The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 6, 2000 Issue
Local News

Green Bay priest directs DR planning effort

Fr. Bill Hoffman plays a key role in how the church meets needs

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.

Second in a five-week World Mission Month series

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

ELIAS PIÑA, Dominican Republic - Two years ago, after serving for 15 years as the pastor of St. Teresa of Jesus (Santa Teresa de Jesus) Parish, the Green Bay Diocese's mission in Elias Piña, Fr. Bill Hoffman took on a new challenge.

The Klondike native became rector of St. John the Baptist Cathedral Parish in San Juan - the diocese in which Elias Piña is located.

Fr. Hoffman also serves as the diocese's pastoral vicar, which means he's responsible for the diocesan planning process.

During our Dominican Republic stay, Fr. Hoffman made the 45-minute drive to Elias Piña one day to visit and to discuss his work as pastor of one of four - soon to be five - parishes in the diocese's largest city.

With a population of 100,000, San Juan has about as many people as Green Bay. And there, just as is in the Green Bay Diocese, lay people are assuming more responsibility in the church because of the small number of priests.

The San Juan Diocese has 28 priests - all but three are members of religious orders - 20-25% as many priests as in the Green Bay Diocese. They serve a population of 265,000, most of whom are at least nominally Catholic - about 100,000 fewer Catholics than there are in the Green Bay Diocese.

There are a dozen dioceses in the Dominican Republic, which with an area of 18,816 square miles is about 1.5 times the size of the Green Bay Diocese. The country's population is 8 million, compared to Wisconsin's 4.9 million people spread across 56,145 square miles.

In the San Juan Diocese, five or six women religious serve as parish directors, about the same number of parish directors as in the Green Bay Diocese. "There are priests assigned to each one as sacramental ministers, but the sisters are doing the work," Fr. Hoffman said.

While there are similarities between church life in the San Juan and Green Bay Dioceses, there are differences too. For example, Fr. Hoffman said, about 15% of the population don't have birth certificates - a necessity to get a job.

The certificates are issued free at birth, but many parents never bother. So the church has been working with the government and the people to have birth certificates issued - particularly for children under 13 since it's much easier with that age group, Fr. Hoffman said.

Sr. Roseanne Mellert had been working on the birth certificate project in St. Isadore the Farmer (San Isidro Labrador) Parish in El Llano - also a mission parish of the Green Bay Diocese. Sr. Mellert, a Sister of Notre Dame recently returned to the order's mother house in Chardon, Ohio.

While obtaining birth certificates may sound easy, Sr. Mellert said, there are always complications in finding records, getting the paperwork done or finding the right people to approve them.

There also has been a rumor that the church is working to provide Haitians with Dominican Republic birth certificates, Fr. Hoffman said.

That's a sensitive issue because the two countries border each other - Elias Piña sits right on the border. Relations between the two countries are sometimes tense, akin to those between the U.S. and Mexico with Haiti in the Mexico role, working at low-paying jobs the natives do not want.

But there's no truth to the rumor, Fr. Hoffman said. The church does help Haitians - but to get Haitian, not Dominican Republic birth certificates, just as it helps Dominicans to get Dominican Republic birth certificates.

As pastoral vicar, Fr. Hoffman plays a key role in the national and local church planning process. Each year, the Dominican church sponsors a three-day national pastoral encounter attended by the bishops, vicars and parish representatives. Participants work to develop a national 10-year plan - they're working to develop the third one now - and to enact the current 10-year plan.

The plans look at ways to address practical concerns. For example, duty-free zones are being developed across the country. They lure many people from rural areas to the cities in search of jobs, usually in making clothes.

The church, in turn, must figure out how to continue ministering to the declining populations in the rural areas, while meeting needs in the growing cities, Fr. Hoffman said.

The national plan covers eight areas of church life, including social concerns, liturgy, youth, family, catechesis and vocations.

Each diocese then has its own annual Diocesan Pastoral Council - attended by 12-15 people from each parish - to determine how to adapt the plan to meet diocesan pastoral needs, Fr. Hoffman said.

Then, parishes hold additional meetings, workshops and activities to make the plan a reality. This month, as part of an evangelization effort, Catholics will visit each household in every parish, similar to last year's Operation Outreach in the Green Bay Diocese. By December, each parish is to have its own plan developed for the next year.

"It's a lot of work and a lot of meetings - probably more than even in the states," said Fr. Hoffman, who is in charge of the process for the San Juan Diocese.

Nationally, he said, the church is concentrating on religious formation of the laity. In San Juan, Bp. Jose Grullon believes strongly in lay leadership and integrating evangelization into the culture.

Fr. Hoffman said the Dominican church also is committed to increasing the number of native vocations and in meeting human needs.

One thing he said he has learned from his time in the Dominican Republic is that while the people are poor, "you don't needs lots of material goods to enjoy the meaning of life."

Dealing with unexpected

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Being a priest in the missions means finding ways to deal with the unexpected.

One Sunday, for example, Fr. Bill Hoffman was to officiate at an 11-couple wedding ceremony in a rural settlement or campos. But not everyone was ready for the ceremony to start, so he was told to stall while the final preparations were made.

He asked the couples' parents - each of whom had been married 25-30 years - to talk about how they had met each other and then got married.

One man, Fr. Hoffman said, told how he had seen this young woman and fallen in love. Back then, the man said, young people told their parents everything. So, he told his father. Soon after, the man's parents met with the woman's parents and arranged the marriage without the young man even talking to the young woman about it. Now, the man lamented, children tell their parents nothing.

Another man told how he used to watch this young woman go to market every day to buy supplies for her ill mother. He told his father he wanted to marry her - and he did.

"Stories like those turned the day into one of the best homilies I've ever heard," Fr. Hoffman said.

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