By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde
Upon returning from my second visit to the diocesan sponsored missions in the Dominican Republic, I have been reflecting on what a mutual blessing these missions are for our diocese as well as for the people of the Banica and Pedro Santana parishes.
Banica and Pedro Santana are rural communities located in the Dominican Republic on the border with Haiti. Fr. O’Hare, the current pastor of Banica and Pedro Santana, compared these extraordinary places to Nazareth, all three out of the way locations that people perhaps doubted would produce much fruit (recall the words of Nathaniel: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:43). Yet, Banica and Pedro Santana, like Nazareth where Christ was born, have produced a great many fruits.
My visit to both parishes last week was in recognition of the twenty year relationship between the Diocese of San Juan de la Manguana and the Diocese of Arlington. Accompanying me were three of the diocesan priests who had served there over the years (as well as Fr. Hanley and Mike Flach, the editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald). I was touched by the great love and admiration that the people had for their former priests. I was moved as well by the simple and profound faith of the people. They are impoverished materially, but have a rich spirit of inner joy and a communal spirit, ready always to assist one another.
Much has been accomplished through the rewarding relationship between our two dioceses. One physical manifestation of this is the new chapel at Sabana Cruz, which was a gift of donors from our diocese. Also, the Catholic community in each parish, with support from diocesan priests and volunteers, demonstrates its spiritual strength through its many altar servers as well as programs such as Bible studies for adults and young boys and girls. I had the opportunity to meet with college-aged men and women from these parishes who have chosen to serve the youth in their community, instructing them in the faith, while at the same time maintaining their studies and prayer lives.
I was inspired by the spirit of those living there as well as the challenges the priests and the missionaries (including three Brazilian sisters as well as lay people) encounter daily. For example, their outreach to those who lived out in the campos requires travels of up to five hours or more on a regular basis over rough roads, mainly unpaved with ruts. Yet, despite the difficulties, there is a joy that heartened me throughout my time there.
I certainly returned home exhausted by the rigors of the schedule, the unfamiliar and rustic setting and the effort it takes continually to speak a foreign language. Inwardly, however, I rejoice and am reinvigorated by the exhilarating growth in these people in the Dominican Republic. The people there remain in my heart and I urge each of you to continue to pray for our Dominican brothers and sisters as well as for the priests and missionaries present there.