SCJs come together in India

As we noted previously, Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, is back in his second home: the District of India. Below are excerpts from his recent journal entries:

Dancing seminarianAUGUST 23, 2016 –– Last night the seminarians put on a short “cultural program” as it is called here. In our old seminary days we’d call it a convivium, while some would call it a talent show. The grand finale was led by Obed Nag from Assam who, along with his three Assam companions, managed to teach the rest of the group one of their Assam dances. Fr. Alex recruited this group last spring on a visit to Assam and recalled his experience of attending an all night dance at a local festival. Regular readers of my journals have often heard me say that Indian men like to dance and many of them are quite good at it. Most Indian movies must feature at least one grand dance routine reminiscent of the American films of the late 1930s and 40s.

The show took about 45 minutes as it would be an early start for those of us traveling to the Don Bosco Center that is about an hour by car from the Dehon Joythi community. Frs. Thomas Vinod, SCJ, and Michael Benedict, SCJ, said they’d pick us up at 6:00 am.

I set my alarm for 4:45 am as Fr. Alex said he’d have breakfast ready at 5:30 am. I should have guessed what he meant was he’d have some of the students make breakfast. Sure enough, by the time I had packed and opened my door two of them were busy in the kitchen and dining room putting things together for the three of us to eat.

I must confess I was a bit surprised when we drew near the center as it is one of the last places one would think would make a good location for a retreat center. We are quite near the ocean and very near the port so the area is surrounded by many factories with lots of trucks pulling containers either filled with goods for export or coming back with imports.

Upon our arrival we noted there were no assigned rooms so it was hunt for an available room. I found one, or rather someone found it for me, and as I was getting settled in Fr. McQueen Winston Savio Mascarenhas, SCJ, came to tell me they had a air-conditioned room for me. As it turned out Fr. Pradesh Kumar Richard, SCJ, was occupying it but the others threw him out and handed the keys over to me. Sometimes age does have privilege!

We’re now half way through the first day. This morning we heard a presentation on the state of the district by Fr. Thomas and this afternoon Fr. Michael will do the same for the fiscal health of the district. This evening I am with a three-man team to prepare the Mass. We agreed I’d be the celebrant, Dn. Pinto will do the introduction and gospel and Fr. Suresh Gottom, SCJ, will give the homily.

Don BoscoAUGUST 24, 2016 –– We are now into our second day at the Don Bosco Youth Center. I chose this photo as it clearly shows the Tamil Nadu alphabet spelling out the phrase “Youth Animation Center.” One of the complicating factors for Indians and non-Indians alike is that often each language has its own alphabet. This one clearly differs from Hindi for example, and certainly Telugu as well, the language that I am used to seeing spelled out in road signs and advertisements along the highways in Andhra Pradesh.

We are not the only ones using the center this week; along with us is a group of young men who are on retreat though we only see them in passing as our two schedules are very different

Last night was the first night we slept here and many in our group of 36 were complaining of how hard it was to get to sleep as their rooms were very warm. Some of them took to sleeping in the outdoor corridors. Remember this being a tropical climate there is less a need for indoor hallways and most of the foot traffic is handled much like we see at motels in the US, i.e., a covered outdoor walkway connecting rooms and wings of a building.

Our days are full and generally run from 6:30 am with morning prayer and Mass to supper at 8:00 pm with the chance for some recreation afterwards with most people heading to their rooms around 10:00 pm. We don’t have internet access nor TV reception so folks are left to their own devices. Last night card games were popular.

PresentationMost of our sessions have been presentations and as we look toward the end tomorrow we are now hearing from each of the communities concerning their activities of the past year as well as an accounting by the local treasurer. What is a bit different from a typical assembly in the US Province is that the account books for each house are open for inspection by any member and will be available until 9:00 pm this evening.

Tomorrow we’ll bring the assembly to a close as we should wrap up around 5:00 pm. I will be traveling back to the district house as we have a district council meeting on Friday to review the results of our assembly gathering and to try and put the final touches on the six year plan that we need to send to the general administration.

AUGUST 25, 2016 – Yesterday we heard from the community houses, i.e., formation programs, concerning the activities of the past year along with their hopes and dreams for the coming year. This morning it was the turn of the parish communities to do the same.

It is safe to say that all of our parishes are poor and in some cases are parishes we are building up from scratch. Many of the parishes have pastoral as well as social needs that the parish team would like to meet. Since the district has very limited resources and is dependent on support from the general administration it will take creative thinking to meet those needs.

Small groupAll in all it was a successful gathering. Given the distances that separate various communities it is important to gather at events like this to renew the bonds of brotherhood that are so much a part of belonging to a religious community. It also was an excellent opportunity to hear firsthand from those responsible as to what is going on in the district and the ministries operated in the name of the district. There are lots of challenges pulling at the district but as I once read: “Every challenge is in reality an opportunity.”

Back to India… finally!

