The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 30, 2000 Issue
Local News

Youth, adults visit DR mission

Participants find visit to Elias Piña rewarding, despite some hardships

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

ELIAS PIÑA, Dominican Republic - Youth and adults from the Green Bay Diocese learned about love, friendliness, happiness and the value of poverty last week on an immersion trip to the Dominican Republic.

The five youth and five adults stayed with families of St. Therese Parish in Elias Piña, one of three parishes in the San Juan Diocese served by two priests of the Green Bay Diocese.

The diocese is in the west central part of the country and Elias Piña is on the border of Haiti. The Dominican Republic has the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola and Haiti the western third. The island is between Cuba to the west and Puerto Rico to the east, about 575 miles southeast of Miami.

Throughout the week, Fr. Mike - Padre Miguel - Seis took the group on pastoral visits to his far-reaching parish. They also toured a treatment center for malnourished young children operated by Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity, and played with the children.

Living conditions in most homes were extremely impoverished - no indoor plumbing in some cases - and crowded - from five to 11 persons, plus the two visitors, in a space the size of a two-car garage.

Despite that, each visitor said they found a richness beyond material wealth in the people of Elias Piña. The youth - all of whom had just finished either their junior or senior year in high school - said the trip had changed their lives.

For example, April Cisler of All Saints Parish, Denmark, said she "realized more and more that money and material things do not bring happiness." She said she was able to tell that to the mother of her host family who was surprised that she could enjoy being with them despite their poverty.

Samie Graff of Holy Cross Parish, Lena, said, "The light in the eyes of the children when they receive a smile or hug from an American is indescribable. Leaving Elias Piña left a sadness in my heart knowing that I'm going home to so much 'luxury' and leaving a village with little. But then I realized that they are the richest people I have met.... They are rich in God's love and in the happiness of life."

Jamie Stockwell of St. Thomas More Parish, Appleton, said she has "never come in contact with kinder, more selfless people. Seeing how little they have, but how much happiness fills the emptiness has truly touched me.... When I return to the States, I will miss having kids run into my home unannounced and be welcomed warmly. I will miss the sparkle in their eyes and their genuine laughter. Every day I see people in the States who have so much and fake their happiness. Here they don't know what they are missing and they could care less, because as far as they're concerned, they have all they need."

Shelly Angsten of St. Mary Magdelene Parish, Waupaca, said she has been on many service trips, but this was the most touching one. "The people were very gracious and appreciative of us," Angsten said. "Though we were there to serve them, I feel they taught us more. They taught us about the beauty of family and love. They weren't rich materially, but they were rich in love and God's faith."

Sheila Angha of St. Patrick Parish, Menasha, called the trip an eye-opener. "I learned so much from the people I met," Angha said. "The Dominican people are so extremely welcoming and loving. I made new friendships with the children and the interesting part is that the language barrier didn't stop anyone from making new relationships."

Adults on the trip included Nancy Bourassa of Kaukauna, group leader; Susan Johnson of Appleton; Dan Kelley of Chicago, who is proficient in Spanish; and Tony and Jackie Staley of Green Bay.

Most of the trip's participants said what they missed most from the U.S. - other than family - was modern plumbing. Silence, rather than the constant roar of motorcycles, was a close second. While the food was good, well-prepared and nutritious - rice, beans, beef, chicken, goat, plantains, potatoes, yucca and bread - participants said they missed cold cereal, fresh fruits and vegetables and pizza.

The group brought 10 duffel bags containing 60 pounds each of medical supplies, hygiene items and toys donated by businesses and individuals for distribution by missionaries in the Dominican Republic.

During the trip, the group attended numerous lively liturgies, two funerals and witnessed several Baptisms and First Communions. They also attended the San Juan Diocese's Eucharistic Congress, visited with Fr. Seis' parishioners as they accompanied him on his pastoral visits, practiced their Spanish, worked in the parish bakery and met and played with numerous children and youth.

The Green Bay Diocese has supported the Elias Piña Parish for nearly 40 years. The diocese sponsors immersion trips, open to youth and adults, each year. For more information, phone Tony Pichler at (920)437-7531 or toll-free 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8281 or e-mail [email protected].

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