Miriam is a 13-year-old girl from the town of Bánica in the Dominican Republic, who was sold as a “wife” to a 40-year-old man by her own father. The reason? Her father couldn’t afford to feed his family.
Fr. Keith O’Hare , a missionary from the Diocese of Arlington, visits a poor family in Bánica. The Dominican Republic is mostly Catholic and the people have great respect for priests. Photo credit: Shana Siler
Andrea is an extremely devout 15-year-old girl, who was hours away from being put on a bus to Santo Domingo, where her father told her she would work as a domestic – a situation that puts young girls at risk for abuse and mistreatment.
Fortunately, for both of these girls, whose names have been changed, there is a mission in Bánica that is staffed by two Catholic priests from the Diocese of Arlington. Father Keith O’Hare, 42, volunteered to work at the mission six years ago. Fr. Jason Weber, 32, arrived this summer. After hearing of the plight of these girls, Father O’Hare took immediate action.
In Andrea’s case, Father sat down with the father, and say, “Let’s deal with this another way. I will get you a sponsor.” Unbelievably, the basic needs of this family of 10 can be covered for $100 a month – about $3.57 a day!
“This photo gives an idea of the travel involved to reach all of the 60 different communities of the Bánica MIssion (total population 10,000),” says Father Keith O’Hare. Photo credit: Shana Siler
In the case of the girl sold as a wife, Father O’Hare and a driver leaped into their car after hearing about the situation from another child and drove into the mountains. It was the morning after the sale. After giving a little money to the government-sponsored deputy guarding the camp, Father was able to recover the girl and restore her to the family after they too were promised a sponsor. Fortunately, the man who had purchased the girl was out farming so the recovery happened without a lot of drama.
Find out more about Bánica Mission, which is located along the border of Haiti, and the work of its priests and volunteers, by tuning in to two terrific programs, which will air this Friday, November 7 on EWTN. (Find EWTN at http://www.ewtn.com/channelfinder.) Hear Father O’Hare discuss stories like the above as well as the work the mission is doing today at 8 p.m. ET on “Life on the Rock.” Then, at 10 p.m. ET, don’t miss “Along the Border,” which showcases the work of college students from the Arlington Diocese who volunteered to work at the mission, an experience that changed their lives.
“Hunger is a real issue, especially in the mountain villages.,” says Father Keith O’Hare. “Notice here the distended stomachs as well as the runny noses (kids get sick here more often because they are malnourished). We currently have a dried soup distribution program (in collaboration with USAID), as well as various projects to build greenhouses (through Food for the Poor), to increase local food production. ” Photo credit: Shana Siler
The American college volunteer program, which was in place for 15 years, has now been replaced by a college scholarship program for Bánica Mission teens, who give back by volunteering at the mission.
Father O’Hare says that the American college volunteers provided an example to the children at the mission. “They taught and lived the faith. The kids I selected for the college scholarship program grew up seeing that. When it was their turn to be apostles, those kids were able to step right in and be an example. It wasn’t the ending of one program; it was the fulfillment. A beautiful grace that came from one to the other.”
Father O’Hare said he is often asked how he deals with the poverty which frequently results in such dire consequences for the children, particularly the girls, who populate his mission. He says there are three stages to loving the poor.
“ESCAPE stands for ‘Educating Students Charitably, an Anti-Poverty Effort.’” said Father Keith. “This is the photo of a family who lives on the edge of the town of Bánica and was recently enrolled in the ESCAPE program at $100/month so that their daughters will not be put at risk for being sent off to work as domestic laborers.”
“First, there is a sentimental love of the poor, where you hand out chocolate and give them hugs,” he said. “Second, instead of the cute part of this, you start looking into why they are poor. They need an education. You try to make structural changes in their lives. You make a more concerted effort to change things.
“Third, you come to a stage where you realize it’s a lot bigger than you. [For example,] the government is corrupt; the education system is corrupt. But you don’t let despair enter into that.
“If you despair, you turn to liberation theology [condemned by Pope John Paul II] and want to overthrow the government, etc. Instead, you focus on the good. What would Bánica be like if the mission had never started? There wouldn’t be a parish school; there wouldn’t be priests baptizing and giving the sacraments; there wouldn’t be the witness of American youth groups, housing, or water projects. The poor know how different their lives would be if the Diocese of Arlington wasn’t there. They are happy because, overall, life is getting better step by step. It’s a tremendous thing.”
“Madelin (front right) is from the mountain village of Billiguín, about 2 1/2 hours from the town of Bánica;,” says Father Keith. “She is a college freshman and is studying to be an elementary school teacher; she is pictured here with her parents and two of her five siblings. It costs $300/month to sponsor a student.”
“These are two of the 17 youth in the Bánica college scholarship program,” says Father Keith. “These two devout young ladies ‘give back’ by leading youth ministry activities both in the town of Bánica and in the surrounding villages.” Photo credit: Shana Silar
Before becoming a missionary, Father O’Hare said his image of a missionary “was probably that it required heroic, amazing, extraordinary kinds of people.” Instead, he’s found that “once you get to know the people you are serving, it just requires an ordinary love of God and neighbor.”
The young high school and college students who come to Bánica on week-long mission trips, which are still in place, are always changed, Father said.
“This is an intense seven-day experience of detachment from material comforts for the sake of attaching oneself more intensely to God and one’s neighbor. … A young person goes home much less attached to the materialistic concerns that he or she previously entertained.”
For the Diocese of Arlington, and indeed anyone who contributes to this mission, the rewards are great.
“For me, on a spiritual level, it’s the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,” Father O’Hare said. “For the Diocese of Arlington, Bánica is Lazarus, the poor man on our doorstep. The parable can end differently this time. We’re not trying to save the whole world. Our diocese is doing our part to take care of Lazarus on our doorstep. We are fortunate enough to have priests to loan” and to provide funding through the bishop’s appeal as well as through donations.
You can help by volunteering to pray for the mission every Monday and/or by donating much needed funds to the mission. Find out more at www.Bánicamission.com/ – and don’t forget to tune in to EWTN at 8 p.m. ET, Friday, Nov. 7 for “Life on the Rock,” and 10 pm. ET for “Along the Border.”