By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
As dioceses worldwide ponder their response to Pope Francis’ request to establish a permanent memorial of the Year of Mercy, a Davenport parish’s generosity sets an example.
In Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Archdiocese of Kananga, workers are putting the finishing touches on St. Antoine Chapel in the village of Demba. The chapel is named in honor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport which provided the funds to build the chapel. Knights of Columbus Loras Council 532 3rd Degree paid for the church’s pews, said Father Apo Mpanda, pastor of St. Anthony’s and the KC council’s chaplain.
“According to the pastor of the parish, Easter Sunday was the first time they celebrated Mass in the new chapel. They were very excited,” Fr. Apo said. He has been asked to attend the July dedication of St. Antoine, built in remembrance of his late mother and father.
“St. Anthony’s Parish is very involved in social work, especially in this Year of Mercy,” Fr. Apo said. Among the parish’s most well-known corporal works of mercy are McAnthony’s Window, which provides a morning meal for people in need, and Thanksgiving and Christmas basket distributions that require the effort of hundreds of volunteers.
“At St. Anthony’s, we respond to the call of the Holy Father to be generous, to expand on the local efforts to the universal church. As pastor of St. Anthony’s, as an international priest, I am grateful,” Fr. Apo continued. “This is my opportunity to say thank you to the people of St. Anthony’s. The Archdiocese of Kananga is also grateful.”
The story of the building of St. Antoine Chapel begins well before the Year of Mercy. Three years ago, St. Anthony Parish Council asked if they could adopt a parish in Fr. Apo’s homeland in honor of his 25th anniversary of ordination. “I decided to adopt St. John the Baptist Church in the Congo in the Archdiocese of Kananga, my parents’ archdiocese.”
While St. John the Baptist is a big church, the village of Demba where Fr. Apo’s parents were born and raised lacked a suitable worship space. The Davenport parish decided to devote the second collection taken up every Easter Sunday and Christmas to pay for construction of a new chapel.
Built of red brick and concrete with a sheet metal roof, it truly is a “concrete gesture of mercy,” Fr. Apo says with a smile in his parish office filled with photos of parish families celebrating baptisms, first Communion, confirmation and weddings.
Building supplies for the chapel were trucked in from a big city. Total cost of the project — including pews, altar and ambo — was around $28,000. “At every step of the project, we communicated with (St. Anthony) parishioners so they could see where their money goes,” Fr. Apo said.
Earlier this year, the pastor and his parish received a letter of appreciation from Bishop Marcel Madila Basanguka, Archbishop of Kananga. “Once again I thank you so very much for your donation … to our ongoing campaign to build the chapel in your sister parish, St. John the Baptist. Fr. Apo was so kind to deliver these funds during his visit here in May of 2014. Your support and generosity are greatly appreciated.”
Soccer balls and uniforms
Beyond providing financial support for construction of a chapel in the Archdiocese of Kananga, parishioners of St. Anthony Parish-Davenport and some of their relatives are helping to enhance school children’s lives. Three new and three used laptop computers and one iPad have been donated for students’ use at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Kananga. Soccer uniforms and soccer balls have also been provided.
For St. Anthony parishioners Clarence and Lili Darrow, soccer uniform donations developed into a family affair. Daughter and son-in-law Toni and Joe Talanges of Lincolnshire, Ill., and son and daughter-in-law Clarence Michael and Sara Darrow of Rock Island, Ill., each collected soccer uniforms from the schools where their kids played soccer.
At the end of soccer season, the Darrow grandchildren knew their teams would be buying new soccer uniforms. “They knew Fr. Apo loves soccer. We approached Father and said, ‘Hey, we have all these soccer uniforms. Can you use them?’” the senior Clarence Darrow said. The priest responded, “Yes.”
The kids brought so much soccer stuff to their grandparents’ home that the family had to purchase big suitcases from the Salvation Army to carry the uniforms and shoes.
Parishioners Kay and Tim Flemming donated new soccer uniforms for the students as well, and soccer balls. On a trip to the Congo last year, Fr. Apo had five suitcases full of soccer uniforms and balls to deliver to the students. He snapped photos of the kids, some wearing uniforms with the logo “Lincolnshire Lightning” and “Moline United.”
Fr. Apo taught the soccer players to say thank you in English to their benefactors and recorded their enthusiastic effort on his iPad.
In keeping with St. Anthony’s tradition of serving those in need, parishioners Cindy and Mike Hagen donated funds to feed the children of St. John the Baptist School in Kananga at Christmas and Easter, Fr. Apo said. St. Anthony parishioners also plan to help improve the school there and to build a well to serve the school and the community.