Visiting a place like the Dominican Republic, you might think that we stood out like American tourists, English speaking with our matching t-shirts and lighter skin- and for one missionary, her “exotic” red hair. While we did indeed stand out like a rather sore thumb, we were lovingly embraced because of the blessing that is the universal Church. As missionaries in the name of Christ and the Catholic Church, and not tourists, we were welcomed into community at the orphanage, Christ in the Garbage School, Sunday Mass at the cathedral, at Eddy’s funeral, and during the Mass and fellowship that we shared on Thursday at the humble village church. United within the Catholic Church, all our differences disappear. Language barriers, cultural norms, musical preferences, the color of our skin- it all fades into the background in comparison with the commonality of our identity as sons and daughters of Christ and the love that is given in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist.
At Hogar Immanuel, from the very first day, we were (literally) welcomed with arms wide open. There we were, 24 missionaries, most of whom the staff and children had never met before, and yet their hospitality and loving acceptance was undeniably genuine. As was mentioned in an earlier post, we brought some of the children to Sunday Mass at the cathedral. Fr. Taillon was blessed to concelebrate with the Bishop that day for what turned out to be Confirmation. At the same time, the rest of us missionaries were in good company in our back pews, sharing smiles, handshakes, and “Paz” (peace) with the Dominicans in attendance. There was a sense of oneness in the cathedral that day, no matter how different we may have been.
Perhaps the greatest witness to the universality of our faith came on Thursday, when we celebrated the Sacraments of Baptism, Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist. Many of our missionaries (those who have been Confirmed) were asked to be godparents for nine of the orphans. Those who are not yet confirmed chose to spiritually adopt one of the children, making a commitment to pray for them often. We were all honored by the invitation, but also humbled by the beauty and simplicity of the faith we witnessed. The baptisms were held at the orphanage itself, where we alternated between English and Spanish hymns, but came together in welcoming these children into the Church.
Please join us in praying for the children who were baptized:
Luis Miguel: Godmother- Casey Shalkowski,
Fernanda: Godmother- Liz Rosbottom
Yanilda Massiel: Godmother- Sarah Cullen
Jarion: Godfather- Steve Crawford
Dariel: Godfather- Andrew Raucci
Massiel: Godfather- Dr. Rick Ohnmacht
Jeffrey: Godfather- Cameron Shalkowski
Godmother- Kathryn Robenhymer
Junior: Godfather- Fr. Taillon
Jessica: Godfather- Jordan Ashton
After the baptisms, we made our way down the dusty road to the local church where the 24 of us and the orphans joined with the villagers for their once-a-week Mass. Fr. Taillon had gone ahead earlier and was able to attend Adoration and to hear confessions. What a witness- many of the children came for Reconciliation right after school! The church itself is small- nothing like our beautiful churches. The are no stain glass windows or elegant statues. A few pieces of religious art hang to the sides of the sanctuary, and a crucifix, donated by some of our own parishioners, hangs behind the altar. Despite how bare and simple the church appeared, as soon as the music began- lively, spirited hymns and clapping- the Church was alive. Fr. Taillon prayed his way through Mass in an array of languages, but the message was one we could all understand. At the sign of peace, many of the local women gave us big hugs and looked at us with eyes full of hope. Celebrating the Eucharist within such a community easily left us feeling grateful for all that we have and take for granted, but I think that we would be remiss to see the challenge that it set before us: to cultivate a faith that is as real, trusting, loving, and alive with the Holy Spirit as what we witnessed that day.
Below is a glimpse into the village community and the Mass that we shared with them
Those who attended the 11AM Mass this past Sunday heard Fr. Taillon speak about the strength of the Dominican faith community, specifically in the village where we served. Not only did Fr. Taillon have the opportunity to celebrate 9 baptisms and the anointing of the sick, but also had the privilege of praying with the community as they mourned the loss of a young man named Eddy. For the missionaries from 2009, Eddy was a friend and came around often to help with their work projects and to play basketball. His death was sudden and tragic and it was much more than coincidence that our group and Fr. Taillon were in the village this past week. Invited by one of Eddy’s friends, Fr. Taillon, Dr. Ohnmacht, and Pilar visited the family’s home during the wake and were able to pray with Eddy’s grieving mother. On Thursday morning, Fr. Taillon celebrated the funeral. He returned to the orphanage afterwards astounded by the beauty and strength of the villagers- the love they had for one another and the very real faith that they shared. Despite the little they have in our eyes, they are rich beyond our knowing.
