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Laity are helping missions in Latin America prosper.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the dawning of the 1960s, Pope John XXIII lamented he could not sleep at night thinking of Latin America's poverty. Calling upon U.S., Canadian and European religious orders and dioceses to send priests and others to open missions in Latin America, he opened the way for Catholic global relations that exist today.

More than a dozen such missions survive and prosper, linking dioceses and parishes. Paired off communities range from Toledo, Ohio, and Hwange, Zimbabwe, to Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., and La Paz, Bolivia.

One of the most well-known missions is Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, operated by the Oklahoma City and Tulsa dioceses, which became famous after the 1981 murder of Oklahoma's Father Stanley Rother during repression against native peoples.

However, as the 1990s dawned and American clergy numbers dwindled, laypeople's missionary outreach became more extensive.

According to U.S. Catholic Mission Association data, the number of U.S. Catholic missioners working overseas has dropped about 42 percent since 1968, religious priests 21 percent and sisters 14 percent.

At the same time, the number of lay missioners increased about 84 percent.

USCMA executive director Sister Peggy Loftus recently told NCR the average age of religious priests overseas is 60 and of lay missioners is 36. Lay missioners today constitute only about 8 percent of U.S. Catholic missioners overseas, but they are 90 percent of those younger than 30 and 47 percent of those younger than 40.

Several programs have emerged in which laity dominate:

* Harry and Alice Hosey of Old Hickory, Tenn., started Adopt-a-Parish, a quarter-century ago after a trip to Haiti, where the poverty appalled them. Since then, U.S. Catholic parishes have adopted 289 parishes in Haiti and 56 in Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala and Jamaica.

* The San Francisco-based SHARE Foundation. Building a New El Salvador Today began fostering sister-parish relationships with Salvadoran communities in 1985. The number today exceeds 60. To the surprise of SHARE staff, members said, U.S. interest increased after El Salvador's peace accords were signed in January 1992.

* Three bishops in Nicaragua and one in Honduras have asked the Alliance for Communities in Action to help them find sister parishes or dioceses, said executive director Richard Schopfer of Bethesda, Md. The alliance was founded in 1981 by laity previously involved in mission work. It now sponsors a sister-parish relationship between Little Flower, Bethesda, and Sacred Heart of Jesus, Managua.

* Companeros is a Minnesota spinoff of the Alliance for Communities in Action. Independent for several years, the organization is an umbrella for six Minneapolis-St. Paul Catholic parishes and two Lutheran congregations that have twin relationships in Central America or New Mexico or locally with an inner-city parish.

* A program titled Sister Parish has about 20 covenants between U.S. Protestant and Catholic congregations in Central America or Mexico. The program is growing, said School Sister of Notre Dame Rita Studer, Eastern regional director.

* One diocesan mission -- Erie, Pa.'s, Mission of Friendship with the Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, diocese -- began with a lay couple going there in 1971 to serve three years. Since then, more than 200 volunteers have gone there.

Relationships emphasize U.S. financial aid as well as cultural and other forms of exchange to the foreign partners.

People-to-people relationships tend to be the norm. Invariably, people involved testify that they benefit North as well as South.

Sister Claire Hudert, associate director of the diocesan mission office, said Merida seminarians and priests have worked among Erie's Hispanics in a response to Merida Archbishop Manuel Castro Ruiz's urging. He asked that the U.S.-Mexico relationship be mutual and not just a parade of U.S. do-gooders who help poor Yucatans.

Jean Stokan, policy and development director for the SHARE Foundation's East Coast office, said U.S. delegations visiting their twin community in El Salvador often undergo "a profound conversion experience. We have found it galvanizes a long-term commitment to social change."

Resulting from word-of-mouth enthusiasm, SHARE, Companeros, Adopt-a-Parish and other groups report burgeoning interest from people wanting to establish North-South relationships.

The relationships foster growth "within people both there and here," said Father Gregory Schaffer of the New Ulm, Minn., diocese, pastor of San Lucas Toliman parish in Guatemala. "Change takes place; options are made available," Schaffer said. Whether the pattern is diocesan mission or sister parish, clerical or lay involvement, "I'd say let's everybody do it," he said, "but everybody in their own way."
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Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Apr 2, 1993
Words:738
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