Bánica mission gets another priest

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Father Jason Weber, 33, has felt pulled to serve as a missionary for a long time. He will fulfill this call next month, as Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde has assigned him to serve as parochial vicar of two diocesan mission parishes in the Dominican Republic.

Father Weber, who has been assigned to the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington since his ordination in 2010, will head to the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic in mid-July. He said his special assignment at San Francisco de Asís Church in Bánica and San José Church in Pedro Santana will last at least three years.

Since 1991, Arlington's Dominican Mission has served more than 70 communities in the area. Father Keith O'Hare, pastor of the two parishes, has been the only priest serving at the mission since the departure of Father Christopher Murphy in 2011.

As part of his work with Father O'Hare, Father Weber will care for the people in some of the villages in the area and tend to the spiritual needs of the diocesan parishioners who come to Bánica on mission trips.

Father Weber said he felt called to be a missionary while reading the letters St. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, one of the patron saints of missions.

"I was reading some of her letters between her and Maurice, who was going to be a missionary in Africa, and my soul stirred," Father Weber said.

Shortly after, he saw an email about the diocesan mission. Encouraged by this, he talked to Father Paul D. Scalia, the bishop's delegate for clergy, and he arranged for Father Weber to go on a mission trip to Bánica with a group of adults from St. Veronica Church in Chantilly.

The trip helped his discernment and served as a trial run to see if he would be a good fit for the mission. He talked to parishioners, and celebrated baptisms and Masses.

"I met very nice people. And I realized that one of the most important thing we have given the mission is the presence of these 23 years," he said in Spanish. "That presence allows the faith to grow."

Katie Lyons, a St. Veronica parishioner who went to the mission with Father Weber, was happy to hear that he will serve the mission.

"He is a wonderful priest, and on top of that is gifted with a great sense of humor, a spirit of adventure and a really likable personality," she said. "He will be a great addition to the Bánica Mission."

The two parishes that form the mission also minister to 74 smaller chapels in the mountainous region along the Eastern border of Haiti. Father Weber said that the diocese has helped the locals with material and spiritual needs.

"One of the greatest needs is to continue preaching the Gospel and helping the missionary youths there," he said.

The people Father Weber met in Bánica promised to pray for Bishop Loverde to send him back. Once he heard about his assignment, he had a feeling of "confirmation" that it was where he is supposed to be.

He will go to the Dominican Republic in mid-July, after visiting his family.

Father Weber said he wished he had more time to prepare, but his time ministering to the faithful at the cathedral - including the Hispanic community - has showed him that before forming expectations about a ministry, he needs to know the community.

"I have to get to know the people first," he said.

Father Weber looks forward to a greater simplicity of life and being in a different culture, which could lead to "a better perspective of how our culture affects us and the way we see Christianity."

"We are surrounded by materialism and things like that. And sometimes we have assumptions that are formed by a culture even if we have not realized it," he said. "Being able to see the faith in the light of a different country would be a purifying thing."

After returning from his retreat, Father Weber will celebrate the 11 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral June 29, which will be followed by a reception.

"It's hard to say goodbye to family and friends, but we are always united in the Eucharist," he said. "We continue to meet in Christ."

The Bánica mission is funded by the Bishop's Lenten Appeal.

Negro can be reached at mnegro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @MNegroACH.

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To read this article in Spanish, go to "El Padre Weber se va de misionero a la República Dominicana".

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014