Welcome India Aug 2016

The welcome crew at Dehon Jyothi

After several days of travel, delayed just about every step along the way, Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, is back in India, where he assists with formation and administration several months of the year. Periodically Fr. Tom shares his journal on the province blog. From the Dehon Jyothi community he writes:

I was fully expecting the traditional Indian greeting, or at least the typical SCJ Indian greeting, and I was not disappointed. What was a surprise, and unfortunately I could not whip out my iPhone fast enough to get a photo of it, were the four cattle laying down on the road in front of our house. I said to Fr. Vimala (Vimal) Thiyagarajan Soosainathan, SCJ: “I’ve had many an Indian welcome but this is the first time that it started with a herd of cows!”

With Fr. Vimal as the cattle driver we soon had them out of our way so the taxi could pull up in front of our gate to let me and Fr. Antony Alex Josapath, SCJ, out of the car.

My Indian greeting here by the community was as joyful as ever with song and flowers. One of the students plays the guitar so they had accompaniment to the traditional welcoming song. You might notice an older bald headed man in the second row who is their English teacher. This is his second year. Last December when Chennai had its floods he came everyday even though he often had to wade through nearly waist-high water. At the request of Fr. Vimal I brought along some ESL material for him to use with the students.

After the welcome song the 10 students introduced themselves, saying who they are and where they come from along with tidbits of information such as how large a family they came from and what foods they like or what hobbies they might have. Fr. Alex, who is a good cook in his own right, comes from a Kerala fishing family background and of course loves fish.

India map

Here’s the list of states the students hail from:  Andhra Pradesh, Orrisa (Odisha), Assam, and the country of Sri Lanka.  Note how far north Assam is in relation to Kerala where the SCJs began in 1994 and Andhra Pradesh where I spend the bulk of my time.

While each one of the students (they range in age from 18 to 24) introduced themselves I took a picture of them and later today will try to match names with photos. I have found that is the fastest way for me to learn their names. I won’t spend much time in this community but I try to visit it when I can as they are kind of off the beaten path with only the district house nearby. They are eight hours by train from Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) and about 20 from Aluva (Kerala).

Fr. Vimal told me they did take the group down to Kerala for our Founder’s Day Celebration on August 12. A number of contests were held and one of the Dehon Jyothi students won a prize in the drawing contest while another in the poetry contest. This jaunt also gave them a chance to see two of our communities as well as touch base with the postulants, including two former Dehon Jyothi graduates from last year.

I’ve brought with me some DVDs that I thought our brothers and novices might enjoy. Tonight the Dehon Jyothi students will see Spitfire Grill, a film produced by our Sacred Heart Southern Missions in 1996. Before we show the film I will try to explain to the students the story behind its making. [The film was developed by the Sacred Heart League, now Sacred Heart Southern Missions, as a means to raise money for SHSM ministries.]

SCJs continue to serve victims of Ecuador’s earthquakes

Fr. Bruno and Fr. Jose Luis pack a truck of relief supplies.

Fr. Bruno and Fr. Jose Luis pack a truck of relief supplies.

Fr. Stephen Huffstetter, general councilor, is visiting with SCJs in  Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, one of the areas hardest hit by the April 26 earthquake. He writes:

A one-hour plane trip from Quito landed us in Manta, the airport nearest Bahía de Caráquez. On April 26, an earthquake of 7.8 on the Richter scale heavily damaged the entire region. It is fortunate that the earthquake hit on a Saturday evening when many people were out and about town, and not home sleeping or at school or work. The airport’s control tower collapsed and a temporary mobile military tower is in its place. The waiting area was a series of four large tents. A camcorder on a tripod served as the security camera. Porters delivered our baggage by hand because the conveyor belts were not yet rebuilt.

Fr. Bruno Roque dos Santos, originally from Brazil, and Fr. Ramón Soriano Gil, one of the three re-founders of the Ecuador District, met us and drove us north along the coast, past palm and mangrove trees to the area where SCJ missionaries first landed in 1897. Because Ecuador was the first nation consecrated to the Sacred Heart, it had special significance for Fr. Dehon. The SCJs now serve three parishes with an additional nine chapels.

A tent shelter

A tent shelter

Fr. Bruno has three roles: parish pastor, superior of the religious community, and dean of the vicariate for the diocese. Normally he thrives on lots of activity, but the earthquake relief work has at times left him feeling drained. The Church has been a reliable institution in which relief groups can turn to in order to put food and relief supplies directly into the hands of those who need it most. Fr. Ramón is in his late 70s and after almost 20 years of walking barrios and visiting the sick, he is well known and loved throughout the town.

Sagrado Corazón (Leonidas Plaza) church parking lot was partially occupied by tent canopies. A dozen children were taking part in their Saturday catechism classes. The high school students are preparing for confirmation, and the younger students learned about the Trinity. Their normal classrooms are still under repair. Cracks in the church were visible, and it cannot be used for liturgies until structural damage is repaired and the roof replaced with lighter materials.

