Lisa M. Hendey describes the third day of her exciting journey to the Dominican Republic to see up close the work of the Church being done globally.
Our third day of journeying with Cross Catholic Outreach in the Dominican Republic was filled with too many blessings to recount here. So, I’ll simply do my best to offer a few highlights of what proved to be a day jam packed with gifts great and small. Before diving in, I want to share a video created by the talented EWTN team which accompanied us on this “Come and See” trip. In Mark Irons’ in-depth report, you are treated to much of what we saw and experienced on Day Three.
As I was beginning to realize, prayer would remain a hallmark of our journey. We began our day at the FUNDASEP offices with a special Morning Prayer experience with Psalms themed around “Giving Mercy to the Poor”. Taking time to pray communally helped to prepare us to cope with the pace of our travels, but more importantly it kept us focused on the priority of our work to witness and share the stories of Cross Catholic. One portion of our morning reflection included a sermon by Saint Caesarius of Arles, who preached:
What do you wish for, what do you pray for, my dear brothers and sisters, when you come to church? Is it mercy? How can it be anything else? Show mercy, then, while you are on earth, and mercy will be shown to you in heaven. A poor person asks you for something; you ask God for something. He begs for a morsel of food; you beg for eternal life. Give to the beggar so that you may merit to receive from Christ. For he it is who says: Give and it will be given to you. It baffles me that you have the impudence to ask for what you do not want to give. Give when you come to church. Give to the poor. Give them whatever your resources will allow.
Fed by the Word of God and a bountiful Dominican breakfast, we boarded our bus for a challenging journey into the mountains. Our first stop for the day was a Box of Joy Distribution at Escuela Nuestra Señora de las Loma for a distribution of Cross Catholic Outreach’s wonderful “Box of Joy” gifts. Each of our team members took turns handing these delightful boxes into the hands of the students. They had already welcomed us with songs and skits that were their gifts to us.
As I’ve already shared, Box of Joy is a simple way for our families, schools and parishes at home to walk in accompaniment with students like the ones we met at Los Frios. In fact, our own Holy Cross Family Ministries (home of Catholic Mom) partners with Cross Catholic to place tens of thousands of Rosaries into Boxes of Joy every month. For each of the children who opened a box that day, the joy was palpable. For many of them, this will be the only gift they receive each year. Since each box contains both spiritual tools and fun items, each Box of Joy is a gift that will keep giving all year long.
All too soon, it was time for us to reboard our bus and journey even higher into the mountains. We moved from paved roads to winding dirt paths and ascended higher and higher. Along the way, we passed motor scooters and cycles, trucks filled with passengers, donkeys and horses. We were excited to see some houses built of the concrete forms we had watched being created the previous day.
As we drove, our team of Cross Catholic professionals helped us prepare for what we would experience next. We learned about Bishop Emeritus José Dolores Grullón, the founder of FUNDASEP, who spent years journeying into these far-flung villages to meet his flock personally and to learn about their needs, which include not only safe housing but also running water, power, and other necessities of life.
At our stop in Los Auqueyes, we were warmly greeted and invited into “Capilla San Miguel.” This small chapel sits at the front of the village and welcomes every visitor to the community. After praying in the chapel, we met young children from a one room preschool. They were shy but thrilled to receive Boxes of Joy packed with age-appropriate treats. Next teens and young adults invited us into their brand new “Centro de Informatica Carlos Acutis” Internet learning center. As this community awaits Internet access, these students are already learning computer skills that will be a valuable tool for them as they enter the workforce. Named for one of the Church’s newest Blesseds who was himself a young computer whiz, the Center is a place of excitement and learning.
We left our bus parked near the chapel and poured ourselves into pickup trucks for the bouncy and exhilarating road to our next destination. Our new friends piled into the backs of these trucks and joined us for the next part of the day: the blessing of a newly minted cheese factory, a Mass with Fr. Seis, and a lunch and community celebration.
At El Helechal, we gathered in front of the town’s newly built cheese factory, where women entrepreneurs who run this enterprise are actively and excitedly embracing their new business. On their special “opening day,” they couldn’t wait to share their creations with us. As delicious as their cheese was, what truly touched me was how we strangers were invited to this special event. Our time with them included not only the special blessing of the cheese factory building but also Mass in the community’s brand-new chapel and graduation for their computer students.
I understood that we were invited as guests of honor because we represented the scores of Cross Catholic Outreach donors who make projects like these possible. I thought many times during the Mass about how small financial sacrifices for families like mine can bear such beautiful fruit in communities like El Helechal. Often, a humble donation to Cross Catholic Outreach will mean a safe home, a new career, education, and a hope-filled future for families like the ones we met on Day Three.
After Mass, we gathered in front of the chapel for lunch prepared by our hosts. At that meal, I enjoyed rice, beans, plantains, and the biggest avocados I have ever seen. This simple fare is much the mainstay in the Dominican Republic. But that day, the food I’d already eaten at almost every meal tasted especially delicious because it was prepared and served for us with such love and gratitude.
All too soon, we had to leave the party and bid goodbye to our new friends to begin our long, winding trip back down the mountain. One our way, we passed an impressive looking bridge. Our guides shared that it had been built by community members with FUNDASEP support. As I stood looking out over the bridge, I thought about how when communities like the ones we had just met need something in the Dominican Republic, they are now able to partner with organizations such as FUNDASEP and Cross Catholic to meet their goals. But they also work personally to make these projects a reality. Could I ever be as strong, persistent, and hopeful as these families?
Over dinner that evening, we met personally with “Backpack” Bishop Emeritus José Dolores Grullón and Bishop Julio César Corniel Amaro of the Diocese of Puerto Plato. Both were gracious in their welcomes, as everyone we had met that day had been. I had already fallen in love with the Dominican Republic and so many wonderful men, women and children.
Drifting off to sleep that night, I prayed for the little ones who had received our Boxes of Joy, the students who might still be practicing Excel at the computer center, and the women of the cheese factory who were probably planning for the workday ahead. What a joy it had been to spend the day with them and to see how small gifts to Cross Catholic Outreach truly change lives! I knew in my heart that my life had already been changed too by having met and prayed and dined and danced with each of them.
For the first time that day, I briefly and calmly thought about my personal health situation. I felt no anxiety at all, only gratitude for the gifts that were being showered upon me. I couldn’t wait to see where we would go next.
Become a Part of the Cross Catholic Mission
As we lead up to the holiday season, we invite you to become a part of the work of Cross Catholic Outreach.
- Box of Joy provides schools, parishes, organizations, and families with an inspiring opportunity to send gifts to Haiti, Guatemala and other developing countries. A Box of Joy is a Christmas shoebox that is donated and packed with toys, clothing, school supplies and other treasured items. Each child who receives a Box of Joy also receives a rosary and a booklet in their own language that tells The Story of Jesus. Families can participate by donating a Box of Joy for $34 or donating affordable items from the Box of Joy Amazon Wishlist.
- The Cross Catholic Christmas Catalog is a simple way to give a gift to a family in need in another part of the world. Giving options include Bibles, health care supplies, housing, clean water, business training and even soccer balls. Choose a simple gift given in honor of someone special in your life and bless both recipients!
Copyright 2023 Lisa M. Hendey
Images: copyright 2023 Lisa M. Hendey, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com, a bestselling author and an international speaker. A frequent radio and television guest, Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and communications. Visit Lisa at LisaHendey.com or on social media @LisaHendey for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish, school or organization. Visit Lisa's author page on Amazon.com.