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Parishioners experience gifts of twinning on recent trip to Central America

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November 21, 2011

By Natalie Corzine


[For selected photos of the trip, click here.] 


ARCHDIOCESE — When Paul Drzewiecki visits Santo Domingo Savio Parish in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, he feels like he is “coming home.” 


Drzewiecki is a member of St. Margaret of York (SMOY) Parish in Loveland. He and fellow parishioner Tracy McNulty were instrumental in SMOY’s establishment of a twinning relationship with the Honduran faith community last year. 


On Oct. 29, Drzewiecki and McNulty embarked on an 11-day journey to El Salvador and Honduras. They were accompanied by a delegation comprised of members from St. Michael Parish in Ft. Loramie and Holy Angels Parish in Sidney. These parishes have been researching the process of developing twinning relationships with other communities. Mike Gable, director of the archdiocesan Mission Office, also traveled with the delegation.


The first six days of the trip were spent in El Salvador meeting with members of local Catholic communities. The group met with two families that are sponsored by parish members of St. Michael through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA). The group also participated in an immersion program offered by CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador). With offices in Cincinnati and San Salvador, the group is a faith-based organization that helps poor and marginalized communities share their stories of faith, justice, peace and human liberation from El Salvador’s civil war. Though CRISPAZ does not have a formal sister community/twinning program, it does help connect interested parties with organizations that help Salvadoran communities seeking to form a partnerhip.


After El Salvador, the delegation traveled to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where they witnessed how SMOY has developed a twinning relationship with two parishes in the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa. The group was welcomed by both of SMOY’s sister parishes, Santo Domingo Savio and San José Obero. Parish members of Santo Domingo Savio generously took the travelers into their homes where they were fully immersed into the church community there. According to Gable, the group “learned that twinning really is an effort to help each other grow in solidarity with each other and with Jesus as our foundation.“


“That solidarity includes learning about each other’s political, economic, cultural and social challenges and gifts. As things get tougher in Honduras and Salvador, we can give strength to each other.”


While in Honduras, the delegation met with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, who received them “as missionaries and friends of the parish.” He spoke of the world economic crisis and the growth of poverty around the globe and its effects on his archdiocese. 


Currently, 60 percent of Honduras’ population is under age 25. The large population of young people, coupled with current economic conditions, presents challenges to archdiocesan leaders as they must find new ways of keeping youth engaged in church life while preventing them from joining gangs and engaging in the drug trade. Cardinal Rodriguez is encouraged by the twinning relationships within his archdiocese and views the solidarity as a way to combat these issues within his community and around the globe.  


Twinning, called a “sign of complete Catholicity” by Cardinal Rodriguez, involves an ongoing relationship between a U.S. parish and a sister parish located in another part of the world. Twinning is an effort of solidarity and understanding between the two parishes, not one of paternalism or dependency. “It is authentically Catholic,” Gable said. “It’s a chance for Catholic parishes from different parts of the globe to stand with each other in solidarity in the universal church.” 


When asked about the twinning relationship, Lourdes Chavarria of Santo Domingo Savio said, “We realized we are not crazy or alone in living according to our faith in Christ. For the parish community in general, it is a good experience to see beyond our needs and pray for one other, no matter if they are in another country. They are our brothers and sisters.” 


As for the benefits of twinning, Chavarria said, “I think it is simply math, one plus one equals two. If we add the faith of one parish with another, it simply grows! It’s like having relatives or friends. It’s always nice to know that we have people we can count on who are always aware of our needs and who want to share our joys… and that goes both ways.” 


“When we shared Sunday Mass, we found that their experience of faith was amazing and it made me feel very proud of my big Catholic family. We really are the body of Christ with many, many members.”


Ann Bollheimer, pastoral associate at St. Michael and CRISPAZ board member, spent more than a year helping to plan and organize the trip. She visited both El Salvador and Honduras in 2008 and wanted to share the experience with other parish members. She organized the trip as an opportunity to introduce the concept of twinning to parishioners and to give them an idea of how involved of a twinning relationship can be. She realizes that to undertake such a commitment, the entire parish must “buy in” to the concept and understand it fully. Through this trip, Bollheimer hopes members of the delegation will use their experiences to help convey the spirit of twinning to the parish at large. 


St. Michael parishoner Paul Timmerman noted how the experience changed his perception on twinning. “As we prepared for our journey, we were still not fully aware of what we might encounter. I was totally amazed that the people welcomed us with warm smiles, open hearts and opened their homes and lives to allow us to walk and live in solidarity with them.”


“We hear of so much adversity and violence in these countries, yet I never once felt any moments of fear as I could feel the Lord was with us. The last four nights really capped off the trip as I stayed in the home of my hosts. They were true inspirations of strong faith and solidarity and they taught me things that will be with me for the rest of my life. This was truly an experience that changed how I will look at people, the world and how I will practice my faith,” said Timmerman.


Tim Bodenhorn of Holy Angels Parish in Sidney agrees. “Our trip was such a humbling experience. At first glance, there was so much despair, so much contrast to the world we left to visit Central America. Life lived behind razor wire, iron bars and steel doors; armed guards walking the neighborhood streets; ever-so-prevalent poverty and lack of opportunity.” 


“But, then there were the people — so warm, inviting and overflowing with exuberance to tell their story to anyone who would listen, especially to their visitors from the United States. In them I saw hope, not in things, but in the life that they were longing for, the life that they work for every day. People are so proud of their families, their communities, and their tradition of faith. They seem to have so much more, and for that we are all blessed to have lived this experience.”


If a parish is considering  a twinning relationship, McNulty offers this advice: “Consider it like dating. Don’t sign a contract right away. Get to know the parish and its members. Find out their needs and see if the parish is a good fit.” 


Gable agrees. “I think twinning, like marriage or close relationships, has expectations. After you have learned about a significant need your partner has, you have some responsibility to respond in some meaningful way.  After we heard about all the killings to protect military dictatorships that lead to the deaths of Archbishop Oscar Romero and so many other innocent civilians during the Central American wars in the 1980s, we have some duties to make sure those atrocities are not repeated in the future. Twinning partners have even more reason to study Catholic social teachings to analyze and challenge causes of violence and poverty that directly hurts their partners.” 

For more information or a brief workshop about parish twinning, contact Gable at 513- 421-3131, ext. 2630, or visit www.catholiccincinnati.org/ ministries-offices/mission-office.


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