Mattresses and other relief supplies fill the church

Mattresses and other relief supplies fill the church

In the meantime, the church has become a staging area for relief supplies. Inside I found cement bags and diapers, coloring books and cooking oil, beds and mattresses, blankets and bottled water.

We drove through town exploring the earthquake damage. Some entire blocks have been leveled. The worst hit seem to be the wealthier high-rises near the ocean, which are uninhabitable, and the poorer cement and brick homes built high on the hills which buckled and collapsed entirely when the earthquake and aftershocks hit. Ironically, many of the poorer homes in the country made of wood and cane survived because they are not rigid, and swayed and bent rather than broke. Roads buckled, and a major task has been repaving long stretches of highway, and in some cases, rerouting the roads. Tents and tarps abound. Three months after the earthquake people still live in temporary basic structures. Many residents have moved to other parts of the country away from the destruction. The economy is struggling in Ecuador as a whole, and the destruction here has only compounded the problem. For workers whose average salary is about $325 per month, home insurance was never possible.

Children getting a meal at a soup kitchen

Children getting a meal at a soup kitchen

On a hill overlooking the city a large cross stands as a sign of faith and hope. The panoramic view was both beautiful and sad, because it gave a perspective of all the damage. In Bella Vista the chapel totally collapsed and has been demolished. There we visited a feeding program and saw many pre-school children eating lunch. The cooks also boxed up meals to be taken to the home bound elderly.

We passed a high school, totally unusable. An empty lot stood where another school has already been leveled. When school starts again in a few months, where will the students attend classes?

The plaza in front of Our Lady of Merced Church holds a tent city. We also passed rows of tents on the outskirts of town.

At San Jorge church, we saw how the bell tower pulled away from the main building. The office and meeting room building slants noticeably. Workers laid new floor tiles after leveling an eight-inch drop in the main floor. The disaster has caused lots of displacement for normal group meetings and parish programs.

Fr. Steve with SCJs

Fr. Steve with SCJs

The Priests of the Sacred Heart have tried to help with housing. At Albergue Sagrado Corazón, one such temporary housing site, metal structures about the size of a backyard tool shed serve as shelter. Blankets draped over the metal add warmth and protection from the wind. People cooked and socialized outside. An elderly woman had her bed brought outside the house so she could be part of the crowd until it was time to go in for the night. While life is hard, people are grateful for the help with meeting basic needs for the moment.

The town resounds with the sounds of both hammers and wrecking balls. We visited two housing construction sites. The SCJs have helped build 17 homes, which rise above cement pads on stilts, and are connected to water and sewer. They cost $3,000 each. At another site we watched workers cutting wire in preparation for prefabricated walls to be brought in. Those homes cost $8,000. In the aftermath of past earthquakes in Chile and Perú, builders have learned what can be quickly and inexpensively built that will work in the area.

At St. Rose of Lima Church in neighboring San Vicente, we were invited to join a prayer circle of high school volunteers preparing for a service project in a badly damaged part of the region. As we formed a circle, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, I heard many heart-felt petitions as they recalled the needs of their community.

Fr. Jonathan counts the weekend collection

Fr. Jonathan counts the weekend collection

Fr. Jónathan Martínez Gragera is from Spain and has served Bahía for the past six years. The earthquake followed the previous year’s drought, a double hardship for the people. The biggest pastoral challenge is to be a listening ear and support people who get discouraged and tempted to lose hope. After three months, so much yet remains to be done. As pastor, social worker, counselor and listening ear for so many traumatized people, it is a challenge.

I saw Fr. Jónathan counting the weekend collection. Amid a pile of coins, I saw two 5-dollar bills. The average salary here is about $75 per week, and the collection brought in $125. Ecuador uses US dollars as its currency. The Sacajawea dollars, which never caught on in the US, are commonly circulated here because of their durability.

Carlos Alonzo Vargas, from Venezuela, has ministered as a deacon for over a year. He began work in Ecuador in March, just one month before the earthquake changed everything. Beside parochial ministry, he finds great meaning reaching out to the nearby prison.

Tent city in a church plaza

Tent city in a church plaza

“Despite the disaster, life can and must go on”

I celebrated weekend Masses in San Jorge parish. The SCJs invited me to preside, while they preached. I did say a few words about how our prayers and thoughts have been with them since the earthquake. My hope and prayer is that times of trouble and disaster can also be times of charity and solidarity with one another. The liturgies had lively music and participation. One Mass include two baptisms. At the children’s liturgy, we encountered enthusiastic singing and hand clapping. Ecuadoran culture is very affectionate, with lots of hugs and greetings. Many people line up after Mass for an extra, individual blessing and a few words of encouragement from their pastors.

I observed catechism class La Virgen de Merced parish. The parish has an active Caritas group that reaches out to those in need with social projects, and they have been incredibly busy this year. Fr. Bruno honored the parish secretary for 21 years (and counting) of her service at Merced.

An ongoing project are the parish soup kitchens – “comedores.” In one near Sagrado Corazón women prepare daily meals for area children. While absolute hunger is not an issue in this agricultural region, good nutrition is, and they are able to provide nutritious meals to supplement what is lacking.

