Aspen priest, parishioners to take aid mission to Philippines |

Aspen priest, parishioners to take aid mission to Philippines

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Typhoon Haiyan damage in Tacloban, Philippines, 2013.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Enjoying Aspen’s captivating fall colors or taking an offseason vacation aren’t in the plans for a group of parishioners from St. Mary Catholic Church. Instead, they will leave Sept. 21 for Tacloban, a city in the Philippines that was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 8, 2013.

“There’s a lot of effort going into St. Mary as far as expansion, renovation, getting our house in order,” said the church’s leader, the Rev. John Hilton. “But it’s really important for the parish to reach out to the third world, be engaged with the missionary. We chose Tacloban city, and if you look at the pictures of the town, it looks like Hiroshima after the second world war when then bomb went off.”

The typhoon, one of the worst recorded tropical storms to ever hit land, resulted in 6,300 deaths, 11 million homes damaged or destroyed and 4.1 million people displaced.

Hilton will join four Aspen High School students — David Avila, Kelly Callahan, Zuleima De La Cruz and Ruairi O’Donoghue — as well as adults Kathleen Callahan, Kathleen Collins, Mimi Larkin and John O’Donoghue on the mission. They return Oct. 1.

They will work with Missionaries of Charity, which was founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, by bringing medical supplies and food to residents as well as teaching children and being bedside by the dying.

“The whole idea is we expect to get far more out of it than we’re able to give,” Hilton said. “When somebody is dying in the house of dying, all you can do is simply hold their hands. Mother Teresa said you see Christ in the face of the poor, and this really is an encounter with the Lord.”

Junior Ruairi O’Donoghue, who will be joined by his father John, could have taken one of the high school’s ExEd trips, but he said he felt a higher calling.

“I’ve always been interested in trying to help people out who are less fortunate,” he said. “In Aspen, we don’t get to experience this. It will be a good experience in the real world and to give back in a spiritual sense.”

Ruairi O’Donoghue said he’s “a little nervous but not too nervous” about the mission.

“We will be busy the whole time,” he said.

“For Ruairi to walk in the house of dying, that will be a very powerful experience,” Hilton said.

Parishioner Kathleen Collins said she has wanted to do mission work for some time, figuring Mexico or Africa would be her first destination. But after she saw a presentation about the Philippines, she decided it was where she belonged. And, Hilton noted, Africa was ruled out because of the instability in the region.

The group also is trying to collect over-the-counter medicines to bring to Tacloban. That includes children’s pain and fever medicines, cough medicines, nose saline solutions, stomach relievers, vitamins and eye drops. On Saturday, they will have a booth in front of City Market accepting contributions.

“We’ll have our mission team there and explain to them what we need,” John O’Donoghue said.

They also are collecting wedding dresses, which might seem odd, but they are needed, Hilton said.

“They asked if we could bring some wedding dresses because a lot of times people want to get married but they don’t because they don’t have wedding dresses,” he explained. “This will allow them to get married.”

This is the first mission trip for St. Mary Catholic Church, Hilton said, but he hopes it becomes a regular event for the parishioners and those they serve.

“This is going to be a beautiful trip,” he said. “But it’s not going to be an easy one.”

Donations for the mission also can be made to the church by dropping off items to its foyer.