Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Decreased donations threaten ministry in Guatemala mission

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the March 1, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Residents of the area wait in line to receive treatment from Sister Immaculata Burke and other health care providers at the Spokane Diocese Clinic in Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, in this photo taken last December. (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

When Spokane’s Bishop Bernard Topel signed the “Sister Diocese Program” with the Bishop of Sololá, Guatemala, 47 years ago, little did he know the far-reaching impact that agreement would have on the lives of so many thousands of people.

Bishop Topel’s commitment gave the parishioners of Spokane a direct channel to the poor in one of the most impoverished areas of the world. An estimated 80-90 percent of the Mayan Indians in the remote Highlands of Guatemala were illiterate, living in dirt-floored huts on the steep slopes of volcanic mountains. They survived on a diet of corn and beans in shacks without electricity, water, or latrines. The average life span was about 30 years. There was little or no opportunity for schooling or training to learn self-supportive skills.

Life has improved for many Indians over the years that Spokane has assisted the Diocese of Sololá. Eight “Padres de Spokane” have served the indigenous poor, and numerous Sisters and others have volunteered in the Spokane Mission area.

The local bishop opened a seminary to train native priests in 1961, and the School Sisters of Notre Dame opened a primary school in 1962. Father John Rompa, of the Spokane Diocese, began the radio station “Voice of Nahualá” in 1962.

Over the intervening years, thousands of native people have been educated, including one native physician, Dr. Jose Miguel. He, along with Sister Immaculata Burke now supervise four clinics that provide health care to the remote poor.

Water systems, roads, and churches have been built. Pastoral care, under the guidance of Sisters Marie Tolle and Mary Bertrand, has been taken to natives living in distant settlements in the mountains.

Training centers have been built and native people are being taught a variety of skills to help them become more self-supportive. Some are learning about weaving or embroidery, while others are acquiring skills in carpentry, agriculture, forestry, or raising fish.

Although Spokane’s impact on thousands of natives in the Highlands has been positive and extensive, it has not yet reached many of the poor who inhabit the expansive mountainous area of the Diocese of Sololá. This stems partly from the challenge of reaching so many people in a remote area, and partly from the fact that support from Spokane parishioners has continued to decline over the last several years.

Yearly budgets for Guatemala Mission activities have dropped from $86,640 and $84,360 in fiscal years 2001-02 and 2002-03, respectively, to $70,320 in 2003-04, down to $61,920 in 2004-05, and $46,450 in 2005-06. With the prospect of increased income, the 2006-07 budget was increased to $53,280, which for the July 1 to Dec. 31, 2006 period would necessitate an income of $26,640. However, income for the six month period was only $20,913, which is less than 80 percent of budgeted expenditures.

The Official Directory for the Diocese states that “All parishes … are expected to contribute some assistance on a regular basis, even if it is a small monetary amount.” It asks parish councils to select one area of their choice. Eight parishes follow that guideline, and three others (Assumption, Our Lady of Fatima, and St. Thomas More) channel assistance in other ways.

For the first six months of this fiscal year, the clinic and health program income is approximately $800 less than budgeted costs. Support has come from St. Mary of Spokane (+$5,561), the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes (+$2,380), and St. Mary of the Rosary in Chewelah (+$794). Other health care help has come from Holy Rosary of Pomeroy and two individual contributors.

St. Augustine Parish, Spokane, and Assumption School, Walla Walla, with contributions of $3,209 and $200 respectively, have managed to keep income for the school in Nahualá slightly more than expenses. However, seminary expenses are exceeding income by approximately $500, even though St. Patrick Parish, Spokane (+$618), and some individual contributors have directed their funds to seminary expenses.

Radio station expenses are $400 more than income. However, Sacred Heart Parish, Pullman (+$1,520), usually ensures that the yearly radio station budget is covered. No parishes currently support Father David Baronti’s youth activities group, which is currently running a $600 deficit.

The largest deficits exist in pastoral support (- $2,023) and salaries for the Sisters working in our mission (-$1,777). The only pastoral contribution during the first half of the fiscal year was $137 from St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney. Strong salary support came from St. Patrick Parish, Pasco (+$4,403), but that was not enough to offset the current salary deficit.

Some unrestricted funds have been donated by individuals (+$1,015), and these will be allocated to deficit categories at the end of the fiscal year.

Without additional funding, the pastoral, salary, seminarian, health care and other budgets will, of necessity, continue to be reduced, much to the dismay of those working in the Spokane Mission. Parishes (and individuals) that would like to help the diocese maintain its commitment to the poor in Guatemala are invited to contact the Guatemala Commission at P.O. Box 1453, Spokane, WA 99210-1453, or phone Donna Connell at (509) 924-1346. Presentations to parish councils or other interested groups can also be arranged.

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