St. Francis Xavier Mission Trip 2012 in the Dominican Republic
From Mr. Daniel Heenan (an FSSP seminarian):
From June 18-28th the Saint Francis Xavier Mission Trip of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter journeyed to the remote town of Banica in the Dominican Republic for a ten-day mission trip. Banica is situated along the Haitian border, about a five-hour drive from the capital, Santo Domingo. Many people in this region live in abject poverty. Though the parish was established in the early 16th century by Spanish missionaries, for most of its history it has not had a resident priest. Approximately 20 years ago, the diocese of Arlington, VA began sending priests to care for the Catholic population of about 8,000 souls in the parish of San Francisco in Banica and in the neighboring parish of San Jose.
Like other groups that make similar trips, the Saint Francis Xavier Mission Trip sought to serve Christ in the poor, and, through this encounter, sanctify those who participated in the trip. To this end, the group built two outhouses in the small town of Cercadillo, which is situated about 15 miles outside of Banica but takes close to an hour to reach by truck due to the poor condition of the roads. This simple amenity represents a tremendous asset to these people who have no running water and no electricity. The young people also built a simple fence around the village’s cemetery to add to its dignity and to keep out the animals.
The goals of this trip, however, were not limited to the corporal works of mercy. Along with dirtying their hands with difficult manual labor under the intense summer sun, the FSSP also provided training in the Traditional Latin Mass to the pastor of the mission, Fr. Keith O’Hare, of the diocese of Arlington, VA. Seminarians likewise provided training in serving the Traditional Mass to the altar boys of the parish. During the group’s stay, three sung Masses and one Solemn High Mass were offered in Banica (certainly the first Solemn Mass in a long time and perhaps even the first ever considering the scarcity of clergy in the region) and a second Solemn High Mass was offered at the end of the trip in the church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the historic colonial zone of Santo Domingo.
Just as the evidence of the impact of the work in the village of Cercadillo could be seen in the new structures that were built and the friendships made with the local residents, so too were the spiritual results evident as curious residents found their way to the back of the church during the group’s Masses and holy hours and followed the group’s example in receiving at the altar rail, going to confession, and even wearing chapel veils, as the altar boys gained a new appreciation for the richness of the church’s tradition, and as Fr. O’Hare began making plans to regularly celebrate the extraordinary form.
A trip such as this certainly leaves participants with a renewed fervor for their faith, wonderful new friendships, and a countless store of anecdotes. One such story that beautifully encapsulates the blending of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy occurred during the final day working in Cercadillo. While digging post holes for the cemetery fence, a man came up and asked to speak to a priest. A man on the other side of the village, he related, was dying and wanted help from the Church. What he was requesting at first, however, was help finishing the latrine that the dying man had begun. He saw that the group of Americans had been building outhouses for other villagers and, since the man had taken ill and was unable to finish the one he had begun, his family was hoping they could receive similar assistance. Hearing that the man was dying, the priest was alerted and he and one of the seminarians immediately went to see him. This man who had sought material help was about to receive something much greater, for this man had been away from the Church for years and on account of that had not even thought it possible to request the sacraments. The dying man’s daughter, who had just arrived from the capital the previous day, greeted the Americans with tears in her eyes. She explained how she had prayed and wept through the night beseeching God to look after her father who had been away from the sacraments for some time. She extolled the mercy of God for the fact that that very day a priest had ridden into this remote village – something that is not an ordinary occurrence. When the visit was concluded, the two clerics returned to the rest of the group to find the fence nearly completed. Father was then able to consecrate the cemetery, hallowing the ground in which the body of that newly sanctified man would perhaps soon be interred.
July 18, 2012