By Maria-Pia Negro Chin | OSV News
(OSV News) — On Sunday of the Word of God, Jan. 22, parishes around the country participated in the U.S. Catholic bishops’ annual national Collection for the Church in Latin America. Funds from this second collection are used for ministry evangelization, seminary training and to help churches recover from natural disasters in Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands.
“These are diverse projects, yet they have a single mission: to share the faith. We share what we can, spiritually, physically and financially,” retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York, told OSV News.
Since 1965, gifts to this annual collection have assisted dioceses and parishes in regions where the faithful are evangelizing but without the support of a resident priest. The collection supports vocations, trains lay leaders and helps churches in need. Earlier, Bishop Cisneros said that Massgoers’ donations to the collection, no matter how large or small, will join with those of other Catholics “to make a multimillion-dollar impact in places where people are praying for miracles.”
Bishop Cisneros, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America, said he has seen the impact of some of the parishioners’ generosity.
Most recently, during a visit to the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba and the Diocese of Guantánamo-Baracoa in January, he saw the fruits of supporting evangelization efforts on the island. Cuban catechists organized a celebration to teach children about the feast of the Epiphany and the bishop was surprised that these catechists were teenagers.
“They were sharing this message, first with their youth and testimony, but also with the knowledge they had acquired through the training that has been possible because of this fund,” he said.
Bishop Cisneros added that he quizzed the children and rejoiced in hearing their answers. “I asked, ‘What gift has God the Father given us?'” he recalled. A girl said “love,” a boy said “peace,” and the smallest child there — whom he thought must have been 7 years old — said “Jesus.”
“(God’s) message has reached these children through other children,” said the bishop. “Truly, Jesus brings us love and peace.”
Another place where the collection has made an impact is in the territorial Prelature of Chuquibambilla, located in Apurímac, in the Andes of Peru.
“We have a clear option for the poor here … These provinces where I live have been forgotten by the Peruvian government,” said Chuquibambilla Bishop Edinson Farfán Córdoba. “So, the church plays an important role in helping them grow in their faith and with their integral human development.”
Bishop Farfán, who is an Augustinian, told OSV News the generosity from sister churches helps support the prelature, an area of rural farming communities with about 160,000 inhabitants.
“They are humble people. … They are very poor but have a great spiritual richness. They have great love for the church,” the bishop said of his flock.
The bishop said he is thankful for all the support from the U.S., which has made possible the formation of lay pastoral agents who minister to his Quechua-speaking parishioners. “We bring formation in Quechua and Spanish. That way, they can continue preserving their mother tongue,” Bishop Farfán said.
“The first language of the people is the one they pray to God in,” said Father Leo Perez, director of the Collection for Latin America and a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. “When you have your faith and your catechism presented in that language, it is very enriching.”
Father Perez told OSV News that in the past, the national collection also had been used to translate Bibles and missals into people’s common language, including Indigenous languages and creole in Haiti.
The priest visited Chuquibambilla last year and said he was impressed with the formation efforts there. It is a formation that takes the Quechua people’s cultural and spiritual richness into account.
“We form them in the doctrine of our Holy Mother Church but starting from their reality,” said Bishop Farfán. “We are trying to walk this synodal path forming families, forming catechists, and forming leaders in campesino communities so they can assume leadership commitments.”
Bishop Farfán hopes this formation continues to strengthen his community and encourage much-needed vocations.
In 2021, the Collection for the Church in Latin America provided 281 grants to several countries in the region, totaling more than $6.1 million. The collection’s annual report shows that nearly 50% of the funds were used for evangelization, faith formation, social ministry and pastoral work in Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands.
The next most significant portion, 29%, was for disaster response, which included rebuilding churches and funding disaster preparedness — as was the case of Nicaragua, where 1,200 lay Catholics were trained as emergency disaster volunteers. About 20% of funds were destined for the development of vocations and preparation for the priesthood or religious life. The collection also helped establish critical programs in impoverished dioceses, such as effective child protection ministries, said Father Perez.
Father Perez said that if people could not attend Mass the weekend of Jan. 21-22 when the Collection for the Church in Latin America was taken in most U.S. parishes, they can still donate to the collection through the #iGiveCatholic Together campaign (igivecatholictogether.org).
“This collection is a symbol of communion of the American people with the Latin American people,” said Bishop Cisneros, adding how grateful people are for the generosity of Catholics in the U.S. “These projects will greatly help the local church (in Latin America).”