Catholic Services Appeal – Outreach

| January 31, 2012 | 0 Comments

Venezuela mission: All about building better relationships

Father Greg Schaffer, right, walks in a Holy Week procession in San Felix, Venezuela, in 2009. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit Father Greg Schaffer, right, walks in a Holy Week procession in San Felix, Venezuela, in 2009.

By Pat Norby
The Catholic Spirit

Without the funds provided by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis through the annual Catholic Services Appeal, “we couldn’t be here” in Venezuela, said Father Greg Schaffer, pastor of Jesucristo Resucitado in San Feliz, Estado Bolivar in Venezuela.

“It pays for our salaries [Father Schaffer and Father Timothy Norris], the salaries of Venezuelans, it pays for the organization of the visits [to the mission],” he said.

The mission in the Diocese of Cuidad Guayana is more than just the two priests serving some 65,000 people, he said. Although a great part of their mission is to bring the message of God’s love, the people need more than that.

“The Catholic Services Appeal helps us respond to the physical needs,” he said. And the needs are many, with an unemployment rate reported to be as high as 70 percent.

Back in 1956-57, Pope Pius X asked the church in North America to send missionaries to South America, Father Schaffer said.

The newly formed Diocese of New Ulm sent missionaries to Guatemala in 1957. And in 1963, Father Schaffer’s uncle, Father Greg Schaffer, went to serve in the mission there.

As many of the priest’s friends from the seminary went to visit the Guatemala mission, they became interested in serving as missionaries.

A sister city

In about 1969, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis decided that it needed to have a mission. After visiting a number of sites in various countries, Bishop Leo Binz decided on Ciudad Guayana because it was similar to the Twin Cities, with a major river separating two industrialized cities.

The area boasts 15 steel mills and a taconite plant, said Father Schaffer, who went to Venezuela in 1998.

“Since 1970, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been staffed and active in four different parishes,” he said. But since his arrival, the archdiocese has been focused on just one parish. That was an agreement between Archbishop John Nienstedt and the bishop in Ciudad Guayana, he added.

By staying “committed in one parish, we could invest more in construction,” Father Schaffer said. So, Father Pat Ryan built a new church in 2000. Then a parish center was built that can house a medical clinic, a dentist’s office, a medical laboratory and classrooms for catechesis and an apartment where visitors can stay.

The infrastructure allows the priests to serve the community and get Venezuelan people involved and to get the archdiocese involved.

“It’s where lay men and women from the archdiocese can build relationships through medical care . . . or working with different groups in the barrios,” he said.

When Father Schaffer returns from a trip to the Twin Cities (that began Jan. 29) to speak about the mission in Venezuela, he will return with a jeweler from Rochester who will help teach people a new skill that they can use to make a living.

One of the most exciting relationship building experiences has been with athletes from Cretin-Derham Hall and the University of St. Thomas who go to help at the mission and get to know other young men by playing baseball.

The other group that Father Schaffer has been excited to host is the second-year theology students from St. Paul Seminary.

“That has been a wonderful experience,” he said. “We’ve had three or four guys come back to do their deacon summer with us. . . . It’s been neat having the guys come as ordained deacons, jumping right in, going around to bless people’s homes  or do baptisms.”

They may watch Father Schaffer do a baptism one Sunday, he said, and then they are taking it on alone.

“The people here benefit by getting to know the seminarians and the visitors who give their time and talent,” he said.

Latino ministry tries to meet needs of growing community

At least one weekly Mass has been celebrated in Spanish at Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul since it was founded in 1933 to serve the Latino people, said Estela Manancero, a mem­ber of the archdiocesan Parish Services Team with an emphasis in Hispanic ministry.

Today, 23 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve Spanish speakers — 21 of them offer weekly Mass, one offers Mass twice a month and another offers Mass once a month, according to a 2008 survey on Hispanic/Latino mi­n­istry by the archdiocese.

