|JRS pastoral care in the Dominican Republic|
(Washington, D.C.) March 26, 2014 — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Mission & Identity Coordinator Fr. Kevin White S.J. travelled to the Dominican Republic from March 6-14 to see first-hand the pastoral work the Catholic Church is doing in her accompaniment of Haitian immigrants living in rural areas of high poverty while toiling in the country's vast sugar cane fields.
"It’s really wonderful work," said Fr. White.
Thanks to a generous anonymous donor, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is able to provide sacramental ministry and pastoral support to more than 2,000 Haitian immigrants living among 85 communities dispersed over four parishes of the Dominican Republic.
Ninety-five percent of the members of these communities are immigrants or children of immigrants. The parishes fall within the four civil provinces of Altagracia in the east of the island nation, Barahona in the south, centrally located San Pedro de Marcoris, and Santiago in the north. JRS/USA supports the work of local parishes in meeting the spiritual, material, and educational needs of these people.
"The needs are many," says Fr. Mario Serrano, S.J., Executive Director of the Jesuit Migrant Service in Santo Domingo. "One of the biggest challenges is that most of the immigrants have no documentation. Without documents, they are vulnerable to exploitation and harassment from all sides. They feel excluded, unwelcomed. Yet the country uses their labor."
During the visit Fr. White visited and prayed with eight of these Haitian communities. There he learned that the men earn 1000 pesos a week for their work in the cane fields—that’s about $28 per week — to support their families.
In this context the recent words of Pope Francis in his November 2013 exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, brought along by Fr. White for some Lenten reflection, took on new power:
"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills (paragraph 53)."
Fr. White also saw the modest community centers that serve as classrooms during the week and chapels for weekend worship. Though humble, these meeting places provide a great service in offering space for literacy training, bible study, catechetical training, choir practice, and community organizing so that the Haitian community may be better advocates for themselves.
"It was a wonderful visit," Fr. White said upon his return. "Very consoling. Very moving. I'm proud of the work the Church is doing there on behalf of people in great need. And I’m proud that JRS/USA is able to contribute to this effort."
|Fr. White also saw the modest community centers that serve as classrooms during the week and chapels for weekend worship. Though humble, these meeting places provide a great service in offering space for literacy training, bible study, catechetical training, choir practice, and community organizing so that the Haitian community may be better advocates for themselves. (Kevin White S.J. — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)