Priests walk with poor, marginalized
By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
A mission trip to help preachers “see the eyes of poverty so that we might better share what we have seen with our own eyes” included three retired priests from the Diocese of Davenport.
Unbound is a mission to walk with the poor and marginalized around the world. Unbound preachers help spread the word in their own diocese or across the country. Fathers Dennis Martin, Robert McAleer and Wally Helms serve as priest preachers and traveled to Guatemala last fall. Each has sponsored a child or elderly person through Unbound, formerly known as Christian Foundation for Children and Aging.
Fr. McAleer said nine preachers accepted the mission trip invitation. “The trip was not required, but in so many ways such a trip enriches our experience.” Preachers may take one trip every five years for renewal to preach in the name of the poor in the 19 countries that Unbound serves. “I certainly chose to go on this trip to experience the life of the people we sponsor as well as to share the experience with other preachers,” Fr. McAleer added.
Fr. Martin has been with Unbound for several years and wanted to go on the mission trip to “gain more knowledge about Unbound that I could use in preaching for them.” He previously traveled to El Salvador for Unbound. Fr. Helms wanted to see how Unbound served people at their local sites. “We visited several of the homes of those served by Unbound sponsorship.”
The three diocesan priests stayed at local headquarters for Unbound in Guatemala and each day visited the “projectos” to observe the life of the people. “One day we gathered with some 20,000 people in the largest of the projectos called San Pedro. We were greeted in great jubilation, escorted four blocks to the cathedral for Mass, and then shared a community meal,” Fr. McAleer said. “We met with some young men and women who were very proud students of their education and they shared with us their hopes for the future. Education is their step up from poverty and these young people were so excited and appreciative.”
Fr. McAleer met two individuals that he sponsors: Nataly, a 7-year-old girl, and Anastacia, a 67-year-old Mayan lady.
He gave them two small gifts – a teddy bear and an umbrella – and said they were most appreciative. With the help of interpreters, he learned about Nataly and Anastacia’s living conditions and shared lunch with them.
“Nataly ate as if she was very hungry. Anastacia obviously had never used silverware, so she ate mostly with her hands but I observed she could pick up beans with a tortilla faster than I could with a spoon. I know how my sponsorship will help them.”
Fr. Helms said he and the other priests attended large parish Masses and saw the parish where the recently beatified priest, Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma City priest-martyr, had served.
Fr. Martin noted that the visiting priests made several trips other communities outside of San Lucas riding along curvy mountain roads or by boat. “We received very warm and appreciative welcomes wherever we went and big crowds turned out to greet us.”
The priests helped distribute “benefits” from Unbound sponsors to people in a couple of communities. “I distributed 35-pound bags of corn or maize, lemon and orange tree seedlings, laundry detergent and shampoo,” Fr. Martin said. “In other lines people were getting ducks, chickens, jeans, shirts, backpacks or tools, all according to the yearly plan they worked out with the Unbound social workers.” Many of the benefits are geared to making the families more self-sustaining.
Fr. Helms says he now has a much better idea of how the funds provided by sponsors are translated into helping people realize their dreams. “I also got a sense of the great spirituality of the poor, which Pope Francis reminds us can teach us so much.
Fr. Helms continued, “As a witness by personal onsite experience, I can confidently affirm the effectiveness of the Unbound mission and efficiency of funds provided by sponsors.”
Fr. Martin said Unbound’s passion to see that all the sponsored children get to school and stay in school is important.
In their travels throughout the U.S., the three priests said each parish is different and many are eager to hear what they have to say.
Parishioners appreciate the mission of Unbound and the priests’ willingness to promote it, Fr. Helms said. He’s also met several Unbound sponsors in his parish visits. “This experience has certainly put flesh on the words I share as I travel weekends,” Fr. McAleer said. “I volunteered as a ‘traveling preacher’ and I have learned in a new way that often saying yes invites maybe more than expected. So I travel about the country from coast to coast.When people are assured that 93 percent of their gift goes directly to the person they choose, they feel genuinely good about the support they send monthly.”
Parish helps with ‘Unbound’ missions
DAVENPORT — For more than 10 years, children at Our Lady of Victory Parish have taken up a special collection for Unbound. Envelopes are available for children to mark their time or talent and to include treasure (money). Donations from that collection have allowed the parish to adopt two children through Unbound.
Kerri Nykoluk, project coordinator, said the idea of adopting a child came from the parish’s stewardship committee. Her family has personally sponsored a child. She said her job is to keep interest going and to write letters to the parish’s adopted children: Fernando, a Guatemalan that the parish has sponsored for three years, and Jaemelyn Sadya Yabut, a Filipino who goes by the name “Ading” and was adopted about three months ago. Nykoluk also posts letters from Fernando and Ading.
“Fernando was the first sponsored child through Unbound,” she said. “Due to the continued overwhelming response of the kids’ donations during the collection, it was decided the children of OLV could sponsor another child.” The children’s envelopes encourage sharing a good deed and not necessarily giving money. Funds that are collected go toward adoption sponsorship. “Enough money is gathered through the children’s envelopes to cover the expense.”
Nykoluk said the second-grade faith formation class writes letters to the two children. Sending letters to Ading is not a problem, but it is a greater challenge in Fernando’s case because mail is not delivered to that area. She has sent letters to him online and pictures as well.
He and his family receive the letters after they have been translated. “Ading writes very well and in English, so she’s a little easier to communicate with.”
Any correspondence Nykoluk receives is placed in Our Lady of Victory’s gathering space so everyone can view the letters and photos. “I love getting the letters from the kids. They and their families are so appreciative of the sponsorship and I know that the money is really life-changing for them,” Nykoluk said. “Ideally, I would like parents (here) to talk to their kids about real needs, poverty and how others in our world live. I also encourage families to sponsor their own children or elders through Unbound.”
In a recent letter, Ading wrote: “I am very thankful to all of you for choosing me to be your new sponsored child. I am so blessed to be part of your family. Sponsoring me is truly a big help for my family and also to my studies. My God will bless you for all the good deeds.”