Students at Talitha Kum, a parish school for the disabled

Students at Talitha Kum, a parish school for the disabled

Talitha Kum, (from the biblical stand and walk) provides classes and care for children with physical or mental developmental disabilities. We talked to youth confined to wheelchairs, and others with Down’s Syndrome or Autism. The tiny metal sheds serving as classrooms didn’t seem like a lot, but the love and care inside was noticeable, and that makes all the difference.

José Luis Ángel, who teaches finance at ESIC in Madrid, was in town to meet with those who have received one-year, no interest, microcredit loans. While the 60 people who benefit from the program in Quito were mostly women running start-up cottage industries, here in Bahía the loans go to 90 farmers who need upfront money for basics like seed and fertilizer, or even to pay rent on land they can farm. The program hopes to help them establish credit with regular banks. “Orbayu” started with seed money from an insurance company and its employees who wanted to do something concrete in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility. The word “Orbayu” signifies a lasting, slow and steady drizzle which may not seem like much at first, but as time goes on, soaks the ground and produces much growth. A little money in the right place at the right time goes a long way. For more information on these microcredit initiatives, go to http://www.orbayu.org/

One night we enjoyed supper with the Visitation Sisters, who have moved into the SCJs’ Dormus Cordi house after their convent walls crumbled. Dormus Cordi normally serves as a center for youth ministry. I was disappointed that much of that ministry is on hold until the fall, and I hope to see and learn more about it on my next visit.

A home in the parish countryside

A home in the parish countryside where Fr. Steve helped to deliver supplies

Fr. Bruno loaded up a truck of supplies for the countryside (campo) communities. We traveled dirt and gravel roads, as rugged as any I knew from my rural South Dakota reservation days. We dropped off tables and tiny chairs to help a pre-school program. We delivered a bed and mattress to a 95-year-old elder in the community. His home was made of traditional wood, on stilts to keep cool air flowing underneath and to minimize the critters that can get in. Newspapers glued over the cracks kept the wind down. It was a simple home about 30 x 30 square feet divided into four rooms. They had no running water. The hospitality was great as we were greeted with a quarter of a watermelon apiece, warm hugs and a huge smile.

Baptism

Baptism

In Santa María the small chapel that serves the 50 families in the area was next to a one-room school house, in session. There were 19 children studying. One girl was late (chronically) because she has to walk six kilometers (a little under four miles) each way to school every day. Near the community of Pajonal we walked along the oceanfront, quite beautiful and undeveloped. People here worry about large conglomerates buying large tracts of land and privatizing the beaches.

Besides my meetings with individual SCJs, the community as a whole met to discuss the General Council’s six-year plan. They inquired about our SCJ confreres and projects throughout the world. Ready to contribute what they can to the Congregation as a whole, they asked what the General Superior hopes from them. Again, I heard their desire to promote the district to other SCJs who may be willing to join their ministry.

Click here to learn how you can contribute to relief efforts in Ecuador. Many people were so generous immediately after the disaster, but as you can see in Fr. Steve’s account, much still needs to be done. Thank you for continuing to keep the people of Ecuador in your prayers. 

Fr. Ed joins Dehonian youth at WYD

Justin Ed Juancho

Frater Justin, Fr. Ed and Frater Juancho

Fr. Ed Kilianski, SCJ, arrived in Kraków on Saturday to join the group from Our Lady of Guadalupe, Houston, at the World Youth Day activities. Fr. Ed wanted to attend WYD not only because of its significance in the Church, but also because of the significance of the group from the US Province: Fr. Ed had been pastor of OLG until his election as provincial superior in 2015. Most of the young adults in the group are people whom he knew as children at the parish, people whose families he was well acquainted with when he was pastor. 

From Krakow Fr. Ed writes:

They have been keeping us on the go since I arrived on Saturday evening. There are more than 250 Dehonian Youth from approximately 19 countries including the U.S. and Canada. There is an amazing spirit among them. Many new friends have been made across cultures and borders. On Monday, Fr. Heiner celebrated Mass and gave a talk on mercy. He had the youth in the palm of his hand.

Ed and group pray

Praying during the Dehonian youth gathering

Tuesday we went from the seminary in Stadniki to Kraków. Thousands of young people are in the city from around the world. The spirit among them is incredible! Lots of singing on the streets and greetings among the nations. Each group carries its national flag. Whenever we passed a group from the U.S. there was always the chant of “USA, USA!!”

Wednesday morning the Dehonian Youth walked to the first and only parish church of St. John Paul II. In the afternoon they had  workshops on mercy and Dehonian Spirituality in language groups, followed by a cookout at the seminary in Stadniki. On Thursday we gather again in Kraków to welcome Pope Francis.

The SCJs from Poland have been most welcoming to us all. There is an excellent spirit of fraternity and community. I feel truly blessed to have this international opportunity with our confreres from around the Congregation. It has also been fantastic to be with the group from Our Lady of Guadalupe. Br. Andy has done an amazing job of organizing the pilgrimage for them.

