Cleveland-area parishioners on mission trip build bridge of faith to Central America
(Editor’s note: Editor Dennis Sadowski and his family traveled with parishioners from St. Basil the Great Parish, Brecksville, on their most recent mission trip to San Francisco de la Paz, Honduras, January 20-30.)
IN HARMONY - Santos Baulio Sanchez leads the children of El Rodeo in song as they greeted mission team members leading a program on dental hygiene. (Dennis Sadowski)
A traditional Honduran hymn praising the good works of God wafts over the standing-room-only congregation. Mothers and fathers and grandparents, children by their side, clap rhythmically to the music. An infant sleeps. Another cries. An elderly women clasps a rosary. Festive pink and blue decorations hang from the rafters amidst colorful banners welcoming visitors from the north. And balloons. Dozens of white and pastel blue balloons.
Here the 150 residents of El Jicarito and Guallavillas had come together to celebrate Eucharist in their own church. Here, Father Jenne thought, was community.
“I was so very pleased and uplifted just by that experience of being there,” Father Jenne said four days later, still in awe of the Mass of dedication for the church built 14 months earlier by members of St. Basil the Great Parish in Brecksville.
“(It was) not only seeing, but experiencing how much that building meant to them as a community,” he continued. “That building is nothing without the community. The community really needed a place to come together and be together. So the community needed the building, but the building needed the community in order to be community.
“They were all there. They were there for the dedication of their church.”
Bridging the economic gap
Father Jenne, St. Basil’s pastor since 1994, also reflected on the connection between the two faith communities — one affluent and one poor, but both one family.
“That bridge is also a bridge to the other church (in Brecksville). It’s a bridge that brings us together. One in the states, one in Honduras; that there’s some kind of bridge where something is definitely going back and forth. It’s not just one sided.”
To a person, villagers expressed gratitude for the church. They said their twin villages now have a community center, a place where they can come closer to God.
And they said they appreciate the connection with the wider church.
“It unifies the community,” Father Celio Mencias, their pastor, said through an interpreter. “It’s very important to the people,” said Father Mencias of San Francisco de la Paz parish, to which the tiny communities belong.
Since the church was completed in November 2006, Father Mencias makes the hour-long trek from San Francisco de la Paz over dusty unpaved and rutted roads—some little more than cow paths—to celebrate Mass every two weeks. Previously, villagers had to walk about five miles round trip to the small town of Guarizama just to the north for the bi-weekly Sunday liturgy.
The dedication Mass in El Jicarito on January 26 was the most recent in which parishioners from St. Basil have taken part. Overall, the parish has built seven churches as part of their ongoing mission work in the parish of San Francisco de la Paz.
The relationship between the two parishes has steadily evolved over the last nine years. It began as a response to a Mission Sunday appeal in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch devastated much of the country when then-pastor Father Byron Chevanes visited St. Basil the Great.
Father Jenne and parishioner Richard Pine, an emergency room doctor at Lutheran Medical Center in Cleveland, accepted Father Chevanes’ invitation and visited the parish in the department of Olancho, the poorest and most undeveloped area of Honduras. Seeing a need for basic health care, sanitation and potable water, they returned several times over the next two years.
By 2001, Father Jenne put out the call to parishioners to see who was interested in journeying to Central America. Thus far the parish has sponsored about two dozen mission trips involving an estimated 200 people to an area marked by subsistence farms and cattle ranches amidst rugged mountains and broad valleys.
The latest mission
The latest 11-day trip in January found parishioners building a church in the village of El Rincon, about six miles northeast of El Jicarito and eight miles west of the city of San Francisco de la Paz. The work is a collaborative effort between St. Basil parishioners, local residents and the local parish, Father Jenne explained.
Mission teams make the long trek from Cleveland three times a year. In recent years the effort has focused on building churches in outlying villages at the request of Father Mencias. A 10-member steering committee also establishes annual goals for other projects.
In previous visits, parishioners built three houses and about 150 latrines. Efforts also have included drilling wells—a labor intensive task which didn’t always prove to be highly successful because of a lack of good geologic records--and the installation of ...
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