hopes the students are inspired with the first-hand knowledge they gain through trips and that they use their understanding of Catholic social justice teaching and bring about radical change to the societal and institutional structures which keep these people poor.

“People are poor not because of sin, but because of institutional structures,” he said.

Shulist advocates for his teammates to develop critical reflection skills, acting as brothers and sisters in accordance with human rights and dignity, using the Catholic social justice teachings as a template.

“Take the Gospel and apply it to real life, and take real life and apply it to the Gospel,” Shulist said.

Shulist said he feels like he accomplished this in a 2006 spring mission trip to Guatemala, where he took part in exposing and bringing awareness to the Canadian-run mines and the injustices suffered by the locals who work in them.

In doing this, he worked with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and opened up his own eyes and those of the many young people who accompanied him, inspiring them to tell Canadians about these injustices, and provide ways in which they can help.

(Windsor, 19, is a journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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