By Patti Kunz
Special to The Witness
HIAWATHA — When God calls we must respond! St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (SEAS) Parish of Hiawatha answered a call back in 2011 to start a sister parish twinning program and the call took them to Central America in a town nestled in the mountains in the central part of Nicaragua called Boaco. This call lead them to the parish of Parroquia Santiago lead by Father Miguel Angulo Rivas. In the years ahead, delegations would travel there to serve God and his people with many different goals in mind, and 2015 would be life changing for many.
This past July 1-8, 21 SEAS parishioners made the long trek to Boaco to visit Padre Miguel and their sister parish. One of the main goals of this trip was to assist with the construction of an apartment for three nuns who will assist Father Miguel, known as “Padre Miguel,” with his many parishes and duties. The delegation took forty-two, 50-pound suitcases, filled with donations of clothes, school supplies, toys, personal hygiene and medical products that would hopefully make a difference in the lives of their brothers and sisters in Boaco.
Padre Miguel had a very busy week planned for the delegation. Not only would they work on the apartment, but they would also travel to many other areas. Padre Miguel has his main parish of Parroquia Santiago, but he also has several outlying communities that he frequents to celebrate Mass when he is able and to attend other celebrations. He is not able to visit each parish every week, so he has community leaders and catechists that help lead the word of God on the weekends when he can’t make it. Throughout the week, SEAS parishioners visited several of these communities and partook in Mass and many other activities. The group was welcomed with open arms in every community, and most of our meals were hosted by the local women and families.
One of the communities the group visited is called Aguacate. On the last trip to Nicaragua in 2013, SEAS parishioners helped to build a church in Aguacate. This community is up in the mountains and the only way to get there is by four-wheel vehicles or on foot. The day the group traveled there they rode in the back of Toyota pickup trucks. Arriving to Aguacate the community welcomed the SEAS group with fireworks. It was truly incredible! Eventually Archbishop Jorge Perez of the Dioceses of Granada arrived with Padre Miguel, and everyone celebrated Mass together including SEAS own Deacon Dennis Mulherin. The children were eager to play and enjoyed a piñata, along with getting their fingernails painted and tattoos applied. It was incredible to see how these children with so little could be so joyful when offered such simple gifts.
Another community the SEAS delegation visited was Cerro Cuape. Cerro Cuape was the first community that SEAS helped to complete a project by putting a roof on a church back in 2011-12. There were walls standing, and SEAS sent the funds through their social justice commission to help complete this church. It was now completed, and upon arrival to Cerro Cuape, it was filled to capacity with people of all ages welcoming the group. What a thrill to see these people enjoying their new worship space and know that St. Elizabeth had a part in making that happen.
Padre Miguel also manages a nursing home and visiting this nursing home held special meaning. If you are a resident of this nursing home it is because you have no family to care for you and you are completely alone in the world. You would expect it to be a sad place, but interacting with these people was a highlight for everyone on the trip. They loved dancing and visiting with us. Even though most of the group couldn’t speak their language, the smiles, hugs and laughter expressed the joy they felt by the visit. SEAS parishioners were especially aware that they were there to bring the light of Jesus Christ into their lives, and they felt they did. And, they saw and felt the light shining out from the residents as well.
On July 4, everyone put on their gloves and got to work helping to build the apartment for three nuns who will assist Padre Miguel with his many parish duties. They moved 100-pound concrete blocks and began clearing the area for contractors. In Boaco, everything is done by hand. Work is very labor intensive.
A highlight of the trip was that after Sunday Mass we all divided up into groups and got to accompany the Eucharistic ministers bringing Communion to the sick and homebound. The living conditions for most were very poor indeed, but again the people’s love of family, faith and God shined through.
All of us went on this mission trip to serve others and do God’s work. What blessed and marvelous days we had spending time with our brothers and sisters of Boaco. When I look back, though, it is evident that the people of Boaco and the surrounding communities were constantly “serving us” and also doing God’s work. Those who went on this mission trip agree we can’t fully put into words how this experience affected each one of us, but we pray that many more will join in future trips.
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.