Blessed be the tie that binds: 50 years of faith and friendship

Categories: Around the Diocese

Sister dioceses give thanks and praise for strong global bonds

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

When the newborn daughter of Kateri Mancini and her husband, Mike Gallagher, was baptized this past April during the Easter Vigil at Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud, the whole community welcomed her into the church following the parish’s tradition — marking her with the sign of the cross as her parents processed her through the aisles.

“I had a profound feeling of the oneness we all share and the vastness of support my daughter would have as she tries to live out her faith,” Mancini said.

The following day — Easter Sunday — Mancini, who is the mission education coordinator for the St. Cloud Mission Office, received a phone call from a friend in Maracay. The friend told her she had been praying for Mancini’s family on this special sacramental milestone.

“My feelings from the night before were multiplied as I realized anew how vast and beautiful the Body of Christ truly is that we welcomed our baby girl into,” Mancini said. “When I first got involved with the Maracay partnership 10 years ago, I never would have imagined that one day it would be so central a part of my life, faith and heart that my Easter Sunday would be spent thanking God for it as equally as my child’s baptism.”

timeline_maracayZinging over those telephone lines across thousands of miles was the voice of Trina de Aguilar, communications liaison for the partnership between the Diocese of St. Cloud and the Diocese of Maracay. The two dioceses have been sister dioceses since 1965 with Father Mark Willenbring and Father James Minette as the first mission priests from the St. Cloud Diocese to serve in Venezuela.

The partnership has a rich history. During the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII encouraged the church in America and Canada to work together to help the Latin American church. Also during that time, St. Cloud Bishop Peter Bartholome met Maracay’s Bishop Feliciano Gonzalez.

So in 1964, Father Willenbring, now retired, and Father Minette, who died in 2004, were sent by Bishop Bartholome to Maracay where they later helped found the parish of San Bartolome. The parish also celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

Over the years, many priests, seminarians, religious sisters and delegates have traveled to and from Maracay, enhancing the richness of the partnership and forming lasting bonds. Father Richard Walz, who died last year, served in Maracay from 1996-2001 where he met a young and eager Omar Guanchez.

“I received my call to the priesthood through the exemplary ministry of Father Walz,” said Father Guanchez, who was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of St. Cloud in 2009. “God used him as an instrument to inspire me to become a priest. These things do not happen by chance. It was God’s plan.”

Father Walz invited Father Guanchez to come to the United States to attend college seminary, and he now serves as pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie.
“I give thanks to God for the partnership between the two dioceses. If it wasn’t for this partnership, I don’t know where or what I would be today,” he said.

United together

Aguilar stressed the importance of the partnership as an “important way to get together and share God’s love and to grow in oneness with each other.”

“The partnership has had a great impact — just to mention the 17 priests, 11 sisters, the number of diocesan delegations that we have received in Maracay, in addition to the four priests that we have sent to St. Cloud to serve as missioners,” she said. “Strong bonds of friendship have lasted throughout these years.”

Though the bonds remain strong, the economic and political unrest in Venezuela has made it difficult to communicate and travel to Maracay.

“Our most important problems now are related to the country situation which [includes] food shortage, lack of foreign exchange, limited number of overseas flights and insecurity,” Aguilar said. “This is restraining the visit of delegations.”

That is why both Father Guanchez and Aguilar say now is the time for celebrating the partnership but also a desperate time for prayer.

“My hope is to see more collaboration at all levels, more intercessory prayer in both dioceses,” Father Guanchez said. “We need to pray for one another and develop that sense of great family because that’s what the church is: the family of God.”

“Now it is time to renew the flame of our burning hearts to assure we continue the mission of Christ through this partnership for the coming years,” Aguilar said. “The world needs the Light of Christ. Both dioceses must face the challenges and opportunities of the next 50 years with one goal in mind — to continue to build a Christ-centered relationship united in a common purpose — the glory of God.”