I hope and pray that this summer has been a time to rest, experience new places and things, enjoy old friends and perhaps make new ones, create great family memories and become refreshed and uplifted in the Spirit of God’s beautiful beaches, mountains and countryside.
I was very happy when Msgr. Pereda asked me to write this week’s letter to further explain our upcoming November 2017 Mission Trip to our Diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic.
Some may remember one of my first experiences here at St. Paul’s was to preach at all the masses in 2015 about our Mission. Each year since 2007, I have visited parishes all around the Diocese sharing my personal mission story and the work of our Missionaries-priests, deacons, religious and laypeople-who have dedicated their lives to assist some of the poorest people in our world.
This year, many of you noticed that I was absent from St. Paul’s for four of the five July weekends. On one of those weekends, I did have the opportunity and blessing to travel to the spectacular beaches of Southern California at Dana Point and Laguna Niguel with my wife Nancy as we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary!
For the three remaining July weekends I was not at St. Paul’s, I had the privilege to preach on the Missions at St. Boniface in Sea Cliff, St. James in Seaford and Our Lady of Grace in West Babylon. As was the case at St. Paul’s in 2015 and in every one of the more than thirty parishes I have visited in the last ten years, the generosity of the parishioners and the kindness of the pastoral teams and clergy was overwhelming.
Since I began visiting the DR, I have witnessed incredible developments because of the charity of the people of our Diocese and other places throughout the United States and even Europe! I can only mention just a few here along with some of the high points of our 2016 experience.
The Spanish Jesuits funded a small Catholic elementary school in the village of El Cercado, where our primary Mission parish is located about nine years ago. A group of Spanish families pledged to support the school for a number of years until the school could become self-sufficient. That 5-classroom building is now doubled in size, with a separate early education building, a high school, outdoor gymnasium and full service cafeteria. All of this made possible with funding that came from people of our Diocese. Today, plans exist to build a vocational school on the same campus so that the local resident adults can be trained as electricians, automobile mechanics and hair dressers. We hope to raise the funds necessary to build the school this year.
Our small Missioners Group-all those who have travelled to the Missions in the past 7 years-funded the building of two chapels in two of the poorest areas of the Mission, The Chapel of Santa Lucia in La Navaja and the Chapel of Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace) in La Vincente. We blessed those chapels last November and I baptized more than thirty babies, children and teens on that same day in their new chapels. A donor was also found to build a chapel in the only remaining campo (small village) that did not have a chapel of their own. Masses and liturgies will no longer be celebrated in an open field or an abandoned shanty in Vallecito and we will bless the Chapel of San Francisco de Assisi this year.
2016 was a very busy but most rewarding trip for our Missioners as we planted hundreds of fruit trees and cleared a field for the construction of a new greenhouse. We traveled to many of the agricultural sites set up through the Mission, we visited the medical clinics, the nutrition center for children operated by St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionary Sisters of Charity, we delivered food baskets with the Mission’s St. Vincent De Paul Society, celebrated with the seniors at the Senior Center in El Cercado and worked sorting peanuts at the Nutrifort factory run by the local women. Nutrifort is a peanut based dietary supplement to combat malnutrition and was created by and is produced at the Mission in a newly built factory. Upon our departure last year from JFK and as in years past, we also took down 48 duffel bags filled with supplies and aide for the Mission.
This year when we arrive, there will be a fully equipped ambulance that we bought and had shipped to El Cercado so that residents of the Mission can be brought quickly and safely to the local hospital. The ambulance was a gift from the Missioners Group to the Village of El Cercado and will be maintained by the local government.
The 2017 trip will be the first joint St. Paul the Apostle-St. Edward the Confessor mission trip. We hope as many parishioners as possible will consider joining the group this year and become part of the Missioners Group. Space is limited, so if you wish to travel, please let me know as soon as possible. I can assure you that it is a safe environment although the accommodations are quite rustic and sparse and you must like COLD SHOWERS! The schedule is demanding and you should be in good medical and physical condition. Most importantly, if you do make the trip, know it will change your life forever!
In peace, Deacon Ray