The Coastal Star

Interfaith21: Father-son service trip enriching for all

By C.B.Hanif

The blessings are likely to be mutual once again this month when Monsignor Tom Skindeleski, of St. Vincent Ferrer
Catholic Church in Delray Beach, leads his ninth annual Knights of Columbus
father-and-son contingent in service to indigenous people in the rain forests
of Guatemala.

“We construct anything from student desks to putting in tile floors for the computer room in the school,” he said. “We put in a section floor of a
dormitory one year in which we were able to sleep 100 more students in the

Add to that selfless service the bonding between fathers and sons. “These young fellows have come back totally moved by a Third World experience in which,
while they thought they were helping others, they also express how the others
have really helped them to come to another understanding of different peoples,
different countries, different cultures.”

The school is the Father Tom Moran Education Center, named for the retired priest who, while serving villages around Livingston, in eastern Guatemala,
established two-room schoolhouses to start self-supporting educational

Steve Dudenhoefer expanded that effort to the high school now serving 650 students through Ak’Tenamit, a community development organization run by the Maya.
“Ak’Tenamit means ‘New Village,’ and that’s what they’re creating after years
of civil war ravaged the villages,” Skindeleski said.

The up to 14 travelers, as young as 13, include the state treasurer of the Knights — the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, with nearly two
million members. Lodging is financed by the local parish Knights and a state
council grant. The men are asked to cover their airfare.

They give up a week — July 17-25 this year. After an overnight stay in Guatemala City there’s a five-hour bus and boat ride to Livingston, 145 miles away. Then
each day it’s 25 minutes each way by motor launch up the river to work —
waterways being how locals, including the students, get around.

The Knights are helping the country develop its best resource. Some of those students are becoming trilingual — in their local dialect, Spanish and English
for computers. No wonder Skindeleski said the government wants to expand the
program of schools and clinics to three other sites.

Barely back from the June close of the “Year For Priests,” an international gathering of priests with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, Skindeleski will lead yet another
group in the path of Brother Pedro Betancourt, who in dedicating his life to
service of the poor, ill and otherwise unfortunate, became Guatemala’s first

Skindeleski said the Mayan people have a rich, centuries-old heritage, which they share in their own way despite their material poverty. “Everybody comes back uplifted”
as a result of the spiritual and cultural exchange. “Tired maybe. But uplifted
by the experience.”

C.B. Hanif is a writer and inter-religious affairs consultant. Find him at

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