God has truly blessed this boy, who was found abandoned on the streets and taken into this orphanage, begun and operated by Father Dennis O’Donnell of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The education of this fine boy is a testament to our Catholic faith in Central America.
I first learned of Amigos de Jesus while attending Mass along the mainline west of Philadelphia several years ago. There was a speaker at the church and handouts were provided. I then visited Father O’Donnell and had a pleasant summer evening discussing his missionary work in Honduras.
Consequently, I began my financial sponsorship of the orphanage and Amigos de Jesus designated “Billy” as my Godson. I am his “El Padrino Americain.”
My friend, Margarita Cubas, and another friend, Mark Powell, and I all decided to travel to Honduras. Margarita’s late father, Alberto Ramirez, served as Governor of the State of Santa Barbara, a couple hours from the orphanage site, and she still has family in the area.
Honduras, “founded” and named by Christopher Columbus, is a tropical paradise, plentiful of banana trees, palm trees, coconut groves and productive farms.
We flew into San Pedro Sula, a modern city of about 500,000 people, rented a car and drove west on the international highway towards the Copan ruins, built by the Mayans between 200 and 900 A.D. About 2 hours along the road, we turned towards Macuelizo, a beautiful village 5 OR 6 miles off the main highway. When we arrived at the town square, we inquired as to the proximity of Amigos de Jesus orphanage and we were informed it was right around the corner and just down the road. However, we were then told that we couldn’t get there on that sunny day because the rains had washed out the road earlier in the week.
By the luck of the Irish (I guess), we began speaking to a college student who had graduated from Amigos de Jesus a couple years before and he agreed to take us on a detour back up the highway 12-18 miles to another village, and then out several farm paths to Amigos de Jesus.
Amigos de Jesus is a beautiful and well-run modern children’s home amidst a tranquil rural setting in a green valley of Honduras. The buildings are all clean and well maintained and we spoke with volunteers from American Catholic colleges who have been doing missionary work there. One was a young lady, named Regina, a graduate of Villanova University, whose parents went to my college of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina. What a small world!
We then got to meet “Billy.” We walked over the soccer field to the classroom. There he sat, along with 10-15 of his friends, all in black pants or skirts and white tops. His hair was combed and when he saw us, he smiled and then teared up, as we did. My long relationship with him through the mail, sending small gifts, letters and photographs over the last couple of years came to a wonderful homecoming reception there in the back hills of Honduras.
“Billy” is 13 years old and he seems very happy and is doing well in school. They have a sports program for him there. His life without Amigos de Jesus would have been most likely in a slum.
He was able to leave his classroom and walk with us around the campus. We walked to the top of a hill where a cross overlooks the entire valley. I told him about the Star on Mill Mountain that overlooks my hometown of Roanoke. He said he would like to visit someday and I hope he will.
We gave him some gifts, including a Roanoke T-shirt and a Virginia Tech baseball cap, and I gave him a Rosary from the Knights of Columbus here in Roanoke and told him to always carry it in his left pocket. I told him how I’ve done that for many years and it’s always provided me some comfort and strength during the day as I face the many challenges of my life back in the United States.
After our brief visit to Amigos de Jesus, we went on to the Copan ruins, visited with Margarita’s family in Santa Barbara and San Pedro Sula, visited a coffee plantation and ended up at the beach at Tela on the Caribbean Sea.
However, nothing could be more tender in my heart than the memory I will always have of seeing God’s precious child, “Billy,” smile and tear up as we greeted him in that Honduras classroom.
May God Bless Father O’Donnell and all those who work and support the orphanage. In my opinion, they truly do abide by the Belmont Abbey motto, “That in all things, God may be glorified.”
If you would like to support a child, please contact Emily Ford, Administrator at Amigos de Jesus, 118 Woodland Ave., Malvern, PA 19355, Phone: 640-644-8237, Fax: 610-644-8246, or www.amigosdejesus.org.