By Gary Morton, Staff reporter
When Father Fidel Miranda Velazquez of Guatemala visited St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Bear last weekend, he recognized a few faces.
In February, five parishioners and Father Roger DiBuo, pastor, were part of a seven-member diocesan delegation that visited the Diocese of San Marcos, Guatemala, as part of the solidarity partnership between the two dioceses that started in 2003. They visited Father Velazquez’s San Pablo parish, with more than 20,000 parishioners in 48 communities, including the Nueva Buena Vista finca (coffee plantation) where Seton has begun a scholarship program for children.
The visits and others like them forge a personal link between the people of the two dioceses, one that transcends the material aid. Now, said Marie McFarlin of Seton’s solidarity committee, “Our goal is not just the fund raising but continuing that solidarity partnership.”
This week Father Miranda Velazquez and Rafael Esquivel Valiente, a music teacher at Fe y Alegria-Cristo Salvador (Faith and Joy-Christ the Savior) School in La Blanca, are visiting parishes and schools in the diocese to strengthen that relationship. They tell of a lifestyle far different from that in the United States.
Father Miranda Velazquez, through interpreters, said most children who live on fincas leave school by age 8 to work alongside their parents. His goal is to celebrate Mass at least once a month in each of his 48 Catholic communities but remote villages and poor roads prove a major challenge. The parish operates a medical clinic, a pharmacy and a radio station. Teenagers and young adults often walk several hours to participate in Mass and youth rallies.
Asked at Resurrection Parish Sunday night what a youth group could do to help, Father Miranda Velazquez replied: “Three things. First, pray. Second, pray. Third, pray.”
But he also suggested that during Lent they might save money through sacrifices to purchase Christmas gifts — back packs, school supplies, etc. — for children in Guatemala “And if you have an opportunity in the future, you might come visit,” he said.
On Wednesday, Esquivel Valiente planned to visit St. John the Beloved School in Wilmington, which has a blossoming relationship with Cristo Salvador. St. John Spanish teacher Andrea Allison, on an earlier delegation to San Marcos, delivered letters from her school’s students to their Cristo Salvador counterparts.
“The relationship now is getting very, very strong because there is that connection, people-to-people, community-to-community,” Mary Jo Frohlich of the diocese’s solidarity committee said of the ties between Seton and San Pablo parishes and between St. John the Beloved and Cristo Salvador schools.
Hearts spoke to hearts
Seton participated in the Global Solidarity Partnership when it began in 2003 but interest had waned, Father DiBuo said. Last year, McFarlin and Cathi Duffy attended a visit to their parish by another Guatemalan delegation. As they listened they decided, “We need to do this,” Duffy recalled.
They helped form the solidarity committee, which they co-chair; collected 10 large boxes of medical supplies; organized a “transformation” experience where Guatemalans now living in Delaware and Maryland told their stories, and raised money for scholarships.
But, Duffy said, “We didn’t plan on going to Guatemala.” That idea evolved, especially after Father John Hynes of St. Catherine of Siena in Wilmington, who spent several months in Guatemala in 2006, suggested it last September. Father DiBuo, Duffy and McFarlin were joined in the trip by Anita Wood, parish religious education consultant, and Judy Mariano and Barbara Yotter, both of whom represented Seton’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. Frohlich accompanied them.
They learned the meaning of McFarlin’s favorite quote from St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of the Diocese of Wilmington: “A heart speaks to a heart, lips speak only to ears.”
“That really is what happened at the finca,” McFarlin said, when no translator was available. “Each of us was using our own languages, but it was heart-to-heart. We didn’t need the languages; our hearts were in the same place.”
The day proved emotional, Duffy said. “The women of the finca were coming up to us and blessing us in their special way. I think most of us started to cry.”
It also provided a trademark for Seton’s solidarity efforts — socks.
Yotter, who remembered that a Guatemalan at the transformation experience called the gift of a couple pair of socks as one of the “most wonderful things” he’d ever received, brought a suitcase full.
“They were so excited about the socks,” Duffy said. “The catechists got together with the families and divided up the socks.”
“Socks have become our symbol,” Father DiBuo said. In a Lenten presentation to religious education classes and during his Ash Wednesday homily, he told parishioners, “If you want to do something for charity, we would love you to bring in socks.”
On Sunday, Father Velazquez and Valiente received 500 to 600 pair of new socks to take home — a footnote to a caring relationship among people.