Mission in Bolivia busy in the works of the faith

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They do eat and sleep — somehow finding time.

The priests at the archdiocese's mission parish in an impoverished area of La Paz, Bolivia, pack in a full day of visiting people grieving after a loved one's death; blessing homes; walking the neighborhood and assisting homeless people; conducting marriage preparation classes and Marriage Encounter gatherings; celebrating Mass at the parish church and a dozen chapels; gathering with a youth group and senior citizens group; and much, much more.

A small staff and catechists work hard as well at the parish and at a rural parish in the mountain plateau above LaPaz serving 30 villages.

Father Timothy Noelker knows the mission well, having served for five years as an associate pastor of Maria Reina Parish in La Paz. He returned home this summer in a new assignment as director of the archdiocese's Mission Office and part-time associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Manchester.

"I'm always ready for a good challenge," he said of his new assignment, flashing his ever-present smile. "Archbishop (Robert J.) Carlson is very supportive of both the mission we have in Latin America and the missions in general. I'm enthused about his desire to foment the missionary identity that is common to all the baptized and to help people better understand the particular mission we have in Bolivia and the missionary programs we support, such as Pan y Amor, and the mission societies of the universal Church."

Catholics of the archdiocese will have a chance to show their support by contributing to the collection for the Latin America Apostolate the weekend of Aug. 5 and 6 in parishes. They have supported the apostolate for more than 60 years. Archbishop Carlson wrote in a message that it is part of the Church's "commitment to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all nations. The Latin America Apostolate strives not only to meet the physical and spiritual needs of parishioners through the celebration of the sacraments, catechesis and formation, but the entire local community through the Maria Reina Health Clinic, the Lunch and Tutoring Program and other forms of community outreach."

Through the years, 45 priests from the archdiocese have served in the apostolate, with Father Eric Olsen, most recently associate pastor at Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves, the latest to take up residence in Bolivia. Women religious of various communities, including the Sisters of Most Precious Blood of O'Fallon, have taught and assisted with religious education, provided health care and more. "We have serious challenges due to funding outreach that is not directly sustainable economically, increasing costs and stabilized-to-decreasing donations," Father Noelker said. "We need to make ends meet to continue this rich tradition of missionary work in Bolivia."

Parishioners in Bolivia contribute to the parish — in an area of 60,000 to 70,000 Catholics — and serve as catechists and in other roles, but many have difficulties providing for their own basic necessities. Many spend long days working to earn a living. Bolivia ranks high in malnutrition and child mortality and low in terms of education and life expectancy.

A lunch and tutoring program at the parish help counter malnutrition and boost education levels. It's paid off as several of the former participants are in college or have found professions. One former participant, for example, is an educator and volunteers her time as a tutor.

The center of the parish is Mass and the sacraments. "It's Christ from who we receive our love, our joy, our peace and our desire to serve," Father Noelker said. 

>> How to help

Archdiocesan priests, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O'Fallon, the Papal Volunteers in Latin America and other lay volunteers have taken part in the Latin America Apostolate for the last 60 years.

St. Louis priests Father Patrick Hayden, Father James Michler and Father Eric Olsen staff Maria Reina Parish, which serves more than 14 neighborhoods and about 60,000 to 70,000 Catholics.

Donations may be made:

• at parish collections Aug. 5-6.

• through your parish online giving.

• online at www.stlouisreview.com/bgK.

• by check to Latin America Apostolate, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119.

For information, visit archstl.org/missions or call (314) 792-7655. For an in-depth look at the mission, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bDK. 

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