July 22, 2015 — In just 10 days, nearly 100 students from Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami built a 115-foot bridge in the village of El Puerto in the Dominican Republic.
A total of 111 missionaries — 91 students along with Jesuit Father Frank Permuy, other Belen alumni, faculty, engineers and a medical doctor — worked side by side with men from the village to build the bridge for the people of El Puerto. Approximately 150 families in the village depend on agriculture, mainly cacao, for their livelihood. The bridge will allow villagers to transport their goods and provide students easy access to schools in neighboring villages. The group also brought medicines, vitamins and building tools used to construct the much-needed bridge.
During their time in El Puerto, the Belen students got to know the families in the community they were serving.
“Before the trip I was curious as to how students from a prestigious Catholic high school would react to different living conditions than they were accustomed to,” said Jesuit scholastic Sean Hagerty, chaperone and supervisor for the group. “I was pleasantly surprised by how well they adapted and how they came to love and adapt to the community in such a short amount of time.”
The Belen Youth Missions group has been traveling to the Dominican Republic for 34 years, and Belen students eagerly await their junior year to sign up for the trip.
“It is one way in which Belen Jesuit fulfills its motto, forming men for others,” said Jesuit Father Pedro Suárez, president of Belen. “It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of summer and not help those that need it the most. These students are giving not only of their time but of their blood, sweat and tears.”
On the eve of leaving the Dominican Republic, July 4, Belen Youth Missions participants
pose atop the bridge they built for the people of El Puerto.
“I came on this mission trip because I heard from alumni and relatives that if you attend Belen Jesuit, this is a must-do trip,” said Lucho Rodriguez, a junior who saw the trip as an opportunity to bond with his Belen brothers. “The bond we built was hard to see at the beginning, but once the trip progressed we felt connected with one another and with the people of the town.”
Daily Mass, meals as a community and playing games with the locals helped the missionaries establish bonds with one another.
“Building this bridge was not only a physical experience, but also a spiritual one,” Rodriguez said. “You go there thinking you will change their lives, but they end up changing yours.” [Sources: Kendall Gazette, Belen Jesuit Preparatory]