This was not the first time Our Lady of Angels parish in the Bronx has made a mission trip to Sagrado Corazon de Jesús (Sacred Heart of Jesus) parish in El Limon on the Samana peninsula in northeast Dominican Republic. But this summer’s trip far exceeded their previous venture, according to the New York missionaries.
They learned more than a few things from their initial missionary experience three years ago. “We promised we’d come back. This time around, we were so well organized,” said Father Thomas Lynch, pastor of Our Lady of Angels.
The 23 Bronx parishioners reached out personally during the July 2-9 mission. Sacred Heart of Jesus has 12 chapels spread throughout the large parish. Each day, the missionaries set out two by two to visit people in their homes. They shared God’s word with the people they encountered, both Catholics and non-Catholics, and found a receptive audience.
“It’s a really poor parish with lovely, lovely people,” said Father Lynch, who visited the sick, offering the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick.
In the evenings, Father Lynch celebrated Mass in the local church. He was assisted by local seminarians that helped with the music. Two of the lay missionaries also delivered personal testimonies about their experiences each evening.
Eddy Correa, 47, a longtime parishioner of Our Lady of Angels and one of the mission’s organizers, said he witnessed a different side of Father Lynch in the Dominican Republic.
“He was more expressive,” Correa told CNY this week. “In New York, he reads from something he prepared. On the mission, he was just talking about the word of the Lord from the bottom of his heart.” After Mass, the young people would wait to exchange greetings with Father Lynch outside church.
“His Spanish is good, people were able to comprehend,” Correa said.
Like many of the Bronx parishioners, Correa was born in the Dominican Republic. He shared the mission experience with his wife, Minerva Acevedo, another DR native, and their youngest daughter, Pamela, 17.
Pamela said she was struck by the generosity of the people even in their humble surroundings. They offered visitors water, juice and mangos, whatever they had on hand. “It was an amazing experience,” she said.
The incoming senior at Msgr. Scanlan High School in the Bronx said she is eager to share her experiences from the Dominican Republic with her classmates. Some of her friends have even asked how they can be part of OLA’s next mission.
Her parents, both public school teachers, are active in the Cursillo movement. Her dad is a lector with a gift for public speaking that served him well in the planning and preparation for the mission.
“He was great about coordinating meetings,” Father Lynch said. “He told them that it’s not a vacation, it’s a lot of work.”
As Correa explained, the planning actually began about two years before the trip. There was much to do beforehand, like holding a food court day in the church parking lot to raise funds to ship clothing, diapers, wheelchairs, canes and medicine. They also collected funds to help Sacred Heart of Jesus build a parish hall.
As the trip drew near, the monthly meetings turned weekly, and Correa made myriad announcements at the end of Masses, up to four on one Sunday. His trick for getting people to respond is to make sure the message comes across with a sense of excitement. Correa said he even received claps and cheers, along with a generous response, from parishioners.
One of the experiences that stayed with Father Lynch was the makeshift medical clinic the missionaries set up in a local school. Two dozen local doctors and dentists provided free care to between 600 and 700 people from morning to night one day. In many cases, they were using medicines and supplies sent by parishioners from Our Lady of Angels. The missionaries stocked the clinic, welcomed patients and did whatever they could to keep things running smoothly so the medical professionals could tend to their patients.
The pastor said he has never been prouder of his Bronx parishioners than he was by the service they gave and the faith they shared in the Dominican Republic.
“I loved the way people took the initiative to bring Christ to others, to be Christ to others,” Father Lynch said.