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Letting Go: All We Can Do



Editor’s Note: Missioner Maeve Gallagher reflects on the deeply rooted violence in Guatemala and how it has challenged her to let go of frustration and instead focus on being an example of love for her students at Valley of the Angels school.

I spend a lot of time on mission feeling helpless. Living and working with the marginalized allows me to listen to my friends’ stories. Oftentimes the only support I can provide to someone is a hug or a kind word. After a while, this leaves me feeling a little drained and frustrated by the knowledge that these small gestures are the only kind of support I can provide.

Valley of the Angels is located directly between an expensive equestrian club and a “red zone” neighborhood with a high level of gang activity. Over the past year the two rival gangs outside of Valley have increased their violent activities and the neighborhood is gaining notoriety for its violence.

Recently, there were three gang shootings in one week in the street outside the walls of Valley. An automatic rifle firing near the basketball court interrupted fourth grade’s P.E. lesson, and a few days later the event repeated itself while the kids were playing outside during their free time.

You can imagine the various reactions these situations caused in the children. Tears, hyperventilation, and fainting spells created a scene of chaos. It took several hours and countless hugs to calm everyone down.

The following week, I was making small talk with our religion teacher, Juanita, who works here at Valley. She had been away during the final shooting. When the subject was broached, she shook her head sadly. “I’ll tell you the same thing I tell the girls: all we can do is pray.”

Initially, I felt frustrated by her advice. I wanted to do something, not just pray about it. If there was a way to make the kids at Valley feel safer, I wanted to do it so we could put the situation behind us. My impatient self wanted fast solutions.

Of course, I knew Juanita was right. I wasn’t going to walk into our neighboring aldea (village), tell the gang members to stop the violence, and skip away hand in hand with them into the sunset. The violence in Guatemala is rooted in many societal problems. It’s a complex issue that can’t be resolved with the snap of my fingers.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m not here to be a “fixer.” I’m here to accompany the children at Valley. I support them in the ways that I know how. Sometimes that means a hug and other times it’s sharing a prayer with a student.

Some of Maeve's students at Valley of the Angels

Some of Maeve’s students at Valley of the Angels

When I find myself helpless and frustrated with the limited reach of my influence I will call to mind Juanita’s words. There is strength and comfort in prayer, in knowing that I am able to pass my burdens on to the one who can bear them better than I can. In situations beyond my control, it’s everything I can do.

Reflection Question: How can you be a source of light for others in a world that can sometimes appear to be consumed by darkness?

Maeve Gilheney-Gallagher is a returned lay missioner with Franciscan Mission Service who served for two years at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She currently serves on the FMS Board and works as the Global Solidarity Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Mission. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Dan, and three-legged dog, Lola.