Campos Masses carry no guarantees
Dominican Republic rural areas have interesting liturgies
Editor's note: In June, Compass editor Tony Staley was part of a group from the Green Bay Diocese that visited the diocesan mission in Elias Piña, Dominican Republic. As the Green Bay Diocese prepares for its Eucharistic Congress Oct. 13-14 at St. Norbert College, De Pere, we open a five-week World Mission Month series on the diocesan mission by looking at how the Eucharist is celebrated there.
By Tony Staley
ELIAS PIÑA, Dominican Republic - Going to a Dominican Republic campo - the small
rural settlements that dot the countryside - for Mass guarantees uncertainties.
For example, because Masses are infrequent and usually during the week, people may
forget and the Mass will be canceled. And when there is a Mass, who will attend, what
will happen and where it will be are all open to question.
During a week-long mission visit to the Green Bay Diocese's Dominican Republic
mission parishes in Elias Piña and El Llano, only two of four campos Masses scheduled
by Fr. Mike Seis, pastor, took place. One was an anniversary Mass for campo residents
who had died during the past year; the other was a quarterly Mass in Prudencio. At two
other campos, no one was ready, so there was no Mass. Fr. Seis serves more than 80
campos in his two parishes.
The trip to Prudencio includes the mandatory journey on dirt roads scarred by ravines
carved by run-off during rainy seasons in late spring and early fall. The road crosses a
narrow stream and a shallow, 50-foot wide river, and runs up and down steep hills. Trees
crowd the road in several places, giving it a jungle appearance, while deforested fields
stretch out in others.
Other vehicles are a rare sight, but walkers, donkeys, burros and horses are common. In
one place, a group of young men carry lumber on their shoulders for a building project.
As bad as the road is - only one brief smooth stretch shows signs of recent grading - at
least Prudencio is accessible by truck. Fr. Seis can reach a couple of places in his far-flung parish only by riding a donkey or mule, or walking. He walks.
As we pull into Prudencio, a small cluster of primitive cement block or wooden houses -
some with gaps between the siding - Fr. Seis honks the horn as a sort of mobile church
A sizable part of his congregation has gathered and more quickly file toward the worship
area. Calling the structure a church would overstate reality. It's an open-air, pole-frame,
dirt-floor shelter. Scrubby tree trunks and highly irregular four-by-fours support the tin
roof. At least one pillar doesn't touch the ground. Inside, several planks resting on clay
flower pots or irrigation pipes provide seating. Some nearby residents bring chairs.
As soon as Fr. Seis - Padre Miguel - arrives, leaders of the community begin bantering
with him. It's a special day, Fr. Seis says, because three members of the community will
be baptized and two others will receive their first Communion.
After the opening song, Padre Miguel continues the bantering as the leaders tease him
about being late to two previous Masses. Then he starts the second hymn, but he's singing
the wrong melody, so they all stop, laugh and begin again. As they sing, Fr. Seis vests
and eight more people arrive, swelling the congregation to 30 residents and 10 visitors
(plus two dogs and a chicken) and the sharing of chairs so everyone can sit.
The lector proclaims the first reading to the accompaniment of small grasshoppers who
make a loud locust-like noise. As Fr. Seis reads the Gospel, a goat bleats as it walks up
and down the dirt road next to the church.
Fr. Seis begins his homily by asking the three catechumens basic questions about the
faith. When they answer correctly, he leads the applause for them. Baptism, he says, is
the sacrament that opens the door to the other sacraments, makes us Christian and makes
possible our salvation and ever-lasting life in eternal glory.
He reminds parents to bring their children up in the faith and to teach them the basics of
the faith, which draws applause, especially from the community's leaders. He also talks
about the importance of Communion.
After the homily, Fr. Seis says, We have to have a short break here. I forgot that we
have first Communions and that they first have to make their first confession." He places
one hand perpendicular to the other in the shape of a T to signal time-out, before
walking 20 feet from the church to hear the confessions in privacy.
That done, Mass resumes with the Baptisms and the assembly is invited to renew their
vows with the three youthful catechumens. When Fr. Seis asks the congregation if they
renounce their sins, the response is so weak, that he stops, and asks them again,
indicating that he expects a more forceful answer. This time, it's much louder. Not only
do they say they renounce their sins and the devil, they show it too by throwing their
hands back over their shoulders, the traditional sign of putting something bad in back of
The Baptism is an enthusiastic ceremony as Fr. Seis generously rubs water into the hair
and foreheads of the catechumens. Then, using a freshly-cut bough, he joyously scoops
water on the beaming, dripping worshipers.
During the Eucharistic Prayer, a motorcycle brings one more person to the assembly as
butterflies flit and float by.
After the Our Father, the congregation exchanges the sign of peace by waving their hands
in the air and turning slowly all the way around.
I learned that from the bishop of this diocese, Fr. Seis said. Many of the people don't
attend Mass very often and some get confused at the Sign of Peace and think it's time to
leave. This lets them wish peace to everyone, keep them here and keep the Mass
Few people receive Communion, Fr. Seis said, probably because many are in irregular
marriages. After Communion, a community leader takes up the collection by passing
around a basket, while the congregation sings and claps along to a familiar hymn.
During the final hymn - a long, multi-versed song - the congregation sings and claps
while Fr. Seis removes his vestments and puts his Mass kit away.
Before we leave, Fr. Seis asks if we have any questions for the people.
One person comments that while the people have few material possessions, they seem
happy and the people agree.
Another question, Fr. Seis, asks them in this way: What does it mean to have a priest as beautiful as me come here to serve you? After the laughter dies down, one person says,
We are very happy and grateful and consider it a blessing to have a priest. All the priests
from Green Bay have worked hard to help form this community. The people shout their
agreement, hold up their arms and then fold them in a cross over their chests.
Because Fr. Seis can come to Prudencio only once every three months, the community
gathers every Sunday for a celebration at which they read and discuss the Scriptures.
(There is no Communion at these gatherings.) Ernesto Arias serves as community
coordinator; Milagros Ogando is the assembly leader; and Rosa Rosario is the catechist.
And with that, the community begins moving from the church waving good-bye and we
pile into Fr. Seis' Toyota for the bumpy, picturesque drive back to Elias Piña.
Dominican Republic, U.S. liturgies same, differ
Dominicans hold Eucharistic Congress