Update on Coronavirus in the Dominican Republic and La Sagrada Familia Parish
Update June 12, 2020
Here is the most recent news from our Fr. Michael and our pastoral team in La Sagrada Familia (LSF).
(You can also scroll down on this page or click here to read previous updates from the Parish)
- The first measures taken by the national government were on March 19, which included closing the borders, with few exceptions.
(Note: This has kept Fr. Thomas Naidu from coming to take his place as associate pastor of LSF. He has remained in Milwaukee and is working on his Spanish in the meantime. We hope he will be able to come shortly after the border is opened on July 1.)
- Currently, (June 10 data) official numbers from the Ministry of Public Health are 21,437 confirmed cases and 561 deaths.
To put this in context, these numbers are similar to Wisconsin's, but the Dominican Republic is roughly 1/3 of the size of the state of Wisconsin with roughly twice the population.
- There has been communal infection in the province of Azua for over a month, and we´ve had several cases in the communities of the parish. Most have recovered, but we do have a couple from Sabana Yegua who are hospitalized in Santo Domingo. The husband is in the ICU, but is beginning to recover.
- Curfew is still in place but is now from 7 pm to 5 am (5 pm on Sundays).
- Like in Wisconsin, the country has begun to open.
- It is opening following 2 week phases, and supposedly will not continue to the next phase unless things are going well (though it is not fully clear how this would be decided).
- The goal of the government is to be fully open by July 5, which happens to be the date of the presidential elections.
Many are concerned, including yours truly, that this is being rushed and that there will be risk of spreading infections on election day, as people tend to congregate in big crowds on election days. Some of us wonder if the country will again take more measures once the elections are finished.
- The bishops, following the government guidelines, allow for Sunday Mass at 30% capacity, social distancing, and masks (which do not carry any political weight here).
- Trinity Sunday was our first “public” Mass in Sabana Yegua, and it went extremely well. It might be disappointing for several of our visitors though – it was very orderly, with waving for the sign of peace! Thank God for the youth group who have been training to be ushers, and make sure people have masks and use alcohol to disinfect their hands before entering. We also celebrated Mass in Ganadero, where the chapel is dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity.
Thanks to the regular funding from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, through the Office for World Mission, and other funds that were provided by Office for World Mission, we have been able to carry out much of what I detail below. Also, there have been funds provided through the Community of Saint Paul, both from the USA and Spain, that have provided some aid as well. That said, it is thanks to the Office for World Mission that we are here and have the infrastructure in place to provide these different signs of hope.
Our efforts now, and since the parishes founding in 1981, were powerfully demonstrated for me firsthand on June 2. That morning, to begin to animate the community of Proyecto 2C, we formed a small group to process with the Blessed Sacrament for three hours--a socially-distanced way to encourage prayer and hope. That afternoon, we helped to distribute food kits to Haitian families in the batay in Tabara Abajo.
- Food kits are prepared by staff (teachers) and distributed monthly.
- Teachers have also prepared “homework” for the children in their classes.
- We are waiting to know what Public Education will set as guidelines as we look towards the fall and having children back in the classrooms.
- After almost three months of preparing food kits, we have become very efficient at preparing and distributing them.
- Maya oversees the preparation of kits for over 100 elderly community members every two weeks in Sabana Yegua, and Indhira oversees the preparation of the kits for the families of the Childrens' Centers every month.
- We also have been providing kits for Haitians in Sabana Yegua, Tabara Abajo, and Kilometro 15.
- As an installed “Assembly President” (ministries of lector and acolyte), Polo will now be able to hold services with communion, and he has begun these services, just last Sunday.
- Polo has also been leading the efforts to identify Haitian families in need in the different communities and has helped translate some messages from Fr. Mike into Haitian Creole.
- The Health Center is now offering full services, though the pharmacy still closes earlier than pre-COVID19. This allows them to double up on pharmacy staff, which is necessary to respect social distance.
- Patients for the lab and doctor have to wait outside for their turn, to keep the distance between them.
- Perla, member of the CSP who is a dentist at the center, is currently offering emergency services.
