Office of the Bishop
Diocese of Rockville Centre
50 North Park Avenue
Rockville Centre, NY 11570-4184
November 3, 1999
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
At the end of September, I traveled to our diocesan missions in the Dominican Republic to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of our commitment to the poor of that area. Sister Catherine Kelly of our diocesan Mission Office arranged the trip and was one of the staff members to accompany me.
I first visited the island in 1979 to see Pope John Paul II. At that time, Bishop Ronald Connors, of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana, invited me to take over a church in El Cercado that he could no longer staff. Returning to Long Island, I asked for volunteers and three priests responded. I sent two of them to visit the island before they committed to it.
They did commit to San Pedro Apostal, El Cercado and a year later, they agreed to take on a mission -- Our Lady of Fatima in Hondo Valle, staffed by two newly arrived women Religious. Each Friday night, one of the priests would travel there to celebrate Mass and consecrate extra hosts so communion services could be held during the week.
We flew down on September 16, 1999. We were met at the airport in Santo Domingo by Sister Beatrice "Babs" Barry and taken to a place on the Caribbean where we relaxed until the next morning.
On Friday, we went to a nursing home where Father Malcolm Burns from St. Dominics, Oyster Bay, celebrated Mass. Father Malcolm came to us from the Diocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas. He spent two years at El Cercado and his Spanish is excellent. After Mass, we went to the Inn of the Good Samaritan in Santo Domingo, created about eight years ago by Sister Babs for sick people from rural areas who are in the capitol to see a doctor or visit the hospital.
After a wonderful meal, we thanked Sister Babs for all she has done and gave her a donation for her work. Shes using it to bring Rafael Delgado -- a young man badly burned in an explosion -- to Long Island for the sophisticated medical treatment he requires (see TLIC, September 8, 1999). He is currently being treated by Dr. Roger Simpson, director of the burn unit at Nassau County Medical Center and chief of plastic surgery at Mercy Medical Center.
We left the Inn to meet Bishop Jose Grullon -- Bishop Connors successor -- at his cathedral. We missed him so we continued on to El Cercado and met Father Andy Connolly. I was very interested to see the many improvements theyve made since my last visit. Later on, Bishop Grullon arrived. Hes very appreciative of our support for the mission and travels there often, staying overnight and encouraging the people.
Saturday morning, Father Andy showed us around the parish with Msgr. John Cervini, also assigned there and recently arrived after studying Spanish in Peru. We all set out in a group to see where theyre teaching farmers -- campesinos -- how to reserve some of the harvested corn in order to plant a new crop. We then traveled into the mountains to see a water project that brings clean water into the districts where the people live, something Father Andy has been very involved in because the rivers are polluted.
That afternoon, we set off for Our Lady of Fatima in Hondo Valle, about an hour away and approximately 10 miles from the Haitian border. (Many Haitians in fact come worship here.) Hondo Valle is now a parish and Sister Jane Reilly is the quasi-pastor there in that the bishop has given her permission to baptize (she can do that). When they first arrived 19 years ago, she and Sister Babs were asked by the people to set up a pharmacy. They agreed but insisted that the people be involved in it and they still are, distributing medicines to fight infections. Theres also a food store there, and both operate in the black.
Bishop Wcela celebrated Mass in Hondo Valle and preached in Spanish. I concelebrated, reading a prayer, but he does much better than I. Because the church is in disrepair, we used the parish hall. The Mass was so well attended that people had to stand. Afterwards, we met with them outside and then everyone had something to eat.
About a half mile away is a hospital, new since the my last visit, and towards the end of the day we walked there. I blessed one child who was suffering badly, possibly from typhoid. Hondo Valle also has a local dentist who sees patients, using a dental chair in Sister Janes office. I gave Sister Jane money to help pay off some of the parish debt and also to be used for the missions work.
That night we returned to San Pedro, El Cercado. Sunday morning Bishop Grullon celebrated Mass and Father Andy preached. They honored a layman who had worked for them for twenty years and is now, along with his wife, running a school outside the town. Since Andy is doing his best to try to improve the schools, we gave him $20,000 to establish 20 schools, one of which they will name for this man.
Then it was time to leave as we had a two hour trip to Santo Domingo for our flight home. Bishop Grullon was most effusive in thanking us for being there. Father Andy presented us with a carved plaque of Christ and a boat with two of his apostles symbolizing evangelization. The plaque gives thanks to all the priests and sisters who have served there. It will reside in our diocesan Mission Office.
Our visit was quick but busy and full and Im proud that we said "yes" 20 years ago. I think that we are doing the right thing in supporting this mission and
I have great admiration for the people who work there. They leave their own culture and what theyre used to and go to a place where they must speak Spanish, where they have no water or must fight for clean water, and where they dont have all our food options.
Experiencing those conditions for even a short while reminds me of how blessed we are here in our diocese. Pray for our missions and pray for the people who give so much of their own lives to better those of others.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
John R. McGann
Most Reverend John R. McGann, D.D.
Bishop of Rockville Centre