For the 10th year, medical missionaries from the Diocese of Charleston were able to offer health care and hope to people in Guatemala.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone accompanied a team of 34 volunteers from the diocese on their mission trip this year, which ran from May 27 to June 3.
The bishop went with Deacon Gabriel Cuervo, program director of Catholic Charities, and a team of doctors, nurses, and other workers to San Pedro La Laguna, a town of about 13,000 people in the southwestern part of Guatemala, on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The group from South Carolina was joined by three other volunteers from Ohio.
During the week-long trip, volunteers helped local people in San Pedro La Laguna with a wide variety of health concerns. They performed medical tests and blood work, dispensed medications, and offered specific services for children and the elderly. A dentist and dental technician who traveled with the team were among the most in demand.
The doctors on hand included an internal medicine specialist, a dermatologist and a podiatrist. The group also included interpreters and other support staff.
Deacon Cuervo said the team ended up helping 950 men, women and children during the trip.
Bishop Guglielmone spent time with many of the local residents and celebrated Mass during the week.
“I was moved by the intense faith and joy of the people despite the terrible hardships they have to deal with,” he said. “I was also gratified to see the wonderful dedication of the many volunteers. My hope is that our people will see this mission as an opportunity to reach out to those beyond our borders who have so little.”
Kathy Schmugge, director of the diocesan office of Family Life, made the trip with her daughter, Angela, 19. Schmugge handed out free reading glasses and helped residents with issues involving family life, such as talking with women who were grieving the recent loss of a child.
Schmugge said the reading glasses were one of the most popular services offered because they provide vital help to people who have vision problems, but cannot afford glasses. She especially remembers one group of women who, after receiving their new glasses, immediately put them on and took out pocket prayer books to read.
“It was special to see that something as simple as donated reading glasses are so important,” she said. “You could see the joy in someone’s face when they could see and were able to read again.”
Angela Schmugge took information about patients and helped guide them to the correct person for assistance. She was one of five young adults on the trip, and Deacon Cuervo said he hopes to have more from this age group involved in the medical trips in coming years.
The group left Guatemala just hours before a volcano erupted on June 3. While San Pedro La Laguna wasn’t affected, more than 110 people in Guatemala have been killed.
Volunteers have already signed up for the next medical mission trip, which is scheduled for Sept. 30 to Oct. 7.
Deacon Cuervo said he also traveled with Deacon Robert Donofrio, a doctor from Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster, to El Salvador on June 3 to explore another possible site for future medical mission projects.
Top photo, provided: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone visits booths at a cultural crafts fair in the city square of San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala.