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Greetings and Congratulations from Archbishop John Nienstedt

October 8, 2010

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Fr. Greg Schaffer, Bishop Mariano Parra, listening to Bishop Lee Piche's message. Photo by Bob Zyskowski, Catholic Spirit.

Bishop Lee Piche brought greetings and congratulations from Archbishop John Nienstedt and the people of the archdiocese to Jesucristo Resucitado parishioners at the anniversary Mass held on October 2 in San Felix, Venezuela.

“Your Excellency, Monseñor Mariano: To you and all the faithful people of the Diocese of Ciudad Guayana, I extend sincere Greetings, along with love and prayers from his Excellency, Monseñor John Nienstedt, and from all your sisters and brothers in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We rejoice with you today for God´s gift of forty years of friendship, love and service – forty years as co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord Jesus.  Every true friendship is a relationship of equals, a mutual sharing of blessings of creation and blessings of divine grace.  We in Saint Paul and Minneapolis have been greatly blessed by our experience of ministry among you – a ministry for you and a ministry with you.

From the beginning – from the days of the mission at Virgen del Valle parish with Fr Ray Monsour and Fr Larry Hubbard, to the time at Buen Pastor and San Francisco de Asis, to these days at Jesucristo Resucitado, we have sent some of our finest priests, priests with the heart of Christ the Good Shepherd, to serve and to proclaim the Gospel.  And each of these priests has returned to Minnesota an even better priest, for his experience in Venezuela.  As more and more of our lay faithful come to visit you and work side-by-side with you in announcing Good News to the poor, our local church is enriched with greater love, and with a wider view and better understanding of the Church universal.  We are grateful for the warm welcome you always give us, and we are very pleased to welcome some of you, including the youth, to visit us in Minnesota.

And so we have been blessed for forty years, and we are blessed today, for this beautiful anniversary Mass and celebration, were we can ¨taste and see the goodness of the Lord¨, where we can experience the truth proclaimed by Saint Paul, that ¨we are one body in Christ¨.  And it is our hope and our prayer that God will continue to bless us for many years to come, that this friendship may continue to grow deeper and stronger, to the glory of God.

There is only one word we can say to you, dear Monseñor Mariano, and to you, our Venezuelan brothers and sisters, for these forty years of blessings:  GRACIAS!”

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40th Anniversary Mass

October 6, 2010

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Bishop Mariano Parra of Ciudad Guayana presides at Mass marking the 40th anniversary of Jesucristo Resucitado Church, which has been served all those years by priests from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Concelebrating are Bishop Lee Piche, who brought greetings from Archbishop John Nienstedt, and Father Gregory Schaffer, right, pastor of the archdiocese’s mission parish in Venezuela. Assisting at right is Deacon Chester Alcala.

Photo by Bob Zyskowski, Catholic Spirit.

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Missionaries of Charity photos

September 30, 2010

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Bishop Lee Piche and Father Thomas McCabe concelebrate Mass for the Missionaries of Charity in the sisters' chapel in San Felix, Venezuela.

Bishop Lee Piche and Father Thomas McCabe concelebrate Mass for the Missionaries of Charity in the sisters' chapel in San Felix, Venezuela.

Missionaries of Charity, from several continents, sing at Mass in their chapel in San Felix, Venezuela.

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Fooling the bishop!

September 30, 2010

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Bishop Lee Piche offers a hand to stabilize a man walking in a home for abandoned elderly men. The bishop soon found he was the victim of a ruse: the man who appeared to be losing his balance was pretending, and when a Missionary of Charity called him on it, the sly senior winked.

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Mother Teresa’s nuns bring love to Venezuela

September 30, 2010

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Sister Laura Cecilia leads five other Missionaries of Charity in caring for those dying of AIDS and abandoned elderly men in a barrio in San Felilx, Venezuela. The sisters also teach children to help bring them up to speed to be able to attend regular school.

Sister Laura Cecilia’s face sparkles with the joy of life, perhaps not what you might expect from one who runs a hospice for AIDS sufferers and a home for abandoned elderly men.

On the second day of our visit to the Venezuela parish where priests from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have served for 40 years, she and five other Missionaries of Charity made room for us Minnesota visitors in the tiny room that’s their chapel this morning. The perspiration dripped off our North American faces, but the heat and humidity — even at a 7  a.m. Mass — didn’t seem to phase the women who are following in the footsteps of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Bishop Lee Piche presided. He noted how much he appreciated being able to lead our prayer in English, since that’s the main language of Mother Teresa’s order and since he’s still working on his Spanish.

Afterward the bishop actually got along pretty well understanding the Spanish-speaking AIDS patients and “grandfathers” — that’s what the Missionaries of Charity call the abandoned elderly in their care — when Sister Laura Cecilia gave us a tour of their facility in a crowded barrio in San Felix.

A hospice full of life

The Missionaries of Charity have served the poorest of the poor there for 12 years now, and although death is never far off in the work the sisters do, the plant-laden inner court of the hospice is filled with the sounds of chirping parakeets, crowing roosters, clucking chichens and a parrot that says “Hola.” Grapes grow on vines draped above for shade, patients roll around in wheelchairs, and “grandfathers” are quick to wish you a “Buenas dias” and reach to shake your hand.

One even pulled a fast-one on our bishop.

An elderly man with a cane who was creeping along the inner pathway seemed to be losing his balance, and our ever-helpful auxiliary bishop reached out and steadied him, helping him walk until there was a place for him to get a hand-hold.

“He’s pretending!” Sister Laura Cecilia said. And sure enough, the sly old grandfather winked. He was just looking for attention, and he found the perfect sympathetic foil!

How can these nuns do it?

I couldn’t help but ask this smiling nun why she does what she does, caring for those that society can’t get far enough away from, taking in those even their families don’t want, and giving them all the love you would give to the person you loved the most.

“It’s for Jesus,” she said simply.

“I have realized that Jesus hides himself in the disguises of these gentlemen. Since I believe that God loves everyone, then God loves them, and that means they are of great value, even though society may not value them at all and shows them no dignity. It is such a privilege to help them recover that dignity.”

Of course, despite her smile, Sister Laura Cecilia said there are trying times in the kind of mission work she and her sisters do with the men, especially when they are dying and cannot be helped.

“Many times they get angry and depressed, and in their anger and frustration they throw things at you. And that’s when I remember what Mother said: ‘Love until it hurts.'”

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Hola from Venezuela

September 29, 2010

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Bishop Lee Piche arrived in San Felix, Venezuela, today, Wednesday, with a group of Minnesotans ready to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our archdiocesan mission to this South American country.

Several St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocesan priests who have served here over the past four decades have come down too to be part of the anniversary festivities.

Father Dennis Dempsey was made to feel right at home as he walked from the rectory the two or three blocks to Jesucristo Resucitado Church.

Hearing voices in the courtyard of one of the homes in the Guaipara barrio, he shouted hello, and the folks there shouted “Hola Padre Denny.”

They recognized their former priest right away and told him how glad they were to see him.

How long has it been since you worked here? I asked Father Dempsey.

“Twelve years.”

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St. John Bosco Honored

September 7, 2010

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On June 11 and 12, 2010, a glass coffin encasing the likeness of St. John Bosco and his relics passed through the parish of Jesucristo Resucitado on the way to Don Bosco parish where there was an all-night vigil. This visit was in preparation for the bicentennial celebration of the birth of St. John Bosco, founder of the Society of St. Francis de Sales, known as the Salesians.  Huge numbers of young and old turned out to welcome this great saint and to pray before him. The glass coffin and a number of his relics are visiting Salesian parishes around the world. 

St. Don Bosco

 ¨Don Bosco¨ was a title of endearment and respect given to Fr. John Bosco (1815 -1888), who dedicated his priesthood to helping and educating poor youth, initially in the area of Turin, Italy.  He was an innovative educator who promoted a teaching system that emphasized love and patience over punishment.  His ¨Preventive System¨ of education stressed reason, religion, and kindness while using music and games to keep the youth engaged. Fr. Bosco often said that education was a ¨matter of the heart¨ and that a student must not only be loved, but knowthat he or she is loved.  Pope Pius XI had known Fr. Bosco and canonized him a saint on Easter Sunday in 1934 giving him the title of ¨Father and Teacher of Youth.”

 The Salesians continue to be a very active missionary order throughout the world, especially in Venezuela.  Don Bosco parish is the neighboring parish of our Archdiocesan mission parish of Jesucristo Resucitado.  It is staffed by four Salesian priests from Poland and Venezuela.  This parish runs a well-respected vocational technical school preparing youth as carpenters, auto mechanics, refrigerator repairmen, and bi-lingual secretaries. 

 The parish of Don Bosco works with our mission parish of Jesucristo Resucitado in running a home for boys that have been abandoned and living on the streets.  This refuge is currently located in the parish of Jesucristo Resucitado and is the home for ten boys ages 9 to 17.  Visiting groups from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis enjoy getting to know them and participating in activities with the boys as a part of their mission experience.

