Dolores Puértolas (holding child) gives a tour of La Sagrada Familia’s water projects in the nearby villages. (Pete Fenelon photos)

With hearts full and a week of service completed, nine young adults from Milwaukee were not yet ready to depart from their pilgrimage. At the close of their week-long encounter in the Dominican Republic, they looked for some way to express their new experience of home at La Sagrada Familia.

Paint brushes were found and cans of paint chosen. Before the crowd of onlookers, a radiant mural of St. John the Evangelist came to life.

“The painting symbolizes the lasting connection between La Sagrada Familia and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” said Jim Love, one of the team leaders and a representative for Catholic Financial Life, which offered scholarships for participants.

St. John the Evangelist was chosen because he is the patron saint of the Archdiocese.

“It’s a reminder that we follow the same loving God. Our faith is our common language. I think it was an amazing way to show our connection with that parish for years to come.”

That connection, however, goes beyond the personal attachment each participant made with the parish in June.

La Sagrada Familia (translated “Holy Family”) in the Dominican Republic has been the sister parish of the Milwaukee Archdiocese since 1981. The 2017 Pilgrimage of Accompaniment is a continuation of this tradition of sending people of all ages to La Sagrada Familia to share in these friendships and lend mutual support.

The parish is the heart of Sabana Yegua, a town of 10,000. It supports the wider community with nutrition centers, health clinics, literacy programs, a sewing center, bakery, chapels for the outlying villages, ministry to Haitian immigrants and more. Though the two priests of the parish, Fr. Esteban Redolad and Fr. Juan Manuel Camacho, belong to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, every volunteer who runs these programs is a Dominican Republic native.

Left: Children walk home from school in Sabana Yegua. Right: John Parks and Jim Love spend time with children at a day camp organized by their group.

Service, however, is only the beginning. The pilgrimage seeks to immerse young adults in the spirituality of accompaniment, which can be found in manual labor or simply by visiting families and hearing their stories.

Love finds these aspects of accompaniment in one place: “I enjoy manual labor as it allows me to help the community with a specific need while forging those important relationships. Building the latrines gave us the chance to work together toward a common goal.”

Members of the Archdiocese might recognize these latrines as the ones financed by Archbishop Listecki’s Lenten fundraising project.

By working side-by-side with families and listening to their needs, relationships are built on mutual understanding. As Pope Francis would say, there is a “Culture of Encounter.”

At the heart of this encounter is the parish itself; it’s fitting that biblical scenes are depicted on the walls around the parish property. From the Good Samaritan to the Good Shepherd, the message to the people is clear: this is a place of peace.

Jim Love and Caroline Harvey review the template for the St. John the Evangelist mural.

The paint was prepped and everyone was eager to start. Milwaukee Seminarian Carlos Londoño carefully traced the words, “San Juan Evangelista: Patron of Milwaukee” as the rest of the group filled in the outline (drawn by Brew City Catholic representative Caroline Harvey) of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple.

“During the process, several folks from the village stopped by to ask what we were doing or simply watch as we neared completion. It felt like we were all in it together.”

This invitation to accompany our Dominican Republic brothers and sisters is extended to all in the Archdiocese and beyond. Be sure to check out the mural if you ever journey (or return) to our La Sagrada Familia family.