In wake of Honduras travel ban, parishioners look for other mission opportunities

By Nicki Prevou

Correspondent

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St. Vincent de Paul parishioners (from left to right) Ross and Martha Martinez, Bernice and Mark Crocker, and Jeanette and Elroy Leger traveled to the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center in Louisa, Kentucky, in August. The couples were all heavily involved in mission work in Honduras, and are now part of their parish’s effort to find new volunteer projects. (Photo courtesy of Mark Crocker)

For hundreds of Catholics across North Texas, the growing danger within the country of Honduras is a source of personal sorrow and concern. The Catholic Dioceses of Fort Worth and Juticalpa, Honduras, formed a “covenant partnership” in 1998 as a result of the devastation incurred by Hurricane Mitch to the already impoverished area.

For 14 years, close, personal relationships between Catholics in the two dioceses were cemented through visits back and forth and through the outpouring of humanitarian assistance and volunteer labor provided by members of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Churches, a hospital, retreat centers, rectories, and chapels were built across the Diocese of Juticalpa, while other volunteers focused on collecting huge containers full of donated items to be sent by trailers; building a system to provide clean drinking water to villages; and supporting the work of orphanages and schools.

“In all that was done, the primary focus was upon relationships,” recalled Letty Zatarain, a member of the mission council at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Arlington. Zatarain traveled to Honduras five times over the years to participate in a variety of service projects. She was “humbled” and “deeply touched” by all she learned from the people of Honduras. “They have so little material wealth, but they have tremendous faith,” Zatarain said. “We all learned so much, and we all grew tremendously in our own faith when we left the comfort of our homes and traveled to be with our friends in Honduras.”

With deep regret, Zatarain and hundreds of other volunteers across the diocese have listened to the dire warnings of increasing violence and crime in Honduras, given by the U.S. Department of State. ‘At this time, with the instability in Honduras, it is no longer safe to travel there,” said Father Tom Craig, who serves as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Arlington and also as director of the diocesan Mission Council. “It is truly unfortunate, because so many, many people of our diocese experienced the rewards of carrying on the mission of Jesus in the Church through our experiences in Honduras. It feels like a real loss to be unable to continue on in that work.”

With several parishes now seeking alternative service opportunities for their well-organized teams of volunteers, it is time to explore possibilities for other missionary activities, including options for service within the United States, said Fr. Craig. At his invitation, Deacon Bill Wakefield, who serves as the chief financial officer for the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, visited several parishes within the Diocese of Fort Worth just this summer. The Texas trip was just one of his many journeys to dioceses across the U.S., in a sustained attempt to share the powerful story of the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center, located in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky, one of the most destitute areas of the country.

The center, part of a Catholic mission outreach founded in 1946, has an urgent need for volunteers and for financial assistance to help lift families out of generational poverty, said Dcn. Wakefield, noting that one in 10 babies born last year in some Appalachian counties tested positive for drugs. “The impoverished people of Appalachia are in need of more services because of drug abuse, homelessness, children and families in crisis, and the lack of sustainable jobs,” he said. “Many families in the area live in substandard housing, and conditions are often unsafe. Hundreds of home repairs are completed by our staff and visiting groups of volunteers each year. More building supplies, fixtures, paint, tools, flooring, windows, doors, and other supplies are needed.”

After coming to North Texas to share the grim realities of life in this corner of rural Kentucky, Dcn. Wakefield was “overwhelmed and humbled” by the outpouring of compassion and interest expressed across the Diocese of Fort Worth, he said.

“I was not prepared for the level of passion for mission work that I discovered in your diocese,” said Dcn. Wakefield, in a telephone interview with the North Texas Catholic.  “I visited several parishes, speaking at the Masses and telling the congregations about our work.  There was such tremendous enthusiasm for our mission. It was so affirming and so exciting.”

Seminarians, adult parishioners, and members of various youth groups from across the diocese have expressed a strong interest in traveling to Kentucky to serve as volunteers at the mission, said Dcn. Wakefield. Letty Zatarain agreed, noting that St. Vincent de Paul Church’s mission council is now organizing a group of enthusiastic parishioners. The group, which includes numerous veterans of the Honduras mission trips, will make their first trip in 2014, she said.

“Three couples from our parish have already traveled to meet with the staff at the center in Kentucky, and have determined that this looks like a good fit for us,” said Zatarain. “We are not looking to just go and provide financial help,” she added. “We are going with the goal of creating relationships, helping to teach people how to become more self sufficient. After we have had the initial experience, we will be able to determine if this, like Honduras, will become a long-term commitment for our parish.”

 For more information about the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center, visit www.fbamc-ky.org. For more information about the diocesan Mission Council, visit www.fwdioc.org/pages/mission-outreach-about.

For hundreds of Catholics across North Texas, the growing danger within the country of Honduras is a source of personal sorrow and concern. The Catholic Dioceses of Fort Worth and Juticalpa, Honduras, formed a “covenant partnership” in 1998 as a result of the devastation incurred by Hurricane Mitch to the already impoverished area.

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