Fr. Weber's lively year in Bánica

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Father Jason Weber has served the people of the Arlington Diocese’s Dominican Republic Bánica mission since 2014. In that time, the pastor of San Francisco de Asís Church has seen the ways Catholic Virginians have helped improve the material and spiritual lives of the people there. 

Just like the priests and lay volunteers who’ve come before him, Father Weber also has enjoyed encountering another culture — the food, the traditions and the landscape of this picturesque Caribbean island. In the basement of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington May 11, Father Weber shared some of his adventures from the last year.

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Fr. Jason Weber is the pastor of the San Francisco de Asís Church in Bánica.

Since the start of the mission in 1991, the Arlington Diocese has helped strengthen the infrastructure of the rural community, sometimes through large building or maintenance projects, but occasionally through projects that will touch just one family. Father Weber showed the group a photo of a home made with sticks and mud. Soon, a group from the diocese will help make a sturdier home for the family of 12, he said.

The Bánica Catholic school, a primary school for more than 200 children, has improved the lives of its students in the small frontier town and beyond. He said that in the public schools, teachers typically have a poor work ethic, often showing up to class late. Because of the quality of education at the Bánica Catholic school, the only one in the area with a library, others are starting to improve. 

Two married couples work at the school, giving the children models of marriage in a culture where very few couples stay together, he said. Additionally, two graduates of the college scholarship program have come back and are now teaching at the school. Three diocesan seminarians and one Franciscan novice from the Bánica mission are in formation for the priesthood. 

Bringing the sacraments to San Francisco and other chapels in remote Dominican towns keeps Father Weber busy, though he still has time to enjoy the island. In January, his brother Brian came to visit and they climbed the highest mountain in the Caribbean: Pico Duarte. In his day-to-day life, he has come to cherish the friendly children, the country’s greenery and sipping coconut milk.

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Fr. Jason Weber drinks out of a coconut given to him by a street vendor.

As Father Weber ministers to the Dominicans, he has learned the many distinct spiritual traditions they bring to their faith. On the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, many local Catholics make a pilgrimage to a cave to pray for a special intention. Recently, one woman’s prayers were answered and in gratitude she donated a bull to the church.

“I’ve never owned a bull before and I don’t think anyone in my family has ever owned a bull so I was pretty proud of it,” said Father Weber.

He often is touched by the piety of the people. During Holy Week, the people held a live Stations of the Cross. With their limited resources, they dressed participants in ornate robes and Roman centurion helmets, and at the end, they lifted the man playing Jesus onto a cross. In between each station, they sang while Father Weber cried, touched by the faith of his flock. “They did a beautiful job,” he said. 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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