Dominican Republic: A pastoral visit to remember

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Bishop Ricken

As I look back to my busy calendar, my memory tugs to this past February and my pastoral visit to the Dominican Republic; especially the parishes and chapels in Elias Piña. I must express my gratitude and deep admiration for Fr. Mike Seis, our diocesan priest who has been on loan to the Diocese of San Juan in the Dominican Republic for nearly 18 years. He is a true living example of a missionary priest who, even in the seminary, envisioned his priesthood life as a missionary.

Bishop David Ricken baptizes a young child in the community of Las Lajitas Abajo Feb. 22 during a visit to the Dominican Republic with deacons from the Diocese of Green Bay. (Photo courtesy of Deacon James Lonick)

It is not unusual for Fr. Mike to have eight Masses a weekend, all in different churches and chapels. We even had open air Masses in the streets and in the mountains. I was privileged to baptize seven children in several of the little chapel communities; what a joy! The people there have very little in the way of material goods, but despite their many hardships, are filled with great joy.

I was able to join our permanent deacons under the capable leadership of Deacon Paul Umentum, as they built yet another little chapel pictured in this edition of The Compass. The deacons have been doing this for years at the request of the Most Rev. José Dolores Grullón Estrella, bishop of San Juan, and Fr. Mike. These are the only gathering places for Sunday Mass or prayer service in very remote territories of the Dominican Republic. The chapels are used for other community gatherings as well. I am grateful, as the deacons were very patient with my poor masonry skills and humored me with encouragement, nonetheless.

The great work and contribution of Fr. Seis in building up the Catholic school in that area will make a significant impact going forward both culturally and economically. Our partnership with one of our diocesan schools enabled the offering of many treasured school supplies. One can sense that this school, now at an enrollment of 800 students, is and will continue to make a huge difference in the lives of many. Some of the children attending the school painted the new chapel just built by the deacons.

Diocesan deacons and local workers pose for a photo in front of the newly built chapel in Juan Caeno. Bishop David Ricken assisted the group in its construction. (Photo courtesy of Deacon James Lonick | For The Compass)

It was an incredible experience to have the opportunity to visit an eye clinic established for the villages by optometrists and nurses from Wisconsin. What a gift and joy to watch people receive eye glasses for the first time and be able to see their world in a new, more beautiful way! It is the blessings our state of Wisconsin shares, paying it forward to so many in need!

On one particular day during my visit, Fr. Mike, I and some of the deacons were able to visit Haiti. Haiti is even poorer and makes the Dominican Republic look wealthy in comparison. We had the privilege of visiting the projects Sr. María Marciano, a religious sister from Brazil, has been working on in Haiti for years. Several of our wonderful lay people from the Appleton area, under the leadership of Karen Rickert, were also there and showed us some of the agricultural projects Sr. María has coordinated, including an agricultural school to teach farming techniques. It is wonderful to know that Sr. Maria will be receiving a special award on May 21 at Marquette University in Milwaukee, recognizing her for her outstanding missionary leadership for the people of Haiti.

The large container of goods so many of you contributed to several months ago, under the quite capable guidance of Jim Fitzgerald, was finally delivered — and both missions are benefiting greatly from your generosity. They are ever so grateful!

Looking back, however, my greatest impression was the internal beauty of the people there. We are reminded among these poor people, what life is really all about amidst their suffering and simplicity. It is certainly not about having more, but rather about being more and helping our neighbor, physically, spiritually and materially in the mercy of Jesus; not just a hand out but a hand up! To him be the glory!