With political unrest and disease taking their toll in Homa Bay and Maracay, central Minnesota Catholics are being asked to pray

By Dianne Towalski
The Visitor

Prayer is a pillar of any global solidarity partnership, and our partners in Maracay, Venezuela and Homa Bay, Kenya need our prayers more than ever.

The St. Cloud Mission Office is asking people of the St. Cloud diocese to pray for their brothers and sisters overseas as they face ongoing challenges of poverty and violence due to political unrest, terrorism and now disease.

In Homa Bay, a recent cholera outbreak is the latest struggle. According to the Daily Nation, a national newspaper in Kenya, more than 1,000 cases have been reported and the disease had claimed 17 lives as of March 3.

Drought conditions in the area are contributing to the spread of the disease.

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CNS Photo

“There’s a lack of water, so they’re using the contaminated river to irrigate their fields and eating the vegetables that are washed in that water,” said Kateri Mancini, mission education coordinator for the Mission Office. “If it’s not boiled or filtered properly, it’s causing [the spread of cholera].”

Symptoms of cholera include diarrhea and vomiting. It can cause severe dehydration and, in some cases, death.

According to WaterAid, an organization that advocates for safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation, 16 million Kenyans still lack access to safe water. Half the population lives below the poverty line and millions lack basic toilets.

“They need prayers for rain, prayers for healing for those families who have lost loved ones from cholera and then, of course, for it to not continue,” Mancini said. “We remember you in prayer, too,” said Father Abraham Ayieko of the Diocese of Homa Bay in a recent email to the Mission Office. “We unfailingly thank God, too, for our partnership that is clearly growing from strength to strength under his divine watch.”

Mancini said prayers for peace in Kenya are also needed. There has been an increase in terrorist activity over the past year, which has affected travel to and from the country, she said. The U.S. State Department currently has a travel warning in place for the country.

According to the Daily Nation, the most recent warning was posted last June partly in response to terror attacks in the cities of Lamu and Mombasa that killed several civilians.

“The hope is that we will be able to travel there again by March of 2016,” Mancini said.

Unrest continues

In Venezuela, the need for prayers for peace also continues, Mancini said. Political unrest there has been ongoing and is causing a shortage of basic necessities. Poverty, corruption and violence create daily insecurity and uncertainty for people there.

“Our priests have shared that sometimes they have difficulty even getting the hosts for Mass because there are shortages of the flour and things like that,” Mancini said.

September marks the 50th anniversary of San Bartolome Parish, the first parish started by priests of the Diocese of St. Cloud. A delegation that was scheduled for 2014 was canceled due to safety concerns, and the Mission Office is still looking at whether a small group of three to four people could travel to Venezuela safely for the celebration.

“Thursdays at 6 p.m. we have a holy hour for your community in prayer to strengthen ties,” said Saul Flores, a member of Cristo Rey Parish in Maracay who visited St. Cloud with a delegation in 2012. “Our community hopes that [people from the St. Cloud Diocese] can visit us. We are looking forward to welcoming them and pray that the political situation does not prevent them [from coming] this year.”

A delegation from Maracay was supposed to travel to St. Cloud this year, too, but because of the economic struggles the cost of airfare made it impossible.

“That’s where it’s really hard as a partnership, when we can’t be with each other,” Mancini said. “We’re praying that the people can continue to get their basic needs met, for an end to violence, and then also for the church, that they can continue to gather and celebrate the sacraments.” Because of recent protests, the Venezuelan government has issued rules about how many people can gather at one time. There is fear that gathering for Mass might be in violation of those rules.

“Let faith not be affected by these human factors,” Mancini said.

“Prayer enjoins our two dioceses in communion,” Father Ayieko of Homa Bay said. “Whenever we pray for your mission in Maracay, we somehow experience a feeling of familiarity with our brothers and sisters who we might never meet in this life. Prayer then achieves for us what our finite nature cannot deliver easily; a tripartite mystical union with our brothers and sisters in St. Cloud, and through them, a common sense of solidarity with the church in Maracay.”