 

Ecuador: Fr. Dehon’s first mission

Fr. Steve with Quito in the background. He describes the backdrop as "our parish." Santa María de la Argelia consists of nine chapels that serve over 50,000 people

Fr. Steve with Quito in the background. He describes the backdrop as “our parish.” Santa María de la Argelia consists of nine chapels that serve over 50,000 people

Fr. Stephen Huffstetter, general councilor, writes from Ecuador where he has been visiting with our SCJ community there for the past week.

Fr. Dehon sent the congregation’s first missionaries to Ecuador in 1888. But due to several complex problems the mission did not succeed and the SCJs left the country in 1896.

One hundred years later the Spanish Province took up the mission anew. The district now consists of two communities in Quito and one on the coast at Bahía de Caráquez. District members come not only from Spain, but also from Venezuela, Brazil and now Ecuador itself.

Fr. Steve writes:

I arrived in Quito late at night for my first visit to Ecuador. Driving to the community house I could see lights up and down steep mountainous hills, but couldn’t get a true perspective on the landscape until the morning sun. Fr. José Luis Domínguez González, the district superior, and Deacon Carlos Alonzo Vargas led a walking tour of the neighborhood. With an altitude of between 9,000-10,000 feet above sea level, I appreciated the slow pace as I gasped for breath climbing the hills in the thin altitude.

Fr. José and Dn. Carlos

Fr. José and Dn. Carlos

José Luis joined the Ecuadorian mission in 2001, one week after his priestly ordination, and is finishing his first three-year term as district superior. He has been highly involved in Retrovaille, a program for marriages in conflict, and served as president of the Latin American chapter. Carlos is from Venezuela and has served the district in the Bahía de Caráquez region since March. I also met Fr. Edson Pacheco de Almeida, a Brazilian working in Bahía in pastoral vocational ministry, and Hernan Carrera Pruna, an SCJ candidate from Ecuador doing his philosophy studies.

Our district / formation house is in a neighborhood next to the Central University of Ecuador. A good number of students were in summer sessions as we walked through campus. Nearby are the Catholic Episcopal and Religious Conferences of Ecuador, as well as the Catholic University where SCJ candidates attend classes. In September, there will be one returning and six new candidates in formation.

Testing the local produce

Testing the local produce

Our first stop was a marketplace where I saw many fruits and vegetables new to me. Jose Luis helped me to learn the new vocabulary of what we saw, and then we snacked on luscious bananas and salted, roasted corn kernels. We saw a great variety of fish, popular in this coastal country.

Our parish in Quito, Santa María de la Argelia, is actually a series of nine chapels that serves a large area of the southern section of the capital. The area houses around 50,000 people. 90% of the country is nominally Catholic, and as is true in most parts of the world, the challenge is to serve the smaller percentage we see in church each week and reach out to those who are on the periphery. This area of Quito has grown as people from smaller countryside villages flock into the cities in search of work.

Fr. Artemio López Merino and Brother José María Urbina Rioja are two of the original missionaries who re-founded the congregation’s presence in 1997. Artemio gave me a book he wrote on the history of the mission. Fr. Benjamín Ramos Fraile, who spent many years in Bahía and was just named pastor in Quito a month ago, joins them. He is organizing a week-long summer church camp for youth aged 4–13 and is getting to know families along the way. Fr. Joaquín Izurzu Satrústegui is a member of the Spanish Province and is helping for a month while on a break from his school ministry.

Fr. Benjamin with parishioners

Fr. Benjamin with parishioners

The SCJs sponsor a parish program for the elderly in collaboration with the local government. The elders refer to themselves as “70 + a little.” Services include meals, physical therapy, nutrition counseling, regular medical check-ups, and a social worker available to help address family issues. Perhaps most importantly is the social dimension of time spent with others in fun activities. We celebrated Mass to help with the spiritual dimension of their life. Their spoken prayer intentions included so many heartfelt prayers for the needs of not only of their own families, but of the community around them. I was surprised at the strong bear hugs the little old ladies embraced me with after Mass.

Life in these barrios can be difficult, with family violence, many absent fathers, gang activity, drug dealing, and a shortage of good jobs. The parish secretary’s office installed metal grating after a couple of attempted robberies. Friday evenings the parish has an outreach to the homeless, as they go into the streets to meet people in need.

At Santa María de la Argelia

At Santa María de la Argelia

The chapels range from mid-sized churches to community meeting rooms. We visited three. Next to the San Francisco Javier chapel are 11 small houses, originally built to house domestic violence victims. Now the community uses them to host refugees, many from neighboring Columbia. The community of San Carlos is building a new chapel, a few bricks at a time, as they are able. One temptation is to seek outside money and finish more quickly. Though it will take longer for the parishioners to build it themselves, in the end it will have ownership and responsibility. At Argelia Alta, several women and children of the parish welcomed our tour.

