Hearing the Call

by Vince Prietto |

Vince Prietto graduated from SCU in 2004 with a degree in Spanish. As part of the DISCOVER Spring Break Immersion Trips, Vince led a delegation to Stockton and Modesto to learn about the struggle of migrant farm workers. This December, he will begin a two-year teaching commitment in Nicaragua with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps International.

“Wait, Vicente!” he called out to me as I left. “I made this for you.” Rigo reached out his right hand and offered me a piece of paper. On the top, he had written, “Para Vicente.” Below he had drawn a picture of a boy picking his nose. I laughed. Rigo had reproduced an illustra- tion from the book that I had just read to him. All along the bottom of the page he had signed his masterpiece: RIGO RIGO RIGO RIGO. I smiled as I accepted his spontaneous gift. “Thanks, Rigo,” I said. “See you next week.”

Throughout the winter and spring quarters of my freshman year, I tutored bilingual kids such as Rigo at a local San Jose elementary school. I signed up for this program through the Arrupe Center, which was a component of my Spanish classes at Santa Clara. I’d talk to the kids in English or my broken Spanish, whichever language would help with their reading and math home- work.

That same spring of my freshman year I applied to participate in an immersion trip to El Salvador. Since I was a freshman and the Salvador trip was popular, I didn’t expect to be chosen—but I was. C.S. Lewis once said, “When the most important things in life happen, we quite often do not know, at the moment, what is going on.” Being accepted to go to El Salvador was one of those moments for me.

We arrived in San Salvador and immediately left for the small village of Guarjila, which had been a war zone where the Salvadoran Army had fought against the guerilla squadrons during the country’s bloody 12-year, U.S. fund- ed, civil war. We lived with members of the Grupo Tamarindo, a youth group dedicated to rebuilding their community through service, education, and prayer. Our purpose was not to bring food or build houses, but rather to build community with the Tamarindos. We did. We played soccer together and went swimming together and danced together and sang songs together. We ran and laughed and jumped together. We ate and drank together. We were together.

During those days we also listened to the stories of our new friends. We listened to mothers who had lost husbands and sons in the war, and sisters and brothers whose siblings had fled to the U.S. in search of a better life. We heard stories of poverty, of abandonment, of lack of education. Stories of brokenness. Stories of suffering.

On the fourth day our group returned from rural Guarjila to the capital to visit the holy sites in memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Jesuit martyrs. We also took a tour of the UCA (Central American University) and met with the vice president. Many people in our delegation became indignant as the vice president discussed the tuition. Though they had a sliding scale to help make it more affordable, our group still felt strongly that the UCA was still way too expensive for the majority of the population. “That’s not enough,” one per- son exclaimed. “These kids need access to the University, and they need it now! They’ll never be able to afford this!” After all, we had just come from living with our hosts. We still had dirt and sweat in our hair, on our faces, and in between our toes. Their struggle was our struggle.

I’ll never forget the feeling that struck me in that room in the UCA. A tiny realization clicked as I traveled 2700 miles and back again in a single second. A curtain had been pulled back and I could suddenly see: Santa Clara was the Universidad Centroamericana. The struggle of Rigo was the struggle of the Tamarindos. It was my struggle as well.

The relationships that I had formed called me to service. If I did nothing to improve the lives of the marginalized, to assist and accompany them in their plight, I felt that my education would be empty and meaningless. The “togetherness” I felt called me to generously share my gifts, just as the community had shared everything with me. Such relationships have contributed to my ongoing conversion of becoming a “man for others,” a man of integrity, whose passions are in continual dialogue with the true needs of community. How often I fail to listen, yet how often I am awakened and encouraged by selfless, unexpected gifts. Just like Rigo’s.

I’ll never forget the feeling that struck me in that room in the UCA. A tiny realization clicked as I traveled 2700 miles and back again in a single second. A curtain had been pulled back and I could suddenly see: Santa Clara was the Universidad Centroamericana. The struggle of Rigo was the struggle of the Tamarindos. It was my struggle as well.
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