Below is a photo of Eddy with missionary Amberly from 2009.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon Him.
May he rest in peace.
After a long but fruitful week, it was time for some rest. On Friday, our group took a trip to Playa Sosua, a beach not far from the orphanage and mission house. The shore was lined with vendors selling clothing, artwork, jewelry, and all kinds of food, shaded by lush green foliage. Beyond the trees was the beautiful beach- blue green water, lounge chairs, and golden sand. It felt so good to lay in the sun, enjoy the tropical water, and share time with one another- the busyness of the rest of the week made Friday extra sweet. After lunch and several swims in the ocean, we traveled back to Metro West for a quick change before our night out. The 24 of us, along with several of the people who work at the orphanage, enjoyed a great dinner at a local restaurant- it felt like a taste of home. To see these women and the way that they care for the children is beautiful. They love them as if they were their own, and even have a system of assigning each child to one of the women so that they have a mother figure to turn to. There was no question that they deserved a night out. We loved their company and they were so grateful for a relaxing night. After a delicious meal, a little bit of song and dance, and lots of laughs, we made our way back home to prepare for our last day. The evening was bittersweet- so much fun yet tainted with the knowledge that we would be leaving the next day.
Saturday morning came quickly and after loading the bus with our (much lighter) luggage, we drove to the orphanage for the last time. No one was looking forward to saying goodbye. We joined with the children and staff for morning prayer during which Fr. Taillon beautifully likened the disabilities and struggles of the orphans to the wounds of Christ glorified. I know that I speak for everyone when I say that the orphans taught us more and loved us more fully than we did them. Their souls are so free (and more so after the baptisms) that the light of Christ shines through even the most contorted body. Saying goodbye was difficult and there were many tears. I think, despite all we had seen and experienced however, we were able to leave with the peace that the children are loved and well cared for and that our mission had been tremendously blessed. In addition, many of us left as godparents. Continuing to play a spiritual role in the lives of the children is an added blessing.
Our flights went smoothly and as of 10:30PM we were back in Rhode Island. Now begins the process of reacclimating ourselves, sharing our experiences, and allowing God to continue to reveal to us the blessings that were sown on this trip. As a chaperone I can say that our parish family should be incredibly proud of the 18 teens who truly made a gift of themselves this past week- their enthusiasm, tenderness with the children, and compassion were incredible to witness. It will be a joyful day May 21 when 13 of them are confirmed- please keep them in your prayers.
As we will continue to say- thank you all for your support of this mission, whether spiritually or financially. This was a mission in the name of St. Thomas More Parish and it would not have been possible without the support of all of you. So on behalf of all the missionaries and the children and staff of Hogar Immanuel: thank you, thank you, thank you and may God bless you for your generosity!
What a whirlwind of a day Thursday was! This post won’t do justice in adequately capturing the day’s events, but we will try.
The day began at the Mustard Seed orphanage. Some of our missionaries went to play and spend time with the children. The other crew prepared food to distribute at Christ in the Garbage mission. Christ in the Garbage is another program from Mustard Seed which ministers to the village through school, food distribution and community outreach. We helped support their efforts by putting beans, rice, pasta and vegetable oil into bags for the families who scavenge through the dump. We made 75 bags and loaded up the bus to head to the dump. Even before we could see the landfill, we were greeted by swarms of flies and the putrid smell of garbage. As the bus pulled to a stop in the middle of the landfill, people started to mass around the vehicle. We got off tentatively and engaged the locals. Some of the people we interacted with were those who attended the clinic the day prior. It was a heartwrenching sight in coming to more fully appreciate their lifestyle. The “mayor” of the landfill attempted to organize and coordinate the people who were to receive the food bags. The scene turned chaotic and it was difficult to equitably distribute the food. We did our best and left knowing that we helped feed many families.