While many parishes I am familiar with have individuals who are daily communicants, the weekday Mass traditions here are different. The evening parish Mass is attended by various parish groups. One night we celebrated with the family outreach committee. The second night was the charismatic prayer group. Each group is responsible for the liturgical ministry that day, like the music, readings and serving.

One night I sat in on a gathering of parishioners who have benefited from a Spain-based micro-credit program to help families start small businesses. Mr. José Luis Angel Vega met with groups of 6-10 people with team names like “Sacred Heart” “Santa María,” and “Life and Faith” They stood and introduced themselves and their business which included carpentry, a tire shop, restaurants, clothing stores, an internet café, and raising both pigs and puppies. They receive small loans of up to $1,000 and the group helps people work together to make sure that the business becomes stable and the loan fund is repaid so monies for other possibilities can be reinvested in the community. It is difficult for people who have ideas and hopes but no collateral or resources and this gives them a chance. These people are now providing needed and wanted services for their neighborhood, all within the parish.

Fr. Steve with some of the SCJs in Quito

Fr. Steve with some of the SCJs in Quito

I spent time talking to each individual in the district, and with the local communities as a whole. What they want the congregation to know is that they work hard both pastorally and to form a living situation good for religious life. They have formed an international community, and while they strive to develop local vocations among the Ecuadorian people, they also want to welcome those from other entities who have a good spirit of mission to join them.

I had a fun day exploring the touristic side of Quito. Ecuador is obviously located on the equator. Mitad del Mundo, (middle of the world), is a monument and village built on the site first calculated to be earth’s geographic center. We toured a village of reconstructed typical native houses in diverse regions such as the Amazon, the mountain highlands and coastal plains. Our guides were dressed in colorful local folk attire and brought the lives of the region’s first inhabitants to life.

Fr. José Luis and Fr. Steve at the equator

Fr. José Luis and Fr. Steve at the equator

At the GPS equatorial line we entered a museum which demonstrated the forces of gravity, and how just a few feet on either side of the equator water swirls down the drain in different directions, but straight down when in the geographic middle. I tried to balance an egg upright, but couldn’t master the intricacies. A tour group of US high school students was starting a tour in English, so I joined that group to learn about the flora and fauna and people of Ecuador. We also saw some actual shrunken heads. Some were taken to show power over the enemy, others to preserve the wisdom of a respected elder in the community. The practice is now banned, but in some remote regions it continues.

The mountainous volcanic land around Quito is quite striking. We stood above a huge volcanic crater, Pululahua, perhaps 25 miles in circumference. In the valley far below we could see green and fertile farms. We also hiked up El Pucará de Rumicucho, a hilly area used by the Inca and older tribal cultures for prayer and ceremony.

While I have tried many new fruits and foods, the national dish Cuy, (Guinea Pig) has been the most unique for me so far. Our group split a platter, and the meat was tasty, like moist and tender pork ribs.

First days in Poland

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Fraters Juancho Castañeda Rojas and Justin Krenke are traveling with a group from Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston to World Youth Day in Poland. Periodically they and others in the group, will share their experiences. From their first days in Poland Fraters Juancho and Justin write:

First Day in Warsaw 

As we continue our pilgrimage in Warsaw, we had the amazing experience to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum where he had the chance to learn about the history and the rebirth of a nation after WWII. As the tour guide said to us: “after this tour you will have a better appreciation for the architecture of the entire city but especially the old part of the city.” She was right!! Everybody had the same experience of amazement during our walk through the old part of the city after learning about the destruction and suffering the people of Warsaw went through. During our walk through the Old City we met a group from Hong Kong also going to World Youth Day and took some pics with them.

Second Day 

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Frater Justin with fellow WYD pilgrims

What an amazing experience visiting the Queen of Poland, The Black Madonna of Czestochowa at the Jasna Gora Monastery. It was a four-hour drive from Warsaw to Jasna Gora, and our driver Christofer made this drive very enjoyable. Once there we all were amazed by the size and beauty of the Monastery and the amount of people there… also we met some people who will participate in the World Youth Day from Mexico and we met again our friends from Hong Kong. We had a very exciting tour through the history and beauty of the monastery which is built as a fortress to keep safe the invaluable art work surrounding the Icon of the Black Madonna. We learned how important she is to the faith of the people of Poland because as our tour guide said: “the difference between the Black Madonna and other Marian shrines or devotions is that in comparison to places like Lourdes, Fatima, and Our Lady of Guadalupe no apparition took place here, it is just the people’s faith that makes this devotion.”  We had time to pray in front of the Icon of the Black Madonna and be witnesses of this beautiful devotion from all the visitors. Another meaningful experience for us was to visit the chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We elevated our prayers by lighting a candle there. After our visit we had very good Polish food at the Hotel Gorski, no relation to our Mary LOL…

Fraters Justin and Juancho

Gorski Hotel

Welcome to the USA!

Fr. Jesús, Fr. Luca, Fr. Steve and Aldo

Fr. Jesús, Fr. Luca, Fr. Steve and Aldo

Fr. Stephen Huffstetter recently hosted Fr. Luca Zottoli, general treasurer, along with his assistant, Aldo Ivaldi, and Fr. Jesús Valdezate (a member of the General Finance Commission), for a visit to the United States. Fr. Steve shares his journal from the visit:

Monday, June 20

Last night I felt privileged to welcome three members of our SCJ General Finance Commission to the States. They are here to learn about how the US Province approaches finance and investment, development and fundraising, and forming relationships with donors. Mr. Aldo Ivaldi has made the trip before, but for Fr. Luca, the general treasurer from Italy, and Fr. Jesús from Spain, this was their first time in the States. Their plane into Chicago was four hours late, and by the time we finally arrived in Hales Corners, the three travelers were very tired. We started early today meeting with two representatives from a company that specializes in direct mail in the US and many other countries.

In the afternoon we sat with the management of the Province Development office in Hales Corners. Fr. Dominic Peluse, Deacon David Nagel, Sid Liebenson, Pam Milczarski and Tim LaFavor spoke of their work and philosophy. Besides raising money to support the mission of the Congregation, the materials mailed also aim to promote spirituality and deepen people’s faith: prayer and mass cards, spiritual reading and inspirational artwork. Fr. Luca remarked that the afternoon gave him a better sense of the spirituality of the program.

Dn. David welcomes Fr. Luca

Dn. David welcomes Fr. Luca

After supper the visitors got a look at Lake Michigan. To European eyes it reminded them of the ocean, since the water stretches all the way to the horizon. And of course, no visit to Milwaukee would be complete without frozen custard, different from gelato, but just as tasty.

Tuesday, June 21

Today was a long travel day, a 500-mile drive to Sioux Falls, SD. This crew has proven fun to travel with, and the eight hours of drive time passed quickly. They tease and joke with each other like excited school kids on a field trip. They were amazed at all the open spaces, and we really haven’t gotten to the west yet. Their cameras clicked away as we crossed the Mighty Mississippi River at LaCrosse, WI, with tree-lined hills and bluffs sloping down to the waters. They told me they wanted to eat local foods and experience local color, so we ate lunch at a truck stop just off the interstate, which they called an experience of the “Real America” like they’d seen in the movies.

Fr. Jesús with Magdalena Artega, a member of the province development office staff who assisted with translation

Fr. Jesús with Magdalena Artega, a member of the province development office staff who assisted with translation

After we stopped for the night they were in the mood for “American beefsteak”. We headed to the small town of Tea, and the steakhouse that serves huge and tasty hunks of grass-fed South Dakota beef. They joked that “Everything is big in America”

A favorite spot of mine are the actual waterfalls that the city is named after. The night was mild and the sound of rushing water quite calming. We watched a flock of baby ducklings learning to swim against the current, and families out for an evening walk. After hours in the car, the movement and outdoor time was a fitting end to the day. One of the guys remarked that the terraced rocks of the falls seemed as perfect as if Disney had created it. But it was all Mother Nature’s work.

Wednesday, June 22

Our tour of the St. Joseph’s Indian School Donor Care Center absolutely amazed our guests. They could not believe the vast numbers of people the school can reach personally, and were impressed with the philosophy of relationship building with the donors. Kody Christianson, the center’s director, gave us a history of the center and an overview of how it is developing. Geri Beck, who leads planned giving and major gifts, spoke of how her staff hosts visitors and meets with individuals across the country. The staff makes many calls each day, the majority to say “thank you,” and speak with new donors to provide basic information about the school and programs. They also try to call donors to wish them a happy birthday, or follow up on prayer requests to see how folks are faring. While our visitors put on earphones and listened in on some of the conversations staff have with donors, I wandered around the office talking and reconnecting with our staff. We ate lunch with them. Besides the chance to update them on our work in Rome, I took the opportunity to thank the staff for their dedication and service to our donors.

Learning about St. Joe's fund raising program

Learning about St. Joe’s fund raising program

We left the big city behind, crossed the Missouri River, and headed to the prairie and reservations. Lower Brule was the first SCJ mission in the US and three SCJ priests live in the community there and serve the needs of six small parishes. Two of the priests are originally from our Indonesian Province, making it a truly international mission. They have been on the reservation long enough to build trust and establish good pastoral relationships. Driving around the area gave our visitors an initial experience of the difficulties and challenges people face on the reservation. I didn’t need to comment on the housing and infrastructure. I just drove around and let the guys take in the sights and form their own impressions. Afterwards one commented that he had seen more absolute poverty in other parts of the world, but the atmosphere was heavy with sadness and he could tell the mission was needed but difficult.

Wednesday evenings mean Mass at Fort Thompson, across the river on the Crow Creek Reservation. Several families are regulars, and afterwards, we had a chance to chat with tribal members over coffee and Kool-Aid.

