ALLEGANY, N.Y. — St. Bonaventure Parish here began a relationship with San Augustin Church in Lanquin, Guatemala, nearly four years ago as a “sister parish.” The twinning connection was made through a diocesan priest and former missionary, Father Bernie Survil, who made us aware of the needs of the parish and the possibilities of our support. Since the partnership began, we have completed a variety of projects.
Early on, one of the major questions we had to answer was “why?” Why were we attempting to connect with a parish so far away from our area and so different from our culture? Weren’t there enough efforts being supported by our local outreach committee? Honestly, we were already involved in a very credible ministry through our efforts to reach out to the local poor. Diocesan collections and requests continued to almost overwhelm the parish. If we were to begin a sister parish by choosing a “fit,” it probably would not have been in Guatemala or in a place where language would be such a difficult factor.
Looking back, San Augustin Parish came to us, not the other way around. The need was there, the connection seemed possible and the Lord was knocking at our door. The first year or two were very tentative. A few projects were initiated but the involvement of parishioners was sparse. Father Mario, the pastor of our sister parish, came to the U.S. and spent a few days with us sharing at the weekend liturgies.
Sarah and Keith Weekley, two parishioners who are potters, organized an event called “The Empty Bowl Dinner” held on the campus of St. Bonaventure University. Bowls were crafted by local potters, soup made by volunteers and bread baked by parishioners. The event was a huge success, enabling five delegates from our parish to travel to Lanquin to offer San Augustin some financial aid.
When those who went to Guatemala returned from their journey, they said that they had been touched by the lives and the needs of our brothers and sisters in the parish of San Augustin and were convinced of the possibilities of making a strong connection. Through it all, language was a real difficulty. Some Spanish was spoken but mostly Quiche. Besides the language challenge, one or two real difficulties seemed to put our efforts on hold. Since we were convinced that the connection to our sister parish should not simply be “big brother” — financially aiding people from a poor Third World country — we wanted to identify ways that we could learn and be fed by the faith and the simplicity of Gospel living that characterized the people of San Augustin.
Gathering together as a small committee, we struggled to try to craft a mission statement. An open meeting of parishioners allowed those who had gone as delegates to Guatemala to share their experiences. Still, the biggest problem remained: How can we ask for more money from parishioners already overwhelmed by special collections and local efforts in aiding the poor? Was this truly a “sister parish” project or should it possibly go beyond that definition to include other faith communities? These questions still challenge the committee, and the answers are far from clear.
One recent project caught the attention and the imagination of many in the parish. We call it “The Birthday Cake Project.” After receiving permission, we sent a letter to parents of students at St. Bonaventure University offering a homemade birthday cake for their child’s birthday. We explained that the $15 price would go to support our sister parish.
We have already received more than 50 responses, and many parents have added comments like “what a great idea” and “thank you for this opportunity.” Enthusiasm and interest in the sister parish idea are increasing, and it looks like this simple idea has generated some new possibilities.
We are now at the point of being able to pledge $100 each month to the San Augustin parish. In addition, we are raising money to send another delegation to Guatemala and perhaps to bring a delegation to Allegany.
Language remains a huge obstacle. We are hoping that some young people, who are Internet buffs, will become “pen pals” to connect with youth of Lanquin . Perhaps, an impossible dream, but an idea that has come from the committee is to bring two or three high school students to our community in the future to live with a sponsor family and become part of our parish community.
A variety of volunteers participated in “The Birthday Cake Project” including bakers, cake decorators, deliverers, date organizers, and writers of thank you cards to parents. No one knows for sure how this program will progress, but one thing is for sure: the sister project is “on the move.”
Hopes for the future continue to add dreams and possibilities. The next step, we believe, is to involve more parishioners who will become part of the committee and learn that our connection with the poor in a different cocatholic and apostolic church.”