By Father Craig Clinch
It was another summer filled with the Lord’s blessings as I had the opportunity to serve at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) “Our Little Brothers and Sisters” home and school accompanied by two Diocese of Lincoln seminarians Doug Daro and Luke Fleck.
Bishop Francisco Ozoria Acosta, Bishop of the Diocese of San Pedro de Macoris, graciously welcomed us, as did the national director of NPH, Kieran Rigney, his more than 50 staff and volunteers, and the 232 children and young people that call NPH home.
This was the third summer the Diocese of Lincoln has sent a priest and seminarians to the Domincan Republic. Two summers ago, Father Rolling and now-Deacon Ryan Kaup served in the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo. Last summer seminarian Anthony Kohel and I served at NPH for the first time with the recommendation of Msgr. Richard Gyhra who had celebrated Mass there often when he was stationed in Santo Domingo working for the Holy See.
NPH was founded by Father William Wasson in 1954 in Mexico. More than 18,200 children have grown up in the NPH family, which now operates homes in eight additional countries: Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Bolivia. Today, over 3,300 children are being cared for in a loving, secure environment. That is what I experienced this summer at NPH, children being cared for and loved in a very big family. Some are orphans and so NPH truly becomes their family while many of the other children who were brought there by a family member or friend still keep in close contact with their mom or dad, or other relatives back home.
I served as their chaplain for seven weeks, as they do not have a permanent chaplain and so they rely on the ministry of the diocesan or religious priests in the area to come and celebrate Mass for them when they are available. Sometimes this is very difficult because in the Diocese of San Pedro de Macoris they have about 25 priests serving around 500,000 Catholics.
I was sent to the Dominican Republic by Bishop Conley with the first objective of working on and becoming more proficient in the Spanish language. This was a goal also for the seminarians. We found a tutor and had Spanish class twice a week. Three consecrated religious who serve at NPH from a community in Columbia called the Daughters of the Mother of God, also graciously helped us. The immersion of conversing with the young people, having meals together, and celebrating the Mass in Spanish along with the help from our tutors, we saw improvement in our Spanish.
The other great blessing that we had was experiencing the mission Church. The island of Hispaniola was the first that many missionaries came to from Europe with Christopher Columbus and others; in fact, in Santo Domingo we toured the First Cathedral of the Americas. Still, like many areas in the West it is still missionary territory.
The Diocese of San Pedro de Macoris is very new; it was erected in 1997. Many people know Jesus and their faith is alive! However, many do not have access to the sacraments because of the few number of priests. There is also a great need for more catechesis because there are also many other Christian ecclesial communities (evangelical churches and other Protestant churches) who are proselytizing and many Catholics who do not have a deeper understanding and knowledge of their faith are gravitating to those communities.
Then there are also the challenges of moral relativism, materialism, and the negative influences of popular culture that have made their way to the island.
Thus it was a blessing for me to offer the Mass for the community of NPH on Sundays and Wednesdays as well as every day for the Sisters and anyone who wanted to attend. Also I was able to offer the Sacrament of Confession regularly. The seminarians and I gave a catechesis throughout the summer focusing on the Beatitudes and vocations. A highlight of the summer was when we took a camping trip to the north part of the island with some of the adult staff of NPH and about 15 young men. There we hiked in the mountains, visited two beautiful beaches, and we celebrated the Mass where the Gospel for that day was the Sower who went out to sow. We were surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation; we experienced the fruit of the land in the fresh mangos and coconuts, but the best part of all was that the Lord was planting His word of life, His word of love in us and He gives us the grace to be that good soil where His word is sown. What a great gift to be able to receive and offer to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body (Cf. Dei Verbum, Second Vatican Council, Chapter 6).
The Lord calls us to be His missionary disciples. Once we have received His word we must go, and share the fruit of His love with our brothers and sisters here in southern Nebraska, in the Dominican Republic, and wherever the Lord leads us. In doing so we find the fruit our Lord promises, that is, our joy grows and becomes full (Cf. John 15:10-12).
Sometimes it is not easy, as language and cultural differences can make the task a little more difficult, but as Luke Fleck reflected, Jesus met people where they were at, “The Lord did not stay at home in a familiar place with the people of his neighborhood but rather went out among the people and ate and drank with those others had written off or dismissed… He invited them to a deeper relationship with Himself.”
Hopefully in our words and actions the young people of NPH heard the Lord’s invitation, to receive the Divine Life He offers us. It was a blessing to be a part of the family of Our Little Brothers and Sisters this summer, to share in the Lord’s work, and to keep working on the Spanish language as I am using it a lot in my new assignment as assistant at Cristo Rey Church in Lincoln. Doug and Luke plan on keeping up their Spanish skills as they are in Theology 1 at Mount Saint Mary’s and St. Charles Borromeo seminaries.
We are grateful for the Diocese of Lincoln for providing this opportunity for us to go on mission, for your prayers and financial support. Bishop Francisco Ozoria and NPH National Director Kieran Rigney expressed their gratitude as well to Bishop Conley and the Diocese of Lincoln for the ministry these last two summers and for the work of the seminarians at NPH and in the Diocese of San Pedro de Macoris.
They were also grateful for a generous monetary donation of $4,480 to cover the expenses of room and board for me and for the three seminarians who have served these past two summers.