Parishes reap rewards when spiritual, riches are shared

The Parish Partnership Program is not just about giving – it’s about getting, too.

The Baltimore-Haiti Outreach Project pairs a parish in the Archdiocese of Baltimore with one in the Diocese of Gonaives, Haiti.

In Haiti, destitute, illiterate families send their children to school not because they believe in education but because they hope the children will find food there.

Thanks to the parish partnerships, some 8,500 schoolchildren get a meal every day.

“But 21,000 are waiting to receive a meal every school day,” said Deacon Rodrigue Mortel, director of the archdiocesan Missions Office. “We believe if we can get more parishes to partner, these children will be fed.”

Although there are 36 parishes in the Diocese of Gonaives, only 19 of Baltimore’s 151 parishes have partnered with a Haitian parish.

In an effort to garner more partners, the Missions Office has produced a new brochure and DVD about the program. Deacon Mortel said he hopes those who are sister parishes here will encourage their neighboring parishes to become involved. And he’s approaching parishes that cluster together about including a Haitian parish.

But the partnership is not just well-off parishes giving to poor ones; parishes here find themselves on the receiving end as well.

“It helps the parish to look at itself in a different perspective,” said Father William F. Franken, pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Hydes, which is paired with St. Guillaume, LaChapelle. “We’re part of a larger church, a worldwide church. Every day parishioners in Haiti pray for us – we’re connected as Christ connects us.”

The efforts have united the parish, too. Children in the parish school and those in the youth group have participated in fundraising activities. Parishioners had a chance to learn even more when the priest from St. Guillaume visited the Long Green Valley parish.

“What it does for the parish is raise consciousness,” Father Franken said. “Living our faith is to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need.”

Deacon Kevin Bagley, pastoral life director of St. Clare, Essex, said the parish partnership with St. Francis, Desarmes, instills the feeling “that the church is much bigger than any one of us.” His parish gains from “knowing that we have the ability to help out the poorest of the poor and really live the corporal works of mercy.”

Deacon Mortel noted that whenever they’ve taken youths from the archdiocese to visit Haiti, their perspective has been radically altered by the mind-numbing poverty and the deep faith of the Haitian people.

“The people are poor, but they are gifted with spirituality. Their spirituality is rooted in their poverty – their life on this earth is so poor they believe strongly their next life will be better,” he said.

Father Franken said he’s moved by the generosity of his parishioners, but noted the shared faith is the most important aspect of the partnership.

“It’s not just a humanitarian effort,” he said. “We share faith together. Christ has brought us together – there’s a bond of faith between the two parishes.”

For more information on the Parish Partnership Program, contact the Missions Office at 410-547-5498.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.