MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Peter Longoria, a Knight of Columbus from Father Joseph Saffer Council 6897 in Murray, Ky., and FOCUS missionary*, was attending Mass in a chapel built in the middle of a garbage landfill.
The landfill, located in the El Bordo de Xochiaca area, is home to thousands of people, with several generations of families living there. The chapel itself was constructed after garbage dump dwellers saved enough money from scrounging and selling items found in the garbage. But the mountains of trash didn’t deter Longoria from the Eucharist.
“It was just such a beautiful thing to bring the sacraments to this place that’s literally in a dump,” Longoria said.
The Mass, celebrated by the trip’s chaplain and a Knight from Benedictine College Council 4708 in Atchison, Kan., Father Brendan Rolling, was the culmination of a day of prayer and service in the middle of a transformative mission.
Longoria was leading eight college Knights from five councils as part of the inaugural, week-long mission trip co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and FOCUS in March 2019. The Knights came from John Cardinal Newman Council 11323 in Blacksburg, Va.; Father Joseph Saffer Council 6897 in Murray, Ky.; Father Frank Patala Council 1716 in Atchison, Kan.; Resurrection Knights of Columbus Council 17161 in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Barney Gonyea Council 7109 in Safety Harbor, Fla.
Making their mission trip equal parts pilgrimage and service, the Knights worked alongside local charity Hope of the Poor, handing out supplies and sharing the joy of the Gospel message.
“We wanted it to be an opportunity for brother Knights to get together and be able to serve the poor — which is a big charism of the Knights of Columbus — as well as to do a pilgrimage to Our Lady,” Longoria said.
One of the women the Knights worked with on the trip recounted the story of her rescue by Hope of the Poor. She ran away from home at 5 years old after being raped by her cousin. Soon after, she was abducted and forced into sex-trafficking. She eventually escaped and lived on the streets for a decade. She became angry at God, angry at Our Lady of Guadalupe for feeling abandoned.
But then she met representatives from Hope of the Poor, who gave her the tools and spirituality necessary to rehabilitate her life. Since then, she has a home and adopted six children off the streets.
This story and many others reminded the college Knights why they came on the trip.
“It filled me with a lot of hope that no matter what life circumstances are, people aren’t forgotten [by God],” Longoria said.
As part of the pilgrimage, the Knights went on the Camino de San Juan Diego (St. Juan Diego’s Walk) from the saint’s home to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which houses Diego’s tilma bearing the miraculous image of Our Lady.
The walk wasn’t easy. The Knights assembled a 50 pound cross from material found at the dump and carried it 7.5 miles to the basilica. Along the way, the college Knights stopped and prayed the Stations of the Cross.
“It was so powerful being in those steps of St. Juan Diego, while also getting to carry a cross similar to the one Our Lord carried,” Longoria said.
During his turn carrying cross, Longoria offered prayers for his sister, who was then bed-ridden for nearly two years due to an auto-immune disease. Since the conclusion of the trip, his sister has been able to begin her college studies once again.
Pilgrimages, like this one, can help integrate service and faith formation for young, college men.
It’s part of the spirit of the Knights of Columbus, who are committed to charitable service that flows from the Catholic faith. The Order’s signature program, called Faith In Action, is designed to help local councils strengthen men and their families in the faith.
“It’s important to go on these pilgrimages, to walk with these saints, to go to these holy sites for our own transformation,” Longoria said. “This creates a great opportunity for God to be able to encounter you.”
The fraternity formed on the mission trip is lasting, Longoria said. He and the other college Knights still keep in contact, from offering prayer intentions to sending memes to one another.
The Knights of Columbus and FOCUS are partnering for another mission trip and pilgrimage to Mexico City, exclusively available to college Knights.
* FOCUS is the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
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