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Spotlight on Guatemala

Erin embrases the ministry of presence

During the beginning of the Easter season, Executive Director Liz Hughes visited the missioners in Guatemala as part of FMS’ commitment to an annual site visit for each mission site.  FMS missioners serve at Valley of the Angels School and Orphanage, located on the outskirts of Guatemala City. Founded in 1993 by Fr. Rocco Famiglietti, a Franciscan priest from Immaculate Conception Province, Valley of the Angels strives to “give the best to the poor” rather than “leave them with the left overs.”  In 1993, Valley welcomed 26 orphaned children. Today, under the leadership of Fr. Michael Della Penna, OFM, Valley of the Angels educates over 200 students, ages 6-18. FMS missioners have been serving at Valley of the Angels since 2015.

In addition to the school, the campus also includes dorm facilities and Angel’s Garden, at which students learn how to cultivate fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  The accompanying farmer’s market provides the orphanage with a source of self-sustaining income. At Bakery of the Angels, students learn to bake bread and cookies, providing alumni with valuable employment skills.  Throughout the visit, many people described Valley of the Angels as a “piece of Heaven” in comparison to the atmosphere of abuse, violence, and poverty that students often experience outside of Valley.

Erin embraces the ministry of presence.

FMS missioners serve as English teachers at Valley of the Angels School.  They also contribute to Valley’s mission trip program, help in the garden, facilitate retreats, and assist with the bakery.  Within all of these ministries, perhaps the most meaningful is the ministry of presence and deep relationships built with the children of Valley.  On the site visit, Liz got a first-hand glimpse into the very full life of FMS missioner Erin McHugh, discussed FMS’ partnership with Valley’s U.S. and Guatemalan leadership, and facilitated a retreat for Erin.  

Like FMS, Valley of the Angels is committed to relationship.  At the end of Liz’s visit, the school community gathered for a farewell that included songs, prayers, and a long hug line of hugs from all 200 students.  Those 200 hugs were 200 expressions of community and 200 reminders of our solidarity with one another. We invite you to join us in that line through your prayers and continued support.  Thank you for all that your support makes possible in Guatemala and beyond.

Liz is thrilled to lead FMS. It is an honor to partner with individuals living and serving in solidarity with individuals in economically poor communities. Liz’s own mission commitment was shaped through serving as a 4th grade teacher in Birmingham, Alabama with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and later as a teacher in a bilingual Catholic elementary school in Juticalpa, Honduras.

Liz comes to FMS from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where she served as the Director of the International Program for three years. Previously, she dedicated over a decade to serving in internationally focused positions with the U.S. government, including two years in Mexico City. Liz graduated with an M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.S in International Studies and Management from Boston College.

In her free time, Liz enjoys tutoring DC junior high students, learning languages, reading, exploring hidden gems of DC, traveling, retreats, and sharing time with family and friends. She is pictured here with her nephew, Benjamin!