From May 21-30, students, alumni, and faculty from Christendom College ventured to the ends of the earth to bring hope to the “poorest of the poor” in the Arlington Diocese’s mission territory of Banica, in the Dominican Republic.
In 1991, then-Bishop of Arlington, John R. Keating, sent the first missionary priest from the Diocese of Arlington to Banica. Prior to that, the people of Banica, Pedro Santana, and the surrounding campos were without a priest for a period of twenty years. Fr. Patrick Posey has been the resident priest in Banica for the past seven years, with Fr. Jack O’Hara joining him for the last two years. Both Frs. Posey and O’Hara have been extremely welcoming and receptive to the Christendom missionaries that have come to the Dominican Republic.
Posey’s missionary territory includes the Church of St. Francis in Banica, the Church of St. Joseph in nearby Pedro Santana, and over 72 villages called campos that stretch for miles over the mountains in the center of the island of Hispaniola. Many of these campos are only reachable on foot or by mule and can be as much as an eight-hour trip for Posey. Needless to say, he can only get to these villages once a month to say Mass or to bring food and supplies. The people there are subsistence farmers, growing just enough to get by, and they live in houses made of raw materials, without the benefits of electricity or running water. Visiting and aiding the people in the campos has been a major project of each Christendom missionary trip to the Dominican Republic over the past three years.
While in Banica, the Christendom missionaries focused more on the spiritual needs of the people than their material needs. They helped to purchase materials and supplied the majority of the labor for the construction of a new chapel in the community of El Fondo. The previous structure was a mere thatched roof on a frame without walls. Christendom students completed a new solid structure with concrete walls which will serve as the new chapel of St. Isabel, where Fr. Posey will soon be able to regularly celebrate Mass for his people.
In addition to building the Chapel, Christendom students visited several of the campos which Posey is unable to visit very often. Bringing food and basic supplies, the students prayed, sang, talked, danced, and ate with the people there, many of whom are extremely poor. Visiting these people in the mountains of the Dominican Republic gave the missionaries a real sense of the true meaning of Christ’s Church and its universality. This was one thing that Posey continually stressed to Christendom students, as he celebrated daily Mass for them and gave spiritual guidance.
“One of my goals over the last seven years as pastor has been to show our people here in the mission parishes of the Dominican Republic that we are truly united in the belief that we are one family,” said Posey. “When one person is in need, the other responds with generosity and love. I have been blessed and inspired to see the youth of the Diocese of Arlington responding to this call to care for one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord.”
This latest trip in May was the second of two planned mission trips to the Dominican Republic this year sponsored by the College. Christendom established its mission program in the summer of 2000. Organized by Michael Brown, Dean of Student Life, the mission trips have proved to be beneficial not only for those they serve, but also to the student missionaries themselves.
Earlier this year, during Spring Break, the first group, comprised of 13 students and 2 alumni, went to Banica where they worked on a project called tzedakah or “good work.” This project aids the people in the campos by giving them a “push start” so that they can become self-reliant. Over the past eight months, Christendom students fund-raised to earn, not only the necessary money to send them to Banica, but also enough capital to completely fund all the projects they planned and executed while there. The group purchased goats and seeds, and distributed them to the various mountain villages, in hopes that the people might yield a good harvest for the year and thus achieve self-dependency.
“When Christendom College started coming to Banica back in the 2000, there formed a bond of caring and support. We hear so often of how the youth of today are more concerned about themselves than others,” said Posey. “With these youths, I have found that not to be true. What I have seen is a willingness to give and to reach out to others. They demonstrate to our people that the people of the Diocese of Arlington do care, and their reaction is that they care for us as well. We are truly one family.”