After we returned to Mustard Seed, it took some time (and some group hugs) to process what we saw and what had happened. We had some downtime and prepared for the baptism of 9 orphans. They put on their best clothes and many were accompanied by their biological mothers. Their was a touching story of a young mother who traveled over 6 hours and 500 km to attend the baptism of her child. She was so happy and proud to take part in the special day and still painfully cognizant that the life her child had at the orphanage was better than what she could provide.
In addition to some of the locals, our missionaries had the honor and privelege of becoming a godparent to an orphan. In a humble and beautiful ceremony, Fr Taillon baptized each child. After each baptism, the entire audience present burst into joyous song. This delighted the orphans, missionaries, staff and locals. It was such a blessing to take part in and to know that all the orphans here had been officially welcomed into the Church. After the baptism ceremony, Fr Taillon administered the anointing of the sick to all the orphans. We celebrated with a little meal and beverage which was enjoyed by all.
Next, we got ready for mass at the local church. Those orphans who could walk, made the trek down the street while others were loaded on the van. Fr Taillon was the celebrant in a beautifully simple and holy celebration. The mass was a mix of French, Spanish and English. This, however, didn’t deter from the message reaching all those in attendance.
It was a full day and one in which the entire gamut of emotions were experienced. The joy of the sacraments contrasted with the poverty and condition of the dump left us all profoundly humbled and somewhat drained.
We will begin our trip home in just a short time. Once we are settled, more videos and photos will be shared, especially of the baptisms, anointing of the sick, and the community Mass.
Thank all so much for your prayers and support. We can assure you that this journey was filled with many blessings!
Yesterday (Tuesday) was arguably the most challenging day we have had so far. After breakfast, we arrived at the Mustard Seed Orphanage and were greeted by Jairo. Although we were tired, his smile and those of the other orphans eliminated any of the cobwebs and sleepiness we brought. During the brief prayer service, we experienced a touching moment with Miguelina. As the mission’s staff broke out into song, she beautifully sang along. The clapping and singing delighted all and brought us all closer together. In moments of joy like that, we understand a little more about why we are here.
After the service, it was straight to work. Some of our missionaries went to spend time with the orphans while others picked up where we had left off with the myriad of painting tasks. And still others joined Mr. Crawford in the laborius task of organizing and inventorying all the the goods in the sweltering, and poorly ventilated, storage room. It might have looked like organized chaos, but I liken the overall picture to that of an experienced band playing in harmony. Each group or individual was making a contribution independently and yet contributing to the overall beautiful song. In appreciation for our efforts and as a sign of community, we were all invited to put our names and handprints on the wall along side the orphans’.
Drawing upon the skills possessed and honed by Gianna, we tasked her to paint and coordinate the main entrance wall to the orphanage. She sketched lettering, flowers, palm trees, and butterflies which we helped to paint. I was nervous at the beginning because we covered up the old writing which was stenciled and painted professionally. As the day progressed, her work of art took shape and turned into a mini-masterpiece.
After lunch, the crew split up with Father T, Mrs. Tasca and the sagacious Doctor leading some to the Christ in the Garbage School. At the one room schoolhouse, a group of eager painter-missionaries gave the inside and out a fresh coat of paint. The students and children from the village welcomed them with open arms and lots of smiles.
As the afternoon wore on, different jobs around the orphanage were completed. This freed up individuals who were looking to play and spend time with the ophans. Unfortunately, it was their nap time so we decided to go across the street to the playground. After watching a few games of basketball, some of us were invited to play. I think we brought our “A” game, but it wasn’t enough. Despite the heat and their bare feet, we were beat out by the local “team”. We played hard though and made a couple friends, comtinuing to visit with come of the boys afterwards.
The rest of the afternoon was quiet, touching up the painting projects and spending a little bit of time with the orphans as they woke up, while others went across the street for round three of basketball.
The day ended with dinner, a quick dip in the ocean, and Mass. It’s hard to believe that today is already Wednesday. On the schedule today is more work projects at the orphanage and some time spent at the Christ in the Garbage Dump School. Please continue to pray for us!