The Caribbean islands trigger some stereotypical imagery: people spending their days on beachfront hammocks secured between two palm trees, sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, and being carefree. But life here is more than a Corona commercial, and after my recent trip to Puerto Rico, I have to admit that I am exhausted. For the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to keep pace with the Puerto Rican communities supported by Catholic Extension. They are tireless in their commitment to serve the Church and to provide faith and hope for people whose lives are filled with hardship.
Nearly 300 Puerto Rican priests and lay ministers gathered in Ponce, Puerto Rico for an administrative leadership event hosted and sponsored by Catholic Extension. The number of participants was impressive, as ministers are stretched thin on the island and often don’t have spare time for professional development. But there they were, traveling from all over the island to discuss best practices in matters of financial and personnel management. Halfway through the daylong seminar, on a blisteringly hot day, the air conditioning broke in the sports complex where we gathered. Even still, all participants stuck it out through the intense heat until the very end. They wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity to learn about internal audit procedures and discuss effective volunteer management. That’s true dedication! Though drenched, people hung around afterwards to express how incredibly thankful they were for the workshop.
Later that evening I met with the parishioners of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in the small town of Puente Jobos,( in the Diocese of Ponce) where there were as many stray dogs, cats, and roosters roaming the streets as there were people. This parish of 700 people needs new offices. We held our meeting in the parish’s current “office:” a picnic table outside the church. Daniel, a smiley and energetic parishioner, has been working hard for his parish for 26 years. For years the parish has been fundraising and saving for a much-needed renovation. Thanks to their efforts, coupled with a $75,000 commitment from Catholic Extension, Daniel will finally have a meeting space for himself and his fellow parish leaders who do everything from religious education to neighborhood outreach. They hope that their work will help reverse the rampant problems caused by drugs, domestic violence, and criminal behavior in their small, inner-island community.
Parishioners of Ss. Peter and Paul do business from the picnic table in the absence of parish offices.
“We feel so blessed that there are Catholics throughout the U.S. who are sacrificing for us by giving to Catholic Extension,” said one of the parish leaders. “This makes the saying ‘universal church’ come alive for me,” added another.
Are these people the carefree folks that we continentals have pegged them to be? No. Are they committed to excellence in spite of challenges? Most definitely.
This is the heart of Catholic Extension’s mission: to extend support to those dedicated people throughout the U.S. and its territories who, though under-resourced, strive to create excellence in church life and ministry.
— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management