Thursday, June 23

We spent the day in Chamberlain at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Jona Ohm, who handles many roles including public relations, led our tour of the development office. Clare Wilrodt, Religious Education Coordinator and Mission Animator, helped translate into Spanish for Fr. Jesús, and Emily Swanson followed us with a camera to capture the images. Our visitors saw mailings from start to finish – ideas and design, printing press, outgoing mail warehouse, and the staff that opens and answers the volume of letters that arrive every day. For me the great part was reconnecting with staff along the way.

Fr. Jesús with a St. Joe's staffer

Fr. Jesús with a St. Joe’s staffer

After the tour, we sat with Kory Christianson, director of Development, and Neoma Harris, who is in-charge of Marketing. Its impossible to understand the whole structure in one short visit, but our guys got a broad overview, and plenty of chances to ask questions and learn.

Summer also brings the Rising Eagle summer day camp. We visited the dining hall where a nutritious hot lunch is provided for the kids coming each day by school bus from the reservation. This week’s group was from Lower Brule. Even after three years away I recognized several students. St. Joe’s High School students were also working as camp counselors, giving back, and learning responsibility.

We joined the three Chamberlain SCJs for lunch. There is a bond across cultures and languages when we get together and share prayer and food. The ministry is a joint effort, and each member of the community has an important role to play.

St. Joseph’s has a Thrift Store off campus on the Main Street Business District. After seeing where the donations come in, the three visitors went on a shopping spree. They came away with some shirts and hats but more importantly, a broader sense of the mission. Sales support the school. Children have nice clothes to wear, and many loads of household goods and clothes for infants and elderly are taken where they are needed on the reservation.

We visited the Personal Care Representatives, who care for smaller groups of donors. Lilly will be a senior next year and she is helping in the office for the summer. She spoke about the exchange program with our sister school in Handrup, Germany, that she and three classmates participated in during the first part of June. Native Hope is a new project trying to tell positive stories about Native culture, and providing meeting space for people to come together in sharing and reconciliation.

We took a break at the museum to shop. It gave me the chance to say goodbye to Mary Jane Alexander, who is retiring after 45 years of working in the school and with our alumni. So many of the staff have been committed to the mission for many, many years.

Fr. Anthony Kluckman gave a tour of the school, which strives to give a high quality education in a way that also takes into account Lakota culture.

For supper we ate pizza with the high school boys, then visited the Speyer Home, where the younger summer break students are staying. That filled in the picture. The school is so much more than a school because it is also a home for much of the year, and houseparents who live with the children are the biggest single group of staff. The kids greeted the visitors at the door, shook hands in welcome, and introduced themselves. They were excited and proud about give a tour of the home.

Walking

Friday June 24

Friday was a day of pure tourism and fun. We started in the Badlands National Park, where the guys were fascinated by every twist and turn in the road. After driving over rolling grasslands for two hours, the peaks of the hills stand out like mountains on the moon.

When I stopped for gas, an adjacent prairie dog town captured their imagination. They got as close as the critters would let them to take pictures and watch their antics.

Temperatures were in the upper 90s, (or 40 if counting by their usual Centigrade degrees). Still we walked some of the paths and trails, with photos at every turn. At the visitor center we watched a good quality orientation video that gave a look at how the Badlands were formed and the types of wildlife you can discover there. The Badlands are also a treasure trove for fossils, and we saw researchers cleaning dirt and rock away from the latest batch of discoveries.

An event called the “Great Race” featured vintage cars driving across country, and the classic models passing by throughout the drive added another layer of interest.

Fr. Luca kept asking me if we were going to eat buffalo meat, and finally he got his chance at Wall Drug. Through advertising over the years, a small family pharmacy has evolved into a gigantic tourist stop, with about every kind of souvenir imaginable, and entertainment besides. And yes, there still is a real drug store, almost hidden by the roaring dinosaurs and rows of gift shops. When we pulled into the massive parking area, Aldo exclaimed, “Only in America!”

Mount Rushmore was a must, and I wondered what it would mean to visitors from a foreign land. They commented on how in the US we try to build a positive sense of nationalism, freedom and democracy, which they appreciated. I have seen the monument many times, but it is a treat to see it through the eyes of a first timer.

We ended the evening at the Fort Hayes Cowboy Chuckwagon show. Aldo was wearing a St. Joseph’s Indian School shirt that was a gift from the Donor Care Center. While we were looking at some of the old time activities like blacksmithing, a woman on a bus tour noticed the symbol and asked if he worked at the school. She had never been to St. Joseph’s, and only knew the school from many years of mail correspondence. The small world part was that she and her friend were from the Milwaukee area and have taken workshops at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.

We dined on fine beef, beans and fixings cowboy style, slapped onto a tin plate. The evening ended with a wonderful live music show that featured such a variety from old time country to rock and roll.

Saturday, June 25

I dropped Luca, Aldo and Jesús at the Rapid City Airport for their return to Milwaukee, where they will meet with our investment and finance people. So much of my life was spent in South Dakota; it is a treat to share it with visitors and see it again fresh through their eyes and experiences.