 The visit of St. John Bosco’s likeness and relics were a great blessing not only for the Salesians but for all at the diocese of Ciudad Guayana.

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Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Jesucristo Resucitado

September 7, 2010

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The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international organization, helps the poorest of the poor distributing food, clothes and other goods.  Though the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international organization, there were no conferences working in the Diocese of Ciudad Guayana in eastern Venezuela.  That was until Lou Wiggin from St. James Parish in St Paul suggested to some visiting Venezuelans that they begin their own SVDP conference at their parish of Jesucristo Resucitado.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been very active in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis for over 154 years, known primarily for their used clothing stores on West 7th St. in St Paul (opened in 1895) and Lake St. in Minneapolis.  Today there are 14 parishes in the Archdiocese with SVDP conferences.  Some conferences support the used clothing stores, others stock the local food shelves and others freely distribute goods in the neediest neighborhoods.

Lou Wiggin brought the visiting Venezuelans to the used clothing store he volunteered at on West 7th St.  The Venezuelans were greeted by the friendliness of the volunteers at the store and they experienced the volunteers’ generosity and kindness as they helped many people – several of whom like themselves didn´t speak English.

 When the Venezuelans returned home, they shared what they experienced at the SVDP store on West 7th.  They connected with a group from the Venezuelan parish who brought food to those most in need in the different barrios of Jesucristo Resucitado.  Together these groups gathered used clothes from their families and friends and with the help of students in the Confirmation program, distributed the clothes to different families in need through the parish.

 This collection and distribution of used clothes touched the hearts of many and inspired a small group to form their own SVDP conference in the parish of Jesucristo Resucitado.  To help them begin, the SVDP conferences in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis donated $200.00 a month to the SVDP conference at Jesucristo Resucitado to buy food.  Parishioners who were in the most desperate of situations where being helped by having food brought to their homes. 

 Dr. Luz Rodriguez, a General Practitioner and specialist in epidemiology, joined the SVDP conference in Venezuela which turned out to be a blessing.  Based on her experiences, she explained that the majority of people being served were elderly people, many with special diets or unable to move well.  Dr. Luz helped us purchase food that would be beneficial for those with special diets dealing with diabetes and high cholesterol.  When Dr. Luz and other Vincentians delivered food to homes, they also began preparing meals.  Additionally, she trained many of the Vincentians to properly move a person from a bed to a wheelchair and taught how to change dressings on wounds when appropriate

SDVP 2 final

As these SVDP visits evolved, more and more youth joined the conference.   It has now developed into two conferences – one of adults and the other of youth.  A nearby parish also joined the youth conference.  They meet every Tuesday evening to divide the responsibilities in preparation of what they are going to do on Saturday – purchasing food to be delivered or prepared; buying medicine to be delivered; buying paint or trash bags to be used to clean up the area.  On Saturday morning, the group of adults and the group of youth go to see the people chosen for visiting that day. 

 When funds do not arrive from the SVDP conferences in Minnesota, the Vincentians at Jesucristo Resucitado sell homemade fruit juice and empanadas (Venezuelan breakfast snacks) after the Sunday morning Masses to raise the money to buy the basic goods that so many people desperately need in our parish.  

 The SVDP visits spawned friendships and a more profound ministry of love.  Today, the Saturday morning SVDP visits vary in activities from bringing food and medicine to preparing the food, painting a room, cleaning a bedroom or picking up the accumulated trash around the yard.  Whatever needs to be done the Vincentians at Jesucristo Resucitado are willing to lend a helping hand.

 The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has reached out to help the poor for over 150 years.  This wonderful example of a lay organization practicing the social teachings of the Church has inspired and helped other Catholics in another part of the world  live out their Catholic faith through helping the poor.

 Fr Greg Schaffer

Pastor of Jesucristo Resucitado Parish

San Felix, Venezuela

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Award winning article “Venezuela With New Eyes”

June 8, 2010

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“Venezuela With New Eyes,” Dave Hrbacek’s piece in The Catholic Spirit last year, won First Place in the “Visits to the Missions” category of the 2010 Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Awards presented by the Pontifical Mission Society. The judges’ commented: “The ‘human touch’ makes this comprehensive story on an archdiocesan mission in Venezuela a winner; great graphics and photography as well.”

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Mission Venezuela

March 26, 2010

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Welcome to our new blog, MISSION VENEZUELA.  To get an idea of the Mission and its people…take a look at this video…

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Here’s some reading material about the Venezuelan Mission:

Missionary to Venezuela receives more than he gives

Venezuela with new eyes

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