Grace Marroquin, a senior at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, would “never in a million years” have considered taking a gap year after graduation to do a year of service — until she participated in a 10-day pilgrimage/service trip to Peru. Now, she said, “I think I could spend an entire year serving other people.”

She was one of nine students from the Catholic school to participate in the campus ministry trip, accompanied by three chaperones and a priest chaplain Feb. 22 to March 3.

“I wanted to go because I thought it would be fun, but I also wanted to do service,” said Madeline Olsen, a sophomore. “Doing good for others gives life a purpose.”

They volunteered at Casa St. Martin de Porres, a soup kitchen and social service agency, and Hogar CIMA, a residence for homeless boys, both in Lima.

In both places, they witnessed poverty far removed from their lives in the United States. Benjamin Edwards, a Rice sophomore, especially was struck by the poverty. “Through seeing the slums of Lima, we were able to experience … how people in Peru … are forced into a cycle of poverty,” he said.

Yet the students also experienced the joy of the people they served, especially the children. “We have relatively a lot, and they have relatively a little, but the difference in outlook comes from their appreciation of what they have,” said senior William Bourgeois. “They focus on what they have, not on what they don’t have. … We live in the ‘land of opportunity’ where it’s about getting what you can. They value what they have and don’t get discouraged about what they don’t have.”

Not all of the Rice students could speak Spanish, but they all connected with the people they served — especially the children — with smiles, games, sports, and music. “We found ways to relate,” said senior Zerima King. “We found ways to share our (common) interests.”

Junior Tayton Barrett agreed. She speaks little Spanish but still found ways to connect with the children while having fun.

In addition to spending time with the children, the Rice students did chores like helping with meals, tending to animals, and working in the fields; cleaning; and sorting donated food and clothing. “We wanted to do something for others, recognizing the needs of others and how blessed we are,” said Rice Campus Minister Pam King, who grew up in Lima and was one of the chaperones.

The group spent seven nights at a monastery and two nights at the residence for homeless boys.

In addition to the service component of the trip, the students and their chaperones focused on their Catholic faith, visiting holy places like the birthplaces of St. Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima, praying together and attending daily Mass — including one at the Lima Metropolitan Cathedral celebrated by their chaplain, Father Timothy Naples, pastor of St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington, and Lima Auxiliary Bishop Guillermo Elias.

Rice librarian Allison Croce, one of the chaperones, enjoyed having Father Naples available for the sacraments and for “meaningful” conversations about the faith, especially about the universality of the faith over time, a point brought to life by the centuries-old churches, chapels, holy places and artifacts they saw in Lima.

Andrew Schold, a sophomore, said he has attended Catholic schools for several years but had not taken his faith seriously. But seeing the strength of the faith of people in Peru made him “open his eyes” to the importance of faith in God.

One of the scenes many of the students will not soon forget is the line of people waiting for hours to venerate a relic at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

Sergio Sotomonte-Hammond, a sophomore, said the trip inspired him to use his own resources to make “the best life possible” for others.

Grace said the people she encountered in Peru “were so joyful, it made me feel fulfilled.”

Father Naples hopes the students will “put the lessons of generosity they learned on the trip into practice.”

King said she hoped students learned to be Christ for others and that wherever they go, they can be of service to others. “In the end, we are all united by Christ. We are all God’s children. And whether people are rich or poor, it’s important to be Christ to everybody, to just love.”

—Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.