The Catholic Times August 27, 2006
By Laura Troiano
Three years ago, Manuela Lue started a rosary ministry to Belize. She got thousands and thousands of them from the Columbus Diocesan Missions Office and sent them to the small Third World country, formerly known as British Honduras, located on the east coast of Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, Guatemala, and Mexico. Lue, a financial analyst and then a parishioner at Worthington St. Michael Church, was familiar with the country. Although the well-traveled Lue had been educated at John Carroll University in Cleveland and received a master’s degree in international banking and finance from the University of Birmingham in England, she was a native of Belize. At first, it was OK for Lue to be helping the people in her country from a distance. But, when she went back to her homeland on vacations, she saw the needs and the poverty, the underbelly of what was considered a tropical playground and resort area.
Soon, sending rosaries just wasn’t enough. It seemed that Belize was calling her, along with something else. “It was a pull for something more in life. It was a strong desire to serve, to serve others, to love. It was a call, fostered through prayer, adoration, events, doors that would open and close. I knew I was called to give up my secular job in the business world to go and serve the Lord full time in ministry,” said Lue. “It’s not easy, but He never said it would be easy. He said, ‘I am with you.’ It wasn’t until I surrendered completely — completely surrendered to Him — that I found peace. ... The one thing that I knew for sure, I was being called to live a radical lifestyle,” she said. With a call too strong to resist, Lue prayed, attended Bible studies, went on retreats, and last October, she joined the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (S.O.L.T.) in Belize as a lay missionary. As a Catholic religious congregation with missionaries throughout the world, S.O.L.T. includes priests, brothers, and sisters as well as married and single laity. Groups of S.O.L.T. members serve together on ecclesial teams and go wherever there’s a need. “It’s different because the people who are lay live with the priests and sisters, and they live with us. It’s more like a family. It’s witnessing to the wider community of God as a family,” said Lue, who was assigned to the ministerial team at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Benque Viejo del Carmen. The parish has a grade school as well as a high school, which both run on donations.
In Benque Viejo, Lue has learned to beg and borrow, ignore holes in the floor, walk everywhere, and tolerate the heat. She also prays constantly, asking for guidance and grace, so that she can focus on what really matters, the people. It was through her work ministering that Lue saw firsthand the disintegration of society, due to poverty and the breakdown of the family unit. The population of Belize is about 280,000.
Needs to be met
She said that, over the years, there has been an increase in violent crimes, including murder, rape, and robbery. The percentage of those with HIV has also increased by more than 100 percent, and those with AIDS, about 40 percent. There is a high dropout rate in primary and secondary schools. In the past five years, the instances of child abuse have risen drastically, with sexual abuse increasing more than 61 percent, emotional abuse increasing 475 percent, abandonment increasing 281 percent, and neglect increasing more than 83 percent. More than half the children in the country are born out of wedlock, and 27 percent of sexually-active youth are 12 years old or younger. There is also an increase in drug abuse and alcoholism. One-third of the people in the country are considered poor. Children often go without food or clothing, mothers allow their teenage daughters to sleep around for money, unwed women have babies with multiple men and fathers are wayward. There is despair, hopelessness, and overcrowding, with sometimes a dozen people living in a two-bedroom thatched-roof house. There is no such thing as one’s own room, let alone TVs, DVDs, cell phones or computers But, every hut in every village does have a radio, which is usually playing.
Catholic radio in Belize
And the sounds coming from those radios are broadcast from a station located inside a small classroom at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel High School. The signal covers a 20-mile radius. All the programs are Catholic and are faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and the Holy Father. Actually, more than half the population of the country is Catholic. “Christianity has a universal mission aimed at all people. The mission of Jesus involves all humanity, and therefore the Church has a responsibility to help all humanity recognize God,” said Lue. In Belize, “there are so many issues — moral, social, economic — and as a Church, the Church needs to do something about it. The radio station can reach thousands,” she said. “We need to educate people in their faith. Ignorance of the Faith is a huge problem and is causing so much confusion. In the Third World, other religions are coming in and evangelizing the poor people, and these people are Catholic people. They are telling these people untrue things about the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother, saints. Why don’t these people know about their faith? We have to look at it from a broad angle,” said Lue. The Catholic radio station not only helps to educate, but it also inspires. It broadcasts Sunday Mass, daily recitation of the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and catechesis programs. It also provides programming that offers productive avenues for young people to become involved in the community. More than half the population of
Belize is also under 24 years old. “The station helps youth have a better understanding of why they are here on earth and their worth as human beings because all they see is suffering and pain,” said Lue.