Dulce Contreras traveled with the Office for World Mission on the Lenten Pilgrimage to our Sister Parish, La Sagrada Familia, in the Dominican Republic. She wrote the following reflection to share with her fellow parishioners of St. Richard Parish in Racine.
(Please note that trip to La Sagrada Familia took place from March 10-17, 2020, before travel restrictions or social distancing were in place for Wisconsin or the Dominican Republic. The travelers have safely returned and were instructed to self quarantine for 14 days after arrival. We know of no illnesses connected to the trip participants)
On March 10th I traveled to the Dominican Republic on a pilgrimage with some fellow members of St.Richard: Melissa Helt, Mickey Meredith, and my dad, Eloy Contreras.
Going on a pilgrimage requires a lot of planning. One of the things I did to prepare for this journey was to get my school to donate school supplies and baby clothes for our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic. It was pretty successful. I would say we had two suitcases full of school supplies.
The pilgrimage was certainly not what I had expected. Going into it, I told myself that we had to open ourselves to the community to allow them to feel comfortable with us in their homes. It was the complete opposite. We started the first day exploring the local parish community of La Sagrada (Familia). We stopped at the child daycare center and, immediately within seconds of walking in the building, the children saw us and ran up to us to hug us. That moment was very special to me in a sense, one because I love children, and two because even without knowing us they welcomed us with full embrace. A lot of my highlights involved children in the community of Sabana Yegua which is the community where the parish of La Sagrada Familia is located. As we got to know the communities, we gave out school supplies. When we saw a baby or a child we would stop, make conversation and give out the baby clothes we had with us. It was very touching to see kids so excited and happy for a crayon or a pencil and for the parents to have new clothes for their babies.
While there we had an opportunity to go to Mass everyday. The first day so many people came up to us after Mass and hugged us, even though we were strangers they welcomed us. It was as if we were not strangers but we were truly brothers and sisters. In Matthew 25:31- 40 it mentions “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” That reference to scripture was in my mind the whole time I was there and helped me realize that everyone is called to live that Gospel, which we were doing. We gave clothes to them and they were welcomed the strangers. That was how we connected as true brothers and sisters.
We visited all the supported projects including a water project, a housing project, and chapels built in various areas.
I can say for myself the Friday that we were there was so powerful and emotional for me! That day we were set to do stations of the cross twice. Stations of the cross are very emotional because we get to walk not in just Jesus’ shoes but also Mary’s. The first set of stations was in the local prison. Going into it, I have to admit I was really nervous. I had never been in a prison in my own country let alone in a foreign one; however I was determined to go in with a clear mindset. I was not there to judge them or question them as to who they were. I was there because we shared a common interest: a love for Christ and the ultimate sacrifice that unites us to Him. As we did the stations, it was very thrilling to hear them all sing so loudly while processing with a cross that a priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had decorated.
That afternoon we went into another area of town and again did the Stations in a local neighborhood. Immediately after we got off the bus the people welcomed us. As we began to walk, a little eight year old girl, came up to me and held my hand, catching me by surprise—a very good surprise. As we were proceeding more children came up to me to hold my hand and all the children began to hold hands with each other. As we were processing, we began a small conversation, and she asked me to speak English. As I was speaking she said how she would love to come to the United States. I made a joke with her saying how I would take her in my suitcase and we would go. She stopped me before I could finish my sentence and said “ But I can't, I have a responsibility to take care of my grandma.” That moment hit me hardest when saying goodbye. I envy the strength she has, as an eight year old stepping up and doing something that most of us at that age could not ever imagine. It struck me as a young person because our worries are what is the latest iPhone, how many snap chat followers we have, but this young girl’s worry, like so many other children in this country have worries that I would think only adults would have—like to take care of her grandmother.
This experience has given me a new perspective on life and the opportunities offered to me. I have a better appreciation of my family and my parish community for all the wonderful opportunities offered to me. I hope to see everyone soon to share more of this wonderful experience with you in person.
(Dulce Contreras, May 2020)