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Fr. Matt Ruhl with St. Louis Retreatants Mary Jo and Mark LaBarge
Retreat in Belize Strengthens Bonds of Friendship and Solidarity

U.S. volunteers and donors from Saint Louis University (SLU) and the grassroots group known as Belize 2020 traveled last week to Belize for their second annual retreat in the Central American nation long served by Jesuits.

Father Chris Collins, SJ, assistant to the president for mission and identity at Saint Louis University, joined by Fr. Matt Ruhl, SJ, led the retreatants. Father Ruhl, the pastor of St. Martin De Porres Parish in an impoverished neighborhood of Belize City, tried to convey to the group the dire needs of his parishioners. 

His stories of their needs provided much food for thought and reflection. 

One of his reflections was, “True virtue is born out of gratitude.” 

Father Matt asked retreatants to think of things for which they are grateful. He then enumerated the kinds of things a typical parishioner at St. Martin De Porres would be grateful for. Spoiler alert: they are far more basic than anything most Americans would name. 

For example, over Christmas, a parishioner asked Fr. Matt for a mattress, not a bed, or sheets or pillows, but a simple mattress to allow the family not to have to sleep on the floor. It was through this lens of great need that retreatants spent quiet time in reflection. 

The retreat for the Belize 2020 volunteers and their Belizean counterparts was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mercy Center on the beautiful grounds of St. Catherine’s Academy in Belize City.

At one point, several retreatants asked Fr. Chris if the retreat could move from the conference room to the steps of the retreat center.

The afternoon shadows were drawing across the courtyard and all agreed the session should take place outside in the picture-perfect setting. It was a lovely moment as the Belizean and American participants came together, sat on the steps and shared many of the things for which they gave thanks. 

Near the end of the session someone pointed out that they were grateful for the opportunity to meet new friends and work toward a common goal. 

Retreatants Gather Outdoors

Retreatants gather on the steps at St. Catherine's

Belize 2020 is a nonprofit volunteer organization that works to improve the quality of life in Belize through support of Jesuit ministries in the country.

Dr. Luna and Dr. Peralta

Dr. Ronaldo Luna and Dr. Mirtha Alice Peralta
discover an unexpected connection
Two of the retreatants, Ronaldo Luna, professor of civil engineering at SLU, and Mirtha Alice Peralta, president of St. John’s College in Belize City, Belize, made a surprising connection.  

Luna, originally from Guatemala, recently had learned from his mother that his grandfather had attended St. John’s College decades earlier. 

He mentioned this to Peralta, who recently had been reviewing historical documents for a presentation. When she heard Luna’s story, she remembered having seen a pertinent document in her research.

The next day of the retreat, she brought a booklet from 1919 in which Luna’s grandfather was named as having achieved “first honors” in his class. 

The story quickly spread among all those at the retreat and everyone agreed this had to have been the Holy Spirit at work.

See more photos on our SmugMug account.


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Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House
Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House, located in Grand Coteau, La., has provided a beautiful setting for retreats since 1938.