A return to Bánica

First slide

It started badly. I woke up the first morning in Pedro Santana thinking I had a flat tire and a dead battery in my rented car. The battery was not dead; I just needed to learn how to use the button ignition. And the puncture was no problem. Father Keith O'Hare arrived with the church mechanic, Attilo. In no time he found the offending nail and had me moving again.

I was invited to preach at the vigil of Epiphany at San José. Madelina (Mora) Guerrero had passed away since my last visit,

More than 20 years ago, I recalled, we were about to begin a pastoral council meeting in Pedro Santana. Mora declared that before we do anything else we needed to solve a problem. "What problem?" we asked. "There are seven Haitians on our side of the Artibonito River (the border with Haiti). The Ton Ton Macoute are ready to kill them as followers of Aristides. Our military has orders to send them back." We went in the Guagua Blanca (the white jeep), picked them up and brought them to sanctuary in the church. For months San José parishioners sheltered and fed these refugees, despite the fact that historically there was no love lost between Dominican and Haitian.

Within days a military captain from Haiti, tall and fully armed, arrived at the church door of San José. There to meet him was Mora. "Why have you come here?" she asked. "To bring back these renegades and execute justice," he answered. Mora declared, "If you have come to God's house to pray, you are welcome. If not, there is no entrance." He turned on his heel and marched back to Haiti.

At the Epiphany, Jesus was announced by a star as a light not only to the church but to all nations, even the powerful, the captains and the kings. Mora in the force of her character and faith reflected the light of God's word more clearly than any star.

The highlight of my visit to Bánica was dinner with Fathers Jason Weber and Keith O'Hare and three local seminarians. Another high point was the news of a new school in the hills. For the first time, students in the region of Sombrero would go beyond the third grade to complete elementary school.

Bishop José Grullon Estrella of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana was the architect of this project. He showed me a Dominican welcome at his Obispado at San Juan, taking me to the construction of a new high school plus minor seminary that the diocese would manage.

I was guest at the annual banquet of Cedajur, the diocesan human rights center. Among the accomplishments celebrated were the more than 400 Haitian-Dominicans who received legalization, a step to citizenship. I had been able to facilitate the funding for this project.

The next morning at the cathedral I concelebrated with Bishop Grullon his Red Mass with more than 100 judges, lawyers, procurators and officials from the Administration of Justice. Seated next to the ordinary as the Psalm was sung Bishop José whispered in my ear, "Gerardo, you do the Gospel and share a palabrita, a littler word." Sometimes the Holy Spirit does better than hours of preparation.

"In this New Year of mercy may justice be tempered by clemency for La República Dominicana, for our neighbors in Haiti and for the Syrian refugees," I said.

My trip was complete with a visit to the Home of our Little Brothers and Sisters near San Pedro de Macoris. On the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 150 displaced children and youths joined me to celebrate our adoption into a spiritual family of love and faith.

Fr. Creedon served as founding pastor of the diocesan mission in Bánica, Dominican Republic, from 1991-95.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016