written by: Kevin Cacabelos, Loyola Marymount University ’14
We walked the streets of the community of Nogales, a lower-class neighborhood in Santiago, Chile with open eyes and vulnerable hearts. Walking around Nogales and spending time with the community’s most vulnerable populations was one of my standout memories from my Ignacio Companions (IC) trip in Chile this past winter break.
Nancy, a member of one of Nogales’ parishes, Santa Cruz, gave us a tour of her neighborhood. As we handed out invitations to a special New Year’s celebration at the Santa Cruz soup kitchen, we listened intently and watched Nancy interact with men who had become her family.
Later that night, we celebrated the New Year with these same men, heard beautiful poetry, watched dancing and even convinced our own senior English major Mimi Jacobie to reluctantly sing “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac in front of our new friends. The abstract notion of global solidarity manifested itself in the joy of my peers.
As a leader of the IC Chile trip, I witnessed spiritual and intellectual growth in both my peers and myself. This growth was only possible because of an intentional effort by the trip to provide a holistic view of the several social justice issues we encountered in Chile.
This coming spring break, several students and faculty will embark on IC trips through LMU campus ministry. This spring’s destinations include El Salvador, Argentina, Ecuador and Jamaica.
While each trip is different in its own way, each trip works with a Jesuit or Ignatian-inspired organization and all trips are faith-based and work with social justice issues. Each trip also challenges its participants to engage in partnership and solidarity with its host community.
Solidarity is the key word. As an American student traveling to a foreign country, it’s important not to enter an experience with a notion of superiority. We didn’t serve the impoverished – we worked alongside in solidarity with other global citizens.
While IC groups will indeed be involved with several service projects in the countries they use, this service will merely open the door to learning lessons about faith, social justice and community. This is why the IC program is so special. I felt these values grow significantly in my life after learning about the issues of economical and educational inequality in Santiago.
As an LMU student, it’s easy to see the school’s wealth of opportunities and take them for granted. The IC program is one of those things at LMU that inevitably requires the sacrifice of both finances and time, but pays you back in ways you can’t measure.
As representatives of a Jesuit institution, LMU students have an opportunity to use this connection to build global relationships. The IC program uses LMU’s Jesuit identity to foster and grow connections abroad to benefit its students and the people they are working with. If you’re reading this column and not graduating this spring, I implore you to consider taking advantage of LMU’s Jesuit identity.
Our Chile group worked with Carlos Rodriguez, a 2011 graduate of LMU who had just finished two years of post-graduate work in Nogales with the Jesuit International Volunteer Corps. Rodriguez facilitated conversations between our group and several local Jesuit priests and educators around Santiago.
The IC program puts an emphasis on Jesuit values, including the push for us to be men and women for others. As we confronted issues of urban poverty and economic and educational inequality, we challenged ourselves to see God in the midst of suffering and injustice.
At several points I felt uncomfortable during our time in Chile. When Nancy took us through the neighborhood, I remember walking through a narrow alley between two shack houses.
This alley smelled terrible. Cat feces were everywhere and several of the cats roaming in the back alley looked sick and hungry, suffering under the hot conditions of the Santiago summer.
Nancy helped an elderly man walk out of the back of his house. She introduced us to Don Chavez. Don Chavez had a sad countenance. It looked like he hadn’t showered for days. Nancy told us he hadn’t eaten since the last time they had the soup kitchen, which was two days prior.
Nancy embraced Don Chavez and told us he was important to her because he was the only person that needed the soup kitchen. He couldn’t fend for himself like the other homeless people in the community.
After everyone in the group introduced themselves to him, Don Chavez said he was overjoyed by our presence and thankful that we came to visit him. It had been his birthday the previous day, so we sang “Happy Birthday” to him and invited him to the soup kitchen celebration.
In one day I had experienced both extreme sorrow and complete joy – unrestrained happiness. I reflected that night and, in disbelief, said to myself, “We have six days left here.”
IC Chile changed my life not because I felt a gratitude for serving others in a foreign context. Santiago transformed my life because I saw God in Don Chavez, I saw God in my peers and I began to understand what being a man for others truly meant.