For the past 40 years, the Office for World Missions has managed the relationship between the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the archdiocesan sister parish, La Sagrada Familia in Sabana Yegua, Dominican Republic.
Due to COVID-19, residents within the missionary scope have suffered job loss, food insecurity and increased poverty levels. This has led to an inability for many families to pay for basic needs, such as food and shelter.
To help residents, the parish staff distributed hundreds of food and hygiene kits on a weekly or monthly basis since the pandemic began. This, however, has caused a significant increase in costs for support, including health care and other needs.
Antoinette Mensah, Ph.D., director of the Office for World Mission, said that recently the foundation approached them to submit a request for support of the Global Missionary Activity within the context of their current reality.
“As supporting the ongoing work of the archdiocesan sister parish, La Sagrada Familia, in the Dominican Republic presented a response to a pressing need, we submitted a request for funds to support this ministry, which has had to pivot to provide new services in response to the pandemic,” Mensah said.
The result from the grant application was a $30,000 grant from the Catholic Community Foundation to support efforts for La Sagrada Familia Parish.
The grant from the Catholic Community Foundation was a welcomed relief for the World Missions Office, as it will help them provide support for La Sagrada Familia to assist in feeding the hungry, supporting the children and their education, and providing shelter and care for the sick.
The funds will allow the parish to continue enlarging the food pantry and distribute more groceries, including weekly food kits to more than 100 elderly residents.
“We will also be able to continue providing monthly support for several dozen families connected through the parish’s three child development centers, and kits for Haitian immigrant families, who do not receive any government support,” said Mensah. “The staff also provides health care and free COVID-19 testing through the parish health center and provides food support and hygiene kits as part of a prison ministry to the local jail.”
The grant funds will also be used to maintain, expand, and increase the Office for World Mission’s outreach, as they continue to feed the hungry, educate children, provide support for families; ensure shelter, and care for the sick. With these funds, Mensah said they can also reach some of the furthest communities of the parish.
The Office for World Mission works with the staff of the parish, which includes two archdiocesan priests and a pastoral staff along with dozens of volunteers from the region. The current pastors are Fr. Javier Guativa, of the Community of St. Paul, and Fr. Thomas Naidu. In addition to nurturing the spiritual needs of the parish through evangelization, catechesis, the celebration of the sacraments in every village, prayer groups, adult and youth formation and leadership training, the priests and staff strive to address the various material needs of parishioners. These include providing access to healthcare, educational resources, job training, micro-loan programs, clean water and emergency support.
“As we work to provide for residents’ material needs, such as adequate housing and sanitation, clean water, healthcare, food security, education and job training, as well as their spiritual needs, the pandemic increased the level of need, while also forcing a decentralization of response, as it is unsafe for people to gather to receive aid,” said Mensah. “We have always worked closely with the community to create a sustainable infrastructure and to empower residents with opportunities, but the pandemic created an ongoing emergency situation. Without these funds, we could not continue our current support level and expand our services to meet these new social welfare needs and to extend them beyond our parish walls.”
The grant makes it possible for the parish community to continue this connection and to meet foundational principles of Catholic Social Teaching: dignity of the human person, solidarity, and preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.
“During this COVID-19 pandemic, this grant award helps shore up these good works and provide support for some of the hardest hit areas in our 22-community parish in the Dominican Republic,” said Mensah. “We appreciate the Catholic Community Foundation for considering the importance of missionary activity in the global Church. We are reminded of the opening paragraph of Pope Francis’s encyclical Fratelli Tutti, which calls us to consider a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.’ This grant enables us to show this love and concern for our brothers and sisters who are far away in the Dominican Republic as we connect this ministry to our brothers and sisters who are near to us in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”
For more information about La Sagrada Familia or the Office for World Mission, visit www.archmil.org/offices/world-mission.htm.
For more information on the Catholic Community Foundation, visit legaciesoffaith.org