Celebrating a mission of gratitude, hope
The parade had marching bands, banners and some 4,000 children taking part. It went right past Maria Reina Parish in La Paz, where Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and visitors from St. Louis had a bird's-eye view.
Each year a parade for the patron saint of La Paz is held around the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel along the streets of La Paz. "It was an impressive sight, and a festive way to begin our visit to Bolivia," said Msgr. Francis X. Blood, director of the Latin America Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The parade — just one example of the importance of the Catholic faith to the people of Latin America — was among events during the pastoral visit to Columbia and Bolivia July 5 to 20.
It is a harsh climate, but the people of Latin America have a strong sense of devotion and faith — "a credit to our priest missionaries and those that have supported them over the last 50-plus years," Archbishop Carlson noted after returning from the visit.
"I was impressed by the strong bond between the people and our missionaries in Bolivia. The love and affection that the people have for the priests is strong and an affirmation of the sacrifice these holy priests offer every day," he said.
Archbishop Carlson also was impressed by the pastoral council at the parish and the strong sense of evangelization they have. The health clinic at the parish staffed by priests from St. Louis is very busy serving the poor in the various neighborhoods, he added.
The orphanage "is a special work, and the place is so clean and the staff excellent," he said. The care shown "provides the children who have suffered so much with a place that is simple but beautiful and filled with love."
Archbishop Carlson also visited the Vicariate of the Pando, an area of Bolivia in the Amazon basin, and took part in the 50th anniversary of ordination Mass for Bishop Morgan Casey. The cathedral there was "filled to capacity with people standing everywhere, and the celebration went on for hours with various native foods and a variety of groups doing their native dance as a tribute to the bishop," he noted.
Father Patrick Hayden, pastor of Maria Reina, in an email response, said he was "reassured of the presence and commitment of the Archdiocese of St. Louis to ourselves, as St. Louis priests and the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, and to the Latin American Apostolate. The Holy Spirit surely rejoiced at (and was most active to bring about) these days of grace."
Msgr. Blood, Javier Orozco of the archdiocese's Hispanic Ministry and Father Joseph Post, secretary to the archbishop, accompanied Archbishop Carlson on the visit. The newest missionary priest, Father Timothy Noelker, attended the celebrations, and "won over the people with his kindness and good humor," Father Hayden said.
Father Hayden noted that the universal Church "is always something bigger than ourselves and our particular realities, yet it is something very much alive and incarnate in every local church. This mystery, the Body of Christ, came through in a very beautiful way as we made our tour with Archbishop Carlson and companions through our parish territory" and in the various events.
In Bolivia, they celebrated Mass with Bishop Toribio Porco Ticona in the ancient parish church of St. James of Calamarca. Back in La Paz, Archbishop Edmundo Abastoflor Montero of La Paz and Archbishop Carlson, with Msgr. Simón Bolívar Carreón of the Apostolic Nunciature and Msgr. Blood, blessed those gathered in the new chapel of Santa Barbara, which is within Maria Reina Parish. They also celebrated the solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at a Mass. They travelled to Bishop Casey's anniversary Mass. In Columbia, they visited the Messengers of Peace community, attended the confirmation at the Talitha Kum home for girls, witnessed a procession to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary, gathered with Kenrick-Glennon seminarians studying Spanish in Columbia, met with the papal nuncio and more.
"The bonds of solidarity, friendship and love that unite our local churches ... were strengthened and renewed by the pastoral visit," Father Hayden said, and "the face of God, the face of Christ was truly revealed in a signal way these past days here in the Bolivian Andes and Altiplano."
Orozco agreed, saying that "this mission experience is a real moment of grace for our ministry in the archdiocese ... It is a real witness of the generosity and the love and care the Church of St. Louis has had with the people around the world, especially Bolivia."
The Latin America Apostolate began in 1956 when Cardinal Joseph Ritter responded to the request of the papal nuncio to Bolivia for priests to serve in the Archdiocese of La Paz, which had few native Bolivian priests. St. Louis was the first U.S. diocese to initiate a mission in Latin America.
Orozco said that "to be part of this wonderful Catholic faith and to share that love of Jesus" with others in another part of the world "is real powerful."
He added that the archbishop's generosity and his willingness to accompany the poor, "to be with them, to hear their stories and to see them personally," is an inspiration for those in the Hispanic Ministry and to others "to continue reaching out to one another."
Msgr. Blood said the people of Bolivia and Colombia "are deeply grateful for the support" as well as for the visit and the love Archbishop Carlson shows for the missions.
The work continues only with the support of the people of the archdiocese, Msgr. Blood said. For example, the annual collection provides 90 percent of the cost of the mission at Maria Reina, including the cost of a health care clinic and training of catechists. The funds for the clinic pay for salaries of health-care workers, medicine and food for children and adults who are malnourished.
For more on the visit and the annual collection for the Latin America Apostolate see archstl.org/missions and click on mission news.
The collection for the Latin America Aposotolate will be held in churches the weekend of Aug. 4-5.
Contributions also can be sent to Latin America Apostolate, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119. Donations can be made online by credit card at archstl.org (click on donate, then agencies, then Latin America Apostolate). Those who have online giving through their parish can go to their parish website, click on Online Giving, log in, click on Give a New Gift, then click on Latin America Apostolate.
For information see archstl.org/missions or call (314) 792-7655.
Father Joseph Post, secretary to the archbishop, was asked what St. Louis Catholics would appreciate knowing about the missionaries in the Latin America Apostolate. His reply:
"The missionaries in Bolivia start schools, inspire vocations among the locals, build churches and chapels, support local orphanages for abandoned and abused children (through the Pan y Amor program of the archdiocese), serve the poor through donations, work on catecetical programs and do so much more besides just running a parish. The landscape provides its own challenges on the physical side, but they remain focused on bringing a much needed spiritual integrity to meet the needs of the people, both socially and in the day-to-day ministry.
"Bolivia is truly a Third World country, and the people there are as tough as the landscape. Yet through the leathery, sun-tanned skin, the people truly bring color to the plain surroundings. Their smiles and generosity are as warm as the Alpaca wool garments they wear to stay warm. They will walk miles to celebrate Mass in conditions most North Americans would shy from. So our missionaries have become very much a part of a culture and a people who are vibrant, courageous and continuously working on a fulfilling, faith-filled life with a humility and simplicity we here take for granted. They are ministering, like us here, with a government that isn't particularly friendly to the Church's mission and ministry. Yet they are persevering."
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