For Physical Therapy, we are planning on starting limited physical therapy with proper precautions taken, by appointment and only for those who are in most dire need of it, as decided by Yvonne, the PT.
- Because of the efforts taken to keep visitors out, the jail in Km 15 is one of the few in the entire country that has not had a case of COVID19 (thanks be to God!).
- The parish has been able to provide at least one basic personal hygiene kit for each of the 500 prisoners.
- We also provided some vegetables and herbs that were requested (they had plenty of the staples, but little to make it taste good!).
- Either today (June 12), or early next week, we will also provide the doctor that visits the jail with some requested medicines. Our aim is help keep the men there as healthy as possible during the pandemic.
- Spiritually, Fr. Mike has visited on a few occasions. The warden asked that the parish come for a Mass at night, when the prisoners are locked up, such that the Mass could be offered from a distance, and for the entire population.
- The warden was (is) concerned about their spirits, given the lack of activity and visitors. He said, “we need God more than ever, and they need to know there is still hope.”
- To make it more animated, Fr. Mike went with Fr. Bernaldo, a young local diocesan priest who knows how to sing and play the guitar. We were there with Deacon Domingo, and two other volunteers, for about two hours.
- During this past week, Fr. Mike returned for another word service with the catechism group, keeping a safe distance, in order to begin their formation again.
- As of now, LSF is the only group allowed in the prison.
- Daily Mass is offered via Facebook Live, as are songs by the choir.
- Reflections are shared on Facebook, Whatsapp, and on the local radio station in Sabana Yegua (thanks to the connection with Euclides--the lawyer that works in the parish office--as he is very involved at the station).
- As mentioned before, on Sunday, June 7, we had our first public Masses, and will continue to do so in the different communities.
- On Corpus Christi (June 11 here), Fr. Mike visited different parishioners in Sabana Yegua with the Blessed Sacrament, and brought them communion. For most of them, it was for the first time in over 90 days.
- We have had some parishioners pass away during these months, and we have tried to support them as we can, including brief and small services.
- As things have begun to open up more, we have started other activities as well, such as processions with the Blessed Sacrament (a small group) through some of the communities. It was suggested by other priests in the diocese as a way to animate the communities while not being able to form big groups, and has been quite powerful. It has meant a lot to several people, and brought some people to tears
- The parish office is now completely open; social distancing is followed, and visitors need to wear masks.
- Some staff members are still at home, though most are now working in some aspect.
- Parish staff and volunteers have helped to identify families in need for the government food program, and distribute the bags.
- Thanks to funds from The Office for World Mission, we haven´t had to lay anyone off.
- The project to install a reservoir for farmers in Barreras is finally able to get moving again. Thank you to the Cathedral parish and Holy Apostles in New Berlin for supporting that effort!
Our most pressing current concerns are for safety of people as society opens (and yet confirmed cases continue to grow) and economic concerns for those who already were struggling and living day to day. We are also trying to support the jail in the ways that are possible as boredom and panic are very dangerous combinations.
We are so blessed to have the support we do from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Although we don´t have the funds that we normally would from collections, we don´t have to worry about much and are thus able to dedicate our time to ministry and service in these difficult times.
Finally, we livestream our Sunday morning Mass on Facebook, at 7 am Milwaukee time! Click here to like and follow our FB page.
Message from World Mission:
We are grateful for and proud of the work of Fr. Michael and the pastoral team and staff in La Sagrada Familia.
We are also thankful for the prayers and support of the faithful of Southeastern Wisconsin for helping to make this ministry in our sister parish possible. For regular updates, please follow us on Facebook. You can also click here if you would like to donate to help support the parish.
Update May 11, 2020
(This message is a follow-up to our initial report from April 24. Scroll down or click here to read the April 24th report from the parish)
A Message from Fr. Mike, Pastor of La Sagrada Familia
We continue on “lock down” in the DR, scheduled to end on May 17. I imagine they will extend all measures until the end of the month, although a lot of people are getting more and more relaxed, yours truly included. The issue we have especially in our area is that we were taking measures such as having businesses closed, the curfew at 5 pm, no masses, etc., for over a month before we started to have a spread of infection. Now as we have several cases in the parish territory, it is when people are getting more lax in their efforts.
