May 12, 2019

As you know, eight of us from our community traveled to the Dominican Republic (DR) last month. This trip was sponsored by an organization called Education Across Borders (EAB). This is the third year that parishioners have traveled to the DR through EAB. Parishioners from St. Thomas, St. Joseph and Holy Redeemer have joined this trip in the past years. Over the next several weeks each of us who traveled most recently will offer some reflections in this space on our trip.

For me some of the best memories are about the people we met and the relationships that we developed. We arrived late into Santiago on March 29th, and were met at the airport by Edward,  a driver that Education Across Borders has used for years.  There is a warmth about the Dominican people that manifests itself in greetings and in their sense of hospitality. There are always hugs when arriving and leaving. And there is always food to be shared and meals to be lingered over.

We stayed at a Jesuit retreat center in Santiago named the Bellarmino Retreat Center. Once again, we received a warm welcome from the folks there and always had meals that were lovingly prepared.

Our first full day in the DR was spent traveling to the north coast and spending some time at a center called The Dream Project in the town of Cabarete. The Dream Project is dedicated to education and mentoring of children and young people. They have programs in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, and Holistic Youth Development. The program director, Catherine, is originally from the Midwest, and has lived and worked in the DR for more than twenty years. She was an inspiration to meet. I was touched by her enthusiasm and love for the people, and especially the children and young people of the DR.

We also had the opportunity to connect with a young man who has made two visits to St. Joseph over the last few years. Yanlico is from a small community called Batey Libertad just outside of Santiago. Yanlico is a scholarship recipient of EAB, and a college graduate. He is currently working in the Holistic Youth Development area of the Dream Project in Cabarete. We had the pleasure of connecting with Yanlico while we were in Cabarete and hearing his story.

He is currently waiting for a Visa that will allow him to travel to the U.S., and marry his fiancé. Unfortunately Yanlico is caught up in the current political climate of our country that makes it very difficult for people to obtain Visas. He is hopeful that he will be able to come to the U.S. sometime in the near future.

Elizabeth and Yanlico were two of the inspiring people we met that first day of our trip. As you will read in subsequent articles by my fellow pilgrims, there were many more of these brothers and sisters that inspired us in our brief time in the DR.

For me, the inspiration came from encountering these two people - and many on the staff at the center in Cabarete - who have given their lives to serve our brothers and sisters. This encounter, and so many others throughout our journey, reminded me of how important it is to be in relationship with those who have less material wealth than we do. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to be Christian and not have a relationship with those who are poor.

This relationship is not only about me, as a person of relative wealth, giving to these who have less. Although that sense of responsibility was certainly reinforced on this trip. But even more, I learned from my encounters with the people in the DR that I have much to learn from those who have less than I do. Their values, their priorities, their pace of life were all sources of learning for me.

I have much more to share with you about my experience, as do my fellow pilgrims. We look forward to continuing to unpack this experience in the coming weeks.

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni