By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff
In mid-October, Bishop John Noonan travelled to the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana alongside Henry Fortier, superintendent of schools, two religious sisters and eight Bishop Moore Catholic High School students from Orlando for an education mission. The trip was a familiar one. Many have made the trek up the mountain to reach the remote villages the diocese has supported for almost two decades.
This was part of Bishop Noonan’s annual visit to spend time with the people he helps care for and to bestow upon them the gifts of the Sacraments. In the village of La Cueva, he baptized a child into God’s holy family. La Cueva is an area beyond the current mission outpost of La Cucarita, where the bishop would also confirm many later that same day.
“La Cueva is now our biggest challenge,” said Bishop Noonan. “We hope and pray that the people there are willing to move on with the second phase of building the community.” This is an area yet to be transformed by construction aid provided by the mission.
Bishop Noonan added, “Every time you go there you see something new. Things are looking better, but this was a difficult year for the people because they lost their crops. At the same time, people are becoming more resilient and getting some hope. They have options now where we can help them. We were blessed that they were not totally destroyed by the hurricanes.”
Despite the rudimentary homes in which they still live, Alta Gracia School in nearby La Cucarita has been a tremendous benefit to these residents who live almost an hour walk from this nearest town. Sister Kristi Bergman and Sister Rachel Gosda of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary brought eight seniors from Bishop Moore to teach religion and English.
This group had a special treat, stopping at the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Schoenstatt in La Victoria where Mother Adela Galindo, founder of the sisters’ order, consecrated herself to Mary. “We felt our students opened their hearts to the graces that were there,” she said.
Sister Bergman explained there are “three graces given to those who visit that shrine: you will always have a home within the church; the transformation of your heart; and fruitful mission. We told our students to look for these three graces in our mission.”
She noticed, “The students were able to see they belonged to a much bigger family than they realized. That these people we were serving were their family in the church. We could see our students’ hearts transform as they realized how simple and humble the people there were and they could still be happy.
“We were able to see all that the Lord let us do while we were there. It was a great gift for our hearts to see how much our diocese does and is invested there.”