As of yesterday, May 10, there are 10,634 confirmed cases in the country, more than 1/3 of which is in the Santo Domingo area. In the province of Azua [where La Sagrada Familia parish is located] there are 119 confirmed cases, and 2 deaths (one of which was apparently a man who refused to go to the hospital). That doesn’t seem like a lot, but as of May 2 there was 82 cases, and on April 15, there were only 15 confirmed cases.
We continue to take the following actions, in part funded by the extra $10,000 that your office has sent, as well as the parish budget (especially for the childrens’ centers) and the funds and income from the Health Center, as well as from local donations of people in Sabana Yegua, and the local food distribution company (Induveca), which gives us food stuffs (salami, some cheeses, yogurt) which is almost at the point of expiration.
On Sunday, May 3, we had a presidential candidate stop in Sabana Yegua and Los Jovillos to make a donation of 125 boxes of food (even had eggs!), 250 boxes total. We’re not a fan of this, but it was a one time thing, and was an opportunity to help people, in addition to those we do on a regular bases (elderly and children centers).
Actions Taken/Help Given:
- Almost a weeks worth of food (double of what we usually gave), every two weeks, for 115 elderly poor in Sabana Yegua. That means we are in effect giving them four times what we were before. Coordinated by Maya.
- Similar food kits are prepared for the families in the children’s centers, with the addition of the donations from Induveca when available.
- Working on more hygiene kits for the jail, in addition to the 300 sent before.
- I am in conversation with the warden at the jail to see if I can go do a prayer service after the inmates are in their cells/sleeping quarters. This would allow for me to be keeping a safe distance from the inmates. The issue is that this would require me to be out after the curfew. A jail in Santo Domingo has had COVID19 spread like wildfire, and several resulting deaths. As such, they are being very cautious at our jail, but the warden thinks they need some inspiration and, well, some God.
- The priests and bishop of the diocese are in conversation regarding how to open up. In general, we don’t think it’s a good idea, even to start small, at this point. It will be too hard to control. Besides the “Catholic Comeback,” we are taking similar measures here within the Church as in Milwaukee. I imagine we will do a lot more things outdoors, at first.
- I continue to do daily Mass live on Facebook, at 11:00 am (La Sagrada Familia Time), and we record and post on YouTube for the Sunday mass. This allows for music, as well as allowing people to access the Mass whenever they are able to have WIFI. Also, then I can send the audio to be broadcast on the local radio station, at 10 am and 5 pm.
- We are also preparing food kits for the Haitian immigrant community. They don’t get anything from the government, except the occasional food kit.
- The government has focused more on two different programs which get funds to those in need, especially those who did not receive funds before, but need them now because they are not working. They have expanded these programs, and cut back on the food kits, something that I think is better, especially since they planned on relying on the churches to distribute the food. At one point, it was suggested that we hand out 450 food kits, three times a week.
Please follow the World Mission Facebook Page and the La Sagrada Familia Facebook Page or more updates and the live Mass.
The Ofice for World Mission facilitates the sister parish relationship with La Sagrada Familia. Much of this response is made possible by donations to the parish from the faithful of southeastern Wisconsin. If you would like to donate to help support the parish, you can do so here.
Update: April 24, 2020
As a ministry of the Office for World Mission, we want to share with you these updates received from our team in the archdiocesan sister parish, La Sagrada Familia, regarding pandemics numbers and responses.
Coronavirus Numbers According to Ministry of Public Health
Dominican Republic, Countrywide: 5,749 confirmed cases; 267 deaths.
Azua Region (where La Sagrada Familia is located): 25 confirmed cases; 1 death.
From Fr. Mike, Pastor of La Sagrada Familia: “To put (the numbers) in context, the country is roughly 1/3 of the size of the state of Wisconsin with roughly twice the population. (Locally), I am aware of one case in Proyecto 4, two in Proyecto 2C and at least one in Sabana Yegua (parish center).
The first measures taken by the national government were on March 19, which included closing the borders, with few exceptions.
