El Salvador, “I Love You Forever”

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A Life-Changing Mission Trip

By Elizabeth Meittinis

This winter break, I had the privilege of traveling to La Union, El Salvador, to participate in a mission trip serving the families in that community by working at a camp for kids. Since my freshman year, I had been anxiously waiting for my chance to take part in this service opportunity. When I was accepted for this year, an endless amount of anticipation filled my heart and soul in the months leading up to the trip.

I couldn’t wait to meet the children we would be working with and their families. Although I was excited, I was also anxious that not knowing Spanish would hold me back from fully immersing myself in the trip. However, when we arrived, we were greeted by many hugs and smiles from the children, and I knew we could communicate through the language of love.

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Upon our arrival, we were taken to the home of martyred Blessed Oscar Romero. After learning about Romero through history classes, religion classes and the multitude of service projects I’ve been on, it was surreal to see the actual home and the place where he was martyred. Oscar Romero gave hope to the people of El Salvador in a troubled time; he was a savior giving them faith during a period when the country was thrown into war. The people of El Salvador look to him as a hero and it is so beautiful to see how grateful the people are for all he gave to them.

We lived through the four pillars of Dominican life (Study, Community, Spirituality and Service) every day, but the most profound pillar throughout this trip was definitely Community. We became one big community with everyone who lived in that town, and witnessing the sense of community that they all share was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. They truly are one big family and they look out for one another and take care of one another as if they were blood-related.

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We began our days greeted by hugs from all the children at the camp. Stepping out of the van and seeing the bright and smiling faces and hearing the cheerful “Buenos días” from everyone was the perfect way to begin our day, and it immediately brought a smile to my face – a smile that didn’t leave my face the entire day. Our morning routine included dancing, music and a visit from someone dressed as St. Catherine of Siena before we split up into our camp groups. The camp followed a different theme each day based on St. Catherine of Siena. It amazes me how faithful these people are regardless of how little they have. They are so thankful for everything and praise God unlike any other people I’ve ever seen. It was a beautiful and inspirational thing to witness during my time there. My faith has always been a significant aspect of my life, but it has developed even more since my trip to El Salvador.

By splitting up into groups, we got to know the children on a more personal level. We spent the day in art, music and sport workshops that were sometimes a little bit of a challenge with 2-5 year olds! As a Childhood Education/Special Education major, I was definitely in my element. Working with children is something I am extremely passionate about. I was completely drawn to their eagerness to learn, their trusting nature, and their inquisitive minds. One of my fondest memories of the week was teaching my little Dorita and Melvin how to say, “I love you.” By the end of the week, they would simply just look at me, and burst out “I love you.” What a moving feeling! Being around children and being able to make children smile brightens up my day. This trip confirmed that I am meant to become a teacher.

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Through every service trip I’ve been on, I have received more than I have given.  As our time in El Salvador was coming to an end, everyone in the town expressed their gratitude. They did not realize how much they have given to us. The people of La Union humbly showed us compassion, faith and unending love that I will carry with me my entire life. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my experience and smile. Until my chance comes to go back once again, I will carry the people of La Union in my heart every day.

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Fanjeaux: Faith, Fun, and Forever Friendships

By Elizabeth Meittinis

elizabeth meittinis

For the first time in my life, I was leaving the United States. I was headed to Fanjeaux, France, as part of a Molloy-sponsored trip to learn more about our Dominican roots. Not only was I traveling outside of U.S. borders, but I was also traveling to a place of faith and holiness. I had been looking forward to this trip since my freshman year. There’s nothing I love more about Molloy than the faith and feeling of community on campus, and I couldn’t wait to be able to see where the Dominican order was started so I could fully understand the Dominican Charism. When I started at Molloy, I was drawn to the concept of the four pillars of Dominican life: Study, Community, Spirituality and Service, but it wasn’t until I immersed myself in Campus Ministries and Dominican Young Adults that I truly began to learn how to live my daily life according to those pillars.

Traveling to Fanjeaux was a life-changing experience to say the least. At first, I was very anxious and nervous because it would be the longest I’ve ever been away from home, as well as my first international flight, but it was comforting to know I was travelling alongside five other people from Molloy. When we landed in Toulouse, we met some people from other Dominican schools that we would be staying with for the next two-and-a-half weeks. Although we were exhausted beyond belief, we were able to start conversations and already began to build friendships in that airport, as we waited for our bus to take us to Fanjeaux.

Those friendships and bonds continued to develop throughout the entire trip. We lived the four pillars of Dominican life every day, but the most profound pillar was definitely community. The sense of community I felt while in France was overwhelming. I’ve been on my fair share of trips where I have gotten close to many people, but this trip was definitely much more than I expected. We ate together, went on all excursions together, took a class together, drank wine together, prayed and reflected together; pretty much were together all day every day. The sense of companionship, trust and friendship was evident and it’s something I’ll never forget. From the “good mornings” to the “I bought you this at the market,” everyone looked out for each other and it was so touching. The relationships I was able to create during my time in France will be carried forever in my heart.

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We traveled throughout southern France, visiting many churches, castles and historical places. We went to visit the house where St. Dominic lived during his time spent in Fanjeaux. It was such a powerful and awe-inspiring experience walking into that home; there really aren’t words to describe the feeling I had. One of my favorite excursions was the day we traveled to Montségur and hiked up to the top of the mountain. It was there that I definitely felt the presence of God among us as we were conquering the mountain. Not only did I feel His presence, I was able to witness God in so many people during that experience, people who lent a helping hand to others while climbing up rocks and cheered others on as they struggled to make it to the top. I felt as though God was with us in these individuals and He truly wanted us all to conquer that mountain and experience that breathtaking view together.

Another profound memory was the day we went to visit the Abbey of LaGrasse. I felt like I was in The Sound of Music! We entered one of the churches located on the grounds and the acoustics in that church were fantastic. While on a tour, I was able to sing with one of the adults on the trip and it was such a powerful experience. As we sang “Amazing Grace,” the echo and wholeness of both our voices together was overwhelming. That day will always have an impact on my life.

Although every day I wish I was able to go back and relive those experiences all over again, I am so blessed to be able carry all those memories and friendships with my throughout my life. I am so appreciative of all the opportunities I have been afforded through Molloy.

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Images courtesy of Elizabeth Meittinis.