ST. FRANCIS — As Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki stood and watched a latrine being constructed for a family in the Dominican Republic during his Jan. 17-24 trip to the Caribbean nation, an idea was taking shape in his mind.These simple outhouses raise the standard of living dramatically for the Dominicans and can be built for a relatively small amount of money, he said, of their $300 cost.

During the Jan. 17-24 pilgrimage to the Dominican Republic, 12 travelers from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, including Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, visited with members of La Sagrada Familia Parish and celebrated the archdiocese’s 35-year relationship with the parish. (Photo by Peter Fenelon, courtesy World Mission Ministries)

“In the back of my mind, I thought of doing something during Lent to raise money to actually build latrines,” he said, describing his concept of a Lenten project for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, aimed at raising money to build about 10 latrines.

“They build homes without plumbing, without washrooms and they depend upon, at some time, building a latrine, something we refer to as an outhouse,” he described. “It gives them a sense of dignity and their station in life is elevated,” Archbishop Listecki told the Catholic Herald in a phone interview, describing his hope to raise money this Lent to pay for latrines. “It would give a dignity to the people of the Dominican Republic.”

Along with 11 other travelers, Archbishop Listecki visited La Sagrada Familia, the archdiocesan sister parish in the Sabana Yegua region of the Dominican Republic to celebrate the the 35th anniversary of the relationship between the archdiocese and the parish.

One highlight of the trip, according to a traveler, Fr. Ricardo Martin, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish, Racine, and vice chancellor of the archdiocese, was the actual celebration of the anniversary. Fr. Martin, a member of the Community of St. Paul, served at La Sagrada Familia from 2003 to 2013.[su_pullquote align=”right”]Donations to make Archbishop Listecki’s dream to build 10 latrines a reality can be sent to the 
Office for World Mission: 3501 S. Lake Drive P.O. Box 070912 Milwaukee, WI 53207-0912 For information: (414) 758-2282 or [/su_pullquote]

“Bishop (José) Grullón (bishop of San Juan de la Maguana) and Archbishop Listecki presided at Mass Jan. 22 at what was the initial location of the parish 35 years ago,” he said, adding, “there was so much joy and energy.”

The following day, the archbishop presided at Mass at what is now the main site of the parish, but Fr. Martin said the enthusiasm of the previous day couldn’t be matched.

“It was beautiful also, but I was impressed by the joy and the energy of the day before,” he said.

Barbara Bechtel, a member of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Milwaukee, visits with young girls at the St. Augustine Child Development Center, one of three centers operated by the parish, during the Jan. 17-24 trip to the Dominican Republic. (Photos by Peter Fenelon, courtesy World Mission Ministries)

The visit by the archbishop and other archdiocesan travelers demonstrates a relationship of love in Christ, according to La Sagrada Familia associate pastor, Fr. Juan Camacho, a member of the Community of St. Paul that serves the parish.

“The presence of Archbishop Listecki in the parish meant a deep commitment from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, represented in its shepherd, in this twinning relationship that goes beyond our economic support,” he told the Catholic Herald in an email. “The twinning relationship is more like a friendship in Christ that strengthens the faith of both communities, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and La Sagrada Familia Parish.”

Noting that the people of La Sagrada were honored to have the archbishop there to celebrate with them, he said, “It was very important to them that Milwaukee’s pastor came down and visited them. In a way, they feel part of Archbishop Listecki’s flock.”

Fr. Camacho, who has been serving at La Sagrada for about five years, since his 2012 ordination, said he was especially moved during the archbishop’s visit when he would connect with people through rosaries that had been blessed by the pope.

“It was always a nice moment when the archbishop would reach into his pocket and bring out a rosary to give to the people we were meeting,” he said. “That was his way of showing his love and care for them. I know language is a barrier, but the rosary broke down that barrier and opened smiles and looks that spoke volumes.”

The relationship between La Sagrada Familia and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can be traced to Cardinal James M. Harvey, a native son of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, who served as prefect of the papal household from 1998 to 2012. As Archbishop Listecki explained, “Literally 35 years ago, a plea came from Msgr. Harvey – now Cardinal Harvey – to help out this mission territory.”

Fr. Richard Aiken, a senior priest of the archdiocese, greets a young member of the community. (Photos by Peter Fenelon, courtesy World Mission Ministries)

Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland sent financial support and priests to staff the parish, and under now-Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, leadership of the parish was transferred to the Community of St. Paul.

For return travelers, like Fr. Martin and the archbishop, who was last there about 4.5 years ago, progress was evident.

“For those who had been before, there was a lot about reconnecting with people we had met before, and seeing the changes. For instance, you see now this beautiful nutritional center that has been rebuilt in the San Francisco barrio near the parish, or the fact that instead of one center, we now have three,” he said, adding, “There has been a lot of progress since Milwaukee started this relationship.”

Among the improvements Archbishop Listecki observed are the construction of basic chapels and the availability of job training. He also praised the work of Fr. Camacho who offers sessions where 400 people come to study Scripture with him.

“That really tells you about the great work being done and this is all the culmination of 35 years of growth,” said Archbishop Listecki. “We established La Sagrada Familia as a community and reached out to people with a kind of gravitas because of their presence there. They are just not there for a day, they’ve been there for 35 years.”

For many of the travelers, the trip was a chance to rekindle friendships made on prior trips.

“No matter how many times you have been there, you are part of the family, and they make sure you understand that,” said Fr. Martin. “At the core of this twinning is the reality that many personal relationships have been established through the years.”

The visitors were welcomed with open arms, according to Fr. Martin.

“One thing that will stand out and will surprise you, no matter how many times you visit, is the warmth of the people,” he said. “It is especially interesting after Mass. People would come out from the church and will kiss and hug all the priests. While we talk to people at the back of church here in Wisconsin, I can assure you it is not the same.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Archbishop Listecki said that especially the return visitors were welcomed back into the homes of people they had previously met and were treated like relatives.

“It was wonderful to see the associations that were made were long lasting,” he said.