There’s a scene in the movie “The Mission” where 18th-century Guarani Indian boys sing a hymn in Latin, sounding like the Vienna boy’s choir. Except they didn’t live in Vienna; they lived in the rain forest of central South America, far removed from the cultural milieu of Europe in that era. Then as now, it is crucial for missioners to share the Good News while not imposing their values and biases on the people they minster to in foreign lands.
Here in the Davenport Diocese we do have partnerships that respond to the needs and values of people in the poorest countries in the world. We take this editorial space today to thank them. This is not a complete list, but a sample.
• Mary’s Meals. International humanitarian Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, who founded Mary’s Meals, visited St. Mary Parish in Solon on May 29 to launch his new book about the extraordinary organization that seeks to eradicate child hunger. MacFarlane-Barrow explains that Mary’s Meals is a simple mission to ensure that every child receives one good daily meal in their place of education. People in the Davenport Diocese and throughout Iowa have embraced Mary’s Meals, raising money to fund kitchens in schools where the students receive a nutritious meal prepared and served by volunteers in the children’s communities. One of the fundraisers MacFarlane-Barrow singled out in his book “The Shed That Fed a Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary’s Meals” is teenager Allison Ockenfels of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. A key ingredient to the success of Mary’s Meals, which now feeds 1 million children a day, is MacFarlane-Barrow’s appreciation that God guides his work. “I try to be guided by Catholic Social Teaching in terms of how we should work with the poor; always treating them with dignity, not seeing them as the problem, but as principal builders of a new, better world,” McFarlane-Barrow told The Catholic Messenger.
• ServeHAITI, a partnership of parishes in and outside the Diocese of Davenport, provides another example of empowering people to better their lives. The nonprofit corporation began 14 years ago as a once-a-year medical mission trip that operated in the back of a church in Grand Bois, Haiti. As volunteers got to know the people of Grand Bois, the partnership grew in scope and so did the learning on both sides. The Haitians now have a two-story health clinic that serves more than 13,000 patients annually, five water wells with five more planned, point-of-use water filtration systems; teacher training and school restoration; economic development training; renewable energy; access to the Internet for medical staff, with plans to increase access. “The long-term approach has to be in partnership and solidarity with the people,” says ServeHAITI volunteer Gary Froeschle of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. “It does no good to go in there and tell people in a foreign country what to do when it goes against their culture and belief system. It’s more important to go in as a partner and say, ‘What can we do to help you?’” ServeHAITI doesn’t go to Haiti to preach and evangelize, Gary says, but the experiences, the relationship building deepen an appreciation of God at work in their lives.
• St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf applies that message in its partnership with a parish in Jean-Denis, Haiti, whose pastor told the Iowans his top priority was to get a new school built. “So he wants us to focus our priorities in that direction,” explains Ken Miller, chairman of St. John Vianney’s Haiti Committee. Miller and fellow volunteers may have some other ideas about priorities, but defer to the people who have to live with the decisions. That’s as it should be. “We have a twinning relationship because we are there to do what they decide are the priorities that need to be done. We’re here working through Christ, working through the relationships, getting them what they need,” Miller said.
Kudos to the parishes, partners and others throughout the Davenport Diocese with a sense of mission inspired by God and carried out with respect for the values of the people served.