DREAMS: Accompanying Young People on Their Journey of Faith and Human Development
“Our response to current realities, as the Mazenodian family, inspired by the life and ministry of St. Eugene, is mission with youth. It is not a simple “youth ministry” or doing something “for” them. This concept of mission “with” emphasises the importance of accompanying young people on their journey of faith and human development.”
From “The Oblate Heritage clearly puts Youth at the Center of our Call to Mission” in Oblatio, Vol. VII, 2019/3, p. 389
In my Oblate life and ministry, I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to journey with the young people of today. Earlier this month I had the opportunity again to travel with the St. Mary Catholic High School students to Dominican Republic on a mission trip.
The DREAMS (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) program is an immersion project in the Ocoa region and is coordinated by ADESJO (Organization for the Development of the People of San José de Ocoa). The missionary groups live in the remote villages in the mountains, helping out with various projects, such as building a house, a school, or laying down pipes to bring water to the community. In reality, this is about much more than just building a house. It’s mostly about building relationships with the local people, and within the group itself. Young people live, eat, and work together, and share their experience with others. For many it is an eye-opening encounter where they see happiness and joy in the midst of physical poverty. This mission experience helps them to touch the core of what it means to be human.
This time our group spent a few days in a remote village of El Memizo in the Jan José de Ocoa mountains. We joined the locals in the irrigation project to provide water to the fields surrounding the village, which will grow local produce such as bananas, avocados, mangos, beans, tomatoes etc. This project provides self-sufficiency to the farmers and a source of income.
The students were not afraid of the hard work of digging the trenches, laying of the pipes or climbing up and down hills to cover them up. Working together with the local people gave them the opportunity to integrate and build real human relationships. They worked hard, but also had fun at the same time.
The El Memizo community showed us true Dominican hospitality. We were welcomed into the school which offered us lodging and a place to rest. School children interacted with the students as they came to the classroom, and as well n the evenings when they came together to play sports in the school yard.
In the evenings, after all activities of the day were done, we took some time for reflections and unpacking. Those were the moments of open and honest sharing. The students were deeply impacted by the experiences of immersion into the new culture, poverty and the simplicity of life, and their people’s sense of happiness.
Sunday is the Lord’s Day! So, as we paused the physical work, had a chance to pray, relax and spend more time with our new friends. In the morning we celebrated Mass in the abuela’s house. It was a very intimate and homelike feeling, experience; discovering Christ’s presence in the Word, Eucharist and people’s daily lives. And the goats outside the door provided the sound of the choir! Baa… baa… baa! Celebrating Mass in the Nativity manger!
After the Mass we enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding nature as we hiked Rio Banilejo. And since baseball is the national sport of the Dominican Republic, it seems like Sunday afternoon was a perfect time for a friendly game. Even some cows (and one bull) joined us on the field… No animals nor students were injured!
Over all it was an amazing, eye-opening experience. Personally, I appreciated every encounter, our conversations and sharing and being enriched while accompanying young people on their journey of faith and human development. The hospitality of the Dominicans was outstanding! They truly made as feel at home.
Even though I was “unplugged” from the internet during our trip, I never hesitated to take many pictures for your enjoyment. I hope they help you to feel what we experienced there.
By Jarek Pachocki OMI
OMI Lacombe Canada – Vocation Director