Every friendship faces challenges at one time or another. It takes work to build a lasting relationship. For more than 50 years, the people of two dioceses have lovingly labored to foster friendship and solidarity during good times and bad.
In 1965, two priests from the St. Cloud Diocese — Father James Minette and Father Mark Willenbring — packed their bags and headed to the Diocese of Maracay, Venezuela, where they began what became a sister-diocese partnership between the two dioceses.
Since that time, multiple delegations have traveled back and forth between the two countries, and several sister-parish partnerships were created: the first one in 2000 linking St. Ann Parish in Brandon and Immaculate Conception Parish in Barbacoa, Venezuela.
Due to political and economic unrest in Venezuela, the partnership has suffered. Communication is extremely limited, and Maracay’s Bishop Rafael Conde has advised no travel in either direction for the safety of all the people.
“We have all been watching the news about Venezuela,” said St. Ann parishioner Chris Korkowski. “Our St. Jude’s Mission Circle has always prayed for our sister parish at our monthly meetings. In years past, we have sewed lots of little girls’ dresses and little boys’ shorts. We have sewed diapers and made rosaries. All four parishes in our cluster have taken up collections to help out our sister parish in Barbacoa.”
It has become increasing difficult to get items to their sister parish, Korkowski said. The mission group discussed what more could be done. Members started by printing new prayer cards that feature a short “urgent” prayer specifically for their sister parish. The prayer is prayed at all four parishes in the cluster: St. Ann, Brandon; St. William, Parkers Prairie; Sacred Heart, Urbank; and Seven Dolors, Millerville.
PRAYER FOR VENEZUELA
O, God of peace, You who see within and beyond
our human limitations,
touch the minds and hearts
of Venezuelan leaders and people alike.
At this time of struggle and division,
satisfy their need for compassion and wisdom.
Fill the hearts of both rich and poor with a vision of mercy.
Show them ways to put aside the violence which has brought so much suffering.
Strengthen within them a desire for peace
so strong that the walls of division will crumble and be replaced with openness, freedom and unity.
We ask this in solidarity with
our sisters and brothers in Maracay,
through Christ our Lord. Amen
During a delegation visit from Barbacoa, St. Ann’s was gifted with a statue of Our Lady of Coromoto, the patroness of Venezuela. The figure has found a permanent place in the new entry of the parish, and two candles continuously burn beside her as reminders to pray for the people not only of Venezuela, but around the world.
“As we pray for our sister parish, our members become more aware of the many problems that are facing members of the body of Christ all over the world,” Korkowski said. “We focus more on our sister parish because we know some of them personally, but the whole world is now our mission. The more that we pray for our brothers and sisters, we can begin to feel their pain. The more that we focus on their problems, the more we have come to realize how blessed we are.”
While the group was pleased with the efforts, they still wanted to do more.
“At one of our mission meetings, our parish priest, Father Peter VanderWeyst, suggested we offer 25 hours of adoration,” Korkowski said. “Everyone agreed that this would be a wonderful and powerful thing to do.”
For months, the group planned what that would look like, including promoting it in other parishes with Venezuelan connections, creating videos and encouraging people to get involved. They also encouraged people to pray the World Mission Rosary.
Father VanderWeyst said, “This effort has a three-fold mission: to pray for the people of Venezuela; to pull our sister-parish committee together to work as a unit; and for the whole parish cluster to enter into deeper solidarity with our global friends.”
The 25-hour event began with First Saturday Mass on April 6, followed by 25 hours devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer vigil ended with Mass on April 7, followed by a shared meal and fellowship.
Many people from across the diocese participated in the day, including former missioner priests and delegates as well as Franciscan sisters who helped with the music at Mass.
Korkowski believes that their prayers — and yours — can and will make a difference.
“We hope that the situation with the government officials of Venezuela can be straightened out,” she said. “We hope that their economy can improve so that the country can thrive once again. We hope that the many natural gifts that God has provided to Venezuela can be a benefit to all of the people. We hope that the many people who have already fled the country can one day return to their homes. We hope that the country can remain a Catholic country.
“Our faith teaches us that we must pray for each other as we are all members of the mystical body of Christ,” Korkowski said. “When we pray for them, we do not know how their lives will improve, but we do know for sure that God will give them the graces that they need to persevere in their troubles.”