- Travel is limited, namely from “hot spots” such as Santo Domingo.
- Businesses deemed non-essential are closed, and it is recommended to stay at home as much as possible.
- A curfew is imposed from 5 pm to 6 am, allowing for very few exceptions for people to be outside of their homes.
- Ecclesial measures are similar to those in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and as a result, the parish has not had a public celebration of any kind, as directed by the Episcopal Conference of the Dominican Republic, since restrictions began.
- The safe distribution of food is a major concern.
The different churches were asked to be a part of distributing food, but LSF and other parishes are trying to avoid letting the government just hand us the problem. The original proposal was that we would help to distribute the official aid from the government, without training, or safety measures, for our volunteers. Especially at the beginning, it seemed that many officials, civil and ecclesiastical, were applying what was the typical response in times of major storms. Yet, this is not just another storm, and it is not something where the danger has passed.
Local Response: Concrete Actions in La Sagrada Familia
Staffing and Response to Parish Needs:
Most staff is at home. In the last week, some have started to come in to work on a limited and controlled basis to meet health, food, and pastoral/spiritual needs.
- The pharmacy is open limited hours with safety precautions in place.
- Thanks to donations, the parish is able to make hygiene kits. The parish recently sent the local jail over 300 kits including toothpaste, a toothbrush, and soap.
To protect the inmates, the jail is now completely cut off from visitors.
- The doctor and lab technician at the health center are working a few days per week, mainly to attend to the pregnant mothers in the area. The doctor can also be called in for health consultations and as needed.
- Primary care facilities in the area are also open on an as needed basis, as it is deemed too difficult to implement proper procedures to protect the patients and medical staff.
- From Fr. Mike: “Thank God to the Mission group from St. Mary´s and otherwise for eye clinic and surgeries – we have a good amount of face masks, gloves and even some scrubs. We use them regularly and have also provided for some in the local public hospital.”
With the infection rate currently (and fortunately) low in the area, the main concern is food. Many people live day to day. Fr. Mike notes that funds from the faithful of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as gathered by the Office for World Mission are helping to make the following responses possible.
- Parish staff are preparing regular food bags for the needy elderly in Sabana Yegua.
- Workers at the Children’s Development Centers in Sabana Yegua (barrio San Francisco), Ganadero (El Alto) and Los Negros have helped to pack and give out food kits to the families of the children who would normally be fed at the centers (the centers are closed).
- The parish also provided the jail with garlic, onions, some vegetables and herbs.
These items were requested by the Warden when Fr. Mike reached out to see how the parish could help.
- Parish staff and volunteers have helped to identify families in need for the government food program, and distribute the bags.
(Parish staff is seeking ongoing dialogue with the government about this, in order to minimize risks to staff, volunteers and families).
As public mass celebrations are prohibited, Fr. Mike and the parish staff have found unique ways to meet the pastoral and spiritual needs of the community, utilizing technology and collaboration.
- A live Daily mass recording is offered via Facebook live.
- Songs by the choir and reflections/relaxations are shared on Facebook and WhatsApp.
- During Holy Week, live masses where shared from the Diocese.
This included a retreat, which was put on the diocesan radio.
- Reflections, etc. by Fr. Mike are also being shared on the local radio station in Sabana Yegua.
This is thanks to the connection with Euclides, as he is very involved at the station.
Many will remember Euclides—he is the lawyer that works in the parish office.
- As the jail inmates can no longer have visitors, they are now allowed to participate in the remote Masses via radio and other means. They have also led prayers within the jail, and recorded messages to their families to stay at home.
- Parish staff are also taking turns calling leaders in different communities to access and meet needs.
The staff of the parish is appreciative of the work of the Office for World Mission for their coordination efforts in sharing this update and garnering support for our ministry.
We at the Office for World Mission will keep you posted on updates as we have them from the parish.
Please know that the prayers and donations from the faithful of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are a source of much needed support at this difficult time.
Please follow the World Mission Facebook Page and the La Sagrada Familia Facebook Page or more updates.
If you would like to donate to help support the parish, you can do so here.