“We receive constant phone calls from parish communities because they would like to start a new Latino Ministry Center in their parishes,” Manancero said. “I go around and do presentations on how to welcome the ‘stranger’ in our midst and give a history of immigration and the reality of this new community.”

Much has changed since Manancero came to this country from Uruguay 32 years ago, she said.

“It was hard to find someone who spoke Spanish,” she said. “I have seen the community grow in front of my eyes. Today, we have supermarkets, restaurants, children in our Cath­olic schools, radio programs, news­papers and we keep on growing.”

The 2008 study showed that at least one Latino family lives within a five-minute drive of every parish in the archdiocese. The population is very young, she added — one parish has 120 Spanish-speaking children in the first Communion preparation class and just six English-speaking children.

One of the priorities identified by the archdiocese is to establish and support regional Latino Centers, where Spanish speakers could find the same spiritual help, sacramental preparation and formation that is available to an English-speaking Catholic.

Youth vital to leadership

Youth evangelization and leadership is another important component. Overall, Hispanics represent 40 percent of all Catholics in the United States.

Youth retreats, leadership development, pre-marriage and marriage programs that are culturally sensitive to the Latino community continue to be important programs to develop, Manancero said.

Funds from the Catholic Services Appeal also help to bring vocations to the permanent diaconate from the Latino community. Deacon Ramon Garcia, of the deacon class of 2008, is the most recent to be ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The Institute for Latino Leadership Development, which has been offered by the archdiocese three times, has graduated more than 180 people, many of them leaders and employees in Latino parishes.

And the Summer Catechetical Institute that is offered each year, has drawn 150 catechists from 21 par­ishes, Manancero said. Altogether, it is estimated that 16,550 people attend Spanish-language liturgies, thanks to the support of the archdiocese and the Catholic Services Appeal.

Native American community has many gifts to share with broader church

Deacon Joseph Damiani has learn­ed a lot about the Native American community since he began serving as administrator of Indian Ministry at Gichitwaa Kateri in Min­­neapolis after his ordination in September 2009.

“They have gifts to share with the local church,” he said. “Their spirituality is powerful, it is direct, it is tangible. There are a lot of miracles and healings that take place in this community and their faith is strong and that is a gift they bring to the church.”

In a 1975 statement, the U.S. bishops wrote: “We realize and acknowledge that our deeds, although done in good faith, were sometimes, in fact, a disservice to Indian People.” The same year, the archdiocese established the Office of Indian Ministry.

From 1979 to 1989, the Indian Ministry office was run from Catholic Charities’ Branch I, which was basically a drop-in center and soup kitchen where Sunday Masses were celebrated with about half a dozen people, Deacon Damiani said. In 1995, the Native American community moved into a former Episcopal church, where it serves 300 to 500 people as a national church, similar to the German, Polish or French national churches.

A home of their own

“When we go to a church and we see beautiful statues and stained glass, we say ‘this is beautiful’ and we feel comfortable,” he said. “When they come here, they see the buffalo robe, they see the lodge, they see the eagle staff, they see the sage and the cedar and they say ‘this is comfortable, this is beautiful, I feel at home here.”

The archdiocese through the Cath­olic Services Appeal helps keep Gichitwaa Kateri parish open.

The main subsidy covers operational expenses, building maintenance and personnel — one full-time employee — Deacon Damiani’s part-time position and the pastor, Father Michael Tegeder, whose time is split between there and St. Frances Cab­rini, also in Minneapolis.

The parish, however, has several self-supporting programs. Those include: a hearse program that helps transport Native people home for burial; drum and dance and Ojibwe hymn programs; wake and funeral programs that include overnight wakes in the church and a funeral meal; a funeral food shelf and more.

The archdiocesan support makes it possible for the parishioners to share their hospitality, their faith and their gifts, particularly their strong family values and care for the environment, Deacon Damiani said.

“Our main thrust is to establish ourselves as a parish and not just a mission,” he said. “We are supported but independent.”

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