By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Walking with the poor and marginalized of the world is the mission of Unbound. Helping to spread the word are three retired priests from the Diocese of Davenport who are affiliated with Unbound.
Fathers Dennis Martin, Robert McAleer and Wally Helms travel near and far to connect people with the organization. Each priest has sponsored either a child or elderly person through Unbound and knows the organization first-hand. It was formerly known as Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA).
Fr. Martin was the first to be involved. “An Unbound priest came to one of my parishes many years ago and I started sponsoring a boy in Ghana. Since then I have sponsored a girl in Mexico and currently two girls in El Salvador.” Having been a sponsor, it seemed like a natural process, he said, to begin working with Unbound as one of its “priest preachers.”
“There are many children and vulnerable aging persons waiting for sponsorship. Unbound is always seeking priest preachers to go to the parishes where they have been invited,” Fr. Martin said. He travels primarily throughout Iowa and surrounding states for Unbound, but has traveled farther.
He suggested to Fr. McAleer that he should be a priest preacher. Fr. McAleer traveled to Unbound’s headquarters in Kansas City, Kan., to learn more about the organization. “I tried it and I enjoy it,” he said. He will travel wherever needed in the U.S. “They do all the arrangements and calling to set up the talks.” Although traveling isn’t always easy for him, Fr. McAleer said he finds it refreshing and worthwhile to help a child or elderly person somewhere in the world. He sponsors two children: a 15-year-old in Nairobi and a 5-year-old in Guatemala. “Not everyone can do this, but it’s something I enjoy.”
Fr. Helms joined the circuit this past summer, starting with orientation in Kansas before heading out on the road. “The prospect of going to parishes around the country seemed quite attractive. The work of Unbound is remarkable and it’s my chance to be somewhat of an advocate for the missions and the poor.” He is willing to travel the country, driving whenever possible for Unbound. “It’s an opportunity to travel and see new places, dioceses and parishes. The organization itself is quite impressive and inspiring and being a part of that will likely be a growing experience for me.” Fr. Helms sponsors a 30-year-old man with Down syndrome who lives in Peru.
All three priests said they have received good responses from people in the parishes they have visited. “It is especially gratifying to have people who are already sponsors come up afterwards and ‘second’ what I have said,” Fr. Martin noted. The parish in Montana that Fr. Helms recently visited was “quite responsive and welcoming …. As a retired priest, this venture is like a whole new career and vocation.”
Traveling between multiple parishes to give talks can be challenging for volunteers who don’t live in the area. Occasionally, a key was not left for the rectory where the priests were to stay. Other details also have been missed, but that hasn’t deterred their work for Unbound.
Although she is not a priest preacher, Linda Johnson of Bettendorf and a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, is excited to help spread the word about Unbound. She learned about the organization while volunteering at a camp in Colorado. “I came home and went to their website,” said Johnson, a retired school teacher. She later learned that her parish’s Altar & Rosary Society has been sponsoring a child for years.
Her participation in Bible study and the Called and Gifted program provided the impetus to get involved in Unbound. She and her husband, Dan, decided to sponsor a girl from Guatemala. “She wants to be a teacher like I was,” Johnson said. This past May she helped out at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf during its Unbound Sunday. She and other sponsors were available to talk with others.
Now she’d like to go on an awareness trip, as Fr. Martin has done. Fathers McAleer and Helms also plan to do so. “You foster a relationship by being in an area where Unbound is present,” Johnson said. Meanwhile, she hopes to spread the word about Unbound in the Davenport Diocese. “I’m willing to travel.”
(For more information about Unbound, visit www.unbound.org.)