From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Presiding bishop finds vital, growing church during visit to DR
Fri, 7 Feb 2003 13:28:23 -0500
February 7, 2003
Episcopalians: Presiding bishop finds vital, growing church
during visit to DR
by James Solheim
(ENS) During a pastoral visit to the Diocese of the Dominican
Republic, La Iglesia Episcopal Dominicana, Presiding Bishop
Frank T. Griswold encountered a church that is vital and
growing--despite a difficult political and economic climate.
Following the January 27-31 Executive Council meeting in Santo
Domingo, Griswold visited churches, schools and clinics that are
at the core of the diocesan ministries, and met with teachers,
students, clergy and American missionaries.
"This is more than just a pastoral visit, you were on a
mission," said Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin. "Your presence is
like an infusion of vitamins pumped into our church." In his
welcome to the council, the bishop reminded them that "this is a
third world country" where "about 20 percent of the eight
million inhabitants live on less than $1 a day and the income of
our middle class is below the poverty level in the United
Conditions shape ministry
Although its roots go back to mission work in San Pedro among
English-speaking West Indian migrants who came to work in the
sugar cane fields at the end of the 19th century, the Dominican
Republic officially became a diocese of the Episcopal Church
under the care of the bishop of Puerto Rico. "In 1961 we became
our own diocese," said Holguin, who became the third Dominican
to lead the diocese when he was elected in 1991.
The church has grown, even under difficult circumstances,
describing itself as "a missionary church," one that is poised
for significant growth, according to Holguin. During the last
decade, the number of congregations has increased from 23 to 43.
At one point it was 53 but there weren't enough clergy to serve
all the parishes. Among the 28 active clergy there are
Dominicans, Mexicans, Colombians, Haitians and one American. A
decade ago, support from the Episcopal Church provided 85
percent of the diocesan budget, but now it is only 41 percent.
The diocese has companion relationships with Rhode Island, South
Carolina, Southwest Florida and Western Louisiana and frequently
hosts work groups, coordinated by Ellen Snow, who with her
husband Bob are missionaries of the Episcopal Church
During a visit to the historic San Pedro area, the presiding
bishop (obispo primado) was welcomed by several hundred students
at the Collegio Episcopal, a grade school in San Jose where the
United Thank Offering has helped build a new facility and
Episcopal parishes in the United States have sent work crews to
assist with the construction. (Several members of the Executive
Council spent several days on a work crew before their meeting.)
"It is meant to be a model for other schools in the diocese,"
said the Rev. Felix Encarnacion. There are about 4,000 students
in diocesan schools, many of them on scholarship. During the
visit Griswold and Holguin broke ground for a new home for the
Drums and a packed church greeted the party at San Esteban (St.
Stephen) where the diocese operates a clinic and school. It was
pointed out that the city of San Pedro produces more major
league baseball players than any other in the world and is home
to Sammy Sosa, the home run king.
"This is the cradle of Anglicanism in the Dominican Republic,"
said Holguin, "and the source of many clergy for our church."
Not only for the diocese but also for the Episcopal Church
Center in New York--including Ricardo Potter, retired from the
staff of Anglican and Global Relations, and Juan Marquez, who is
currently on staff. Originally a church for the English, it is
now a mixed congregation with a majority of Dominicans. "The
culture may be different but the faith is the same," said
Hope and courage
In his comments to the church members, clinic staff, teachers
and students, Griswold said, "My duty is to help build
relationships between the church in the US and the Dominican
Republic so that together we can do the work of Christ. I take
back with me the wonderful experience of the richness of your
faith that gives all hope and courage."
After a tour of the clinic, which pioneered rehabilitation in
the country, the party stopped at the 20-room Kellogg Retreat
Center, named for the first resident bishop of the diocese,
At Centro El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd Center) a group of
pre-school children performed a skit for the party, complete
with colorful costumes and a tethered chicken who seemed to
resist his role. The church and community center are under the
direction of the Sisters of the Transfiguration and serve in a
very poor and depressed neighborhood. "We may lack
resources--but not heart," Sisters Gabriel and Johanna said.
At a luncheon with diocesan clergy, Griswold said he was
"grateful to experience some of the incredible ministries of the
diocese and strengthen the ties between our churches." He said
that he was "profoundly unhappy that the US government has lost
sight of the suffering and poverty in so much of the world but
I'm glad the church has maintained its global consciousness." He
reported on his conversation with US Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld in which he warned about dangers as serious as
In an interview with the New York Times during his time in the
Dominican Republic, Griswold said that he was "grateful at last
that our government is doing something to be in solidarity with
the rest of the world." He noted that the proposed allocation of
$15 billion by the US to fight HIV/AIDS was not just for Africa,
but would also benefit Haiti, which shares the island of
Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic and has a serious AIDS
"I deeply cherish the bonds we share--bonds that transcend
culture and politics and make common cause for reconciliation in
this fragile world where we live," Griswold added. In a brief
press conference, he repeated his "profound reservations about
the rightness of war with Iraq because the possibilities of
innocent lives being lost is very high and it could destabilize
the entire Middle East." Some of the rhetoric used by the Bush
Administration, he added, "could prove dangerous and create even
worse tension in the world. As a superpower we should also be a
super servant in the global community."
Bond of unity
The day ended with a two-hour Eucharist at Casa San Pablo, a
Roman Catholic school in Santo Domingo. Griswold delighted the
congregation of about 2,500 by celebrating the Eucharist and
preaching in Spanish.
"Peace means being in solidarity with one another," he said.
"Differences of language and culture and nationality are brought
together in a bond of unity. Our different ways of living the
Gospel in our particular contexts enrich one another. They
expand our understanding of Christ. They allow us to experience
the total Christ who speaks to us through the particularity of
Griswold concluded, "Christ is present in the hopes and
struggles of those who relieve suffering, promote justice and
wage peace. And Christ is also present in those whose burdens we
seek to relieve--the poor, the oppressed and those who have no
In commending the work of the diocese, he said, "You make
significant contributions to the people of your country,
regardless of their faith. I am so impressed with the health
ministries, the ministry of nutrition and of education you carry
out for all citizens. You are true bearers of Christ's peace.
May he continue to send you forth in his service as signs of his
compassion and love. And may each one of you have the courage to
knock on whatever door the Spirit guides you to. When the door
opens, greet those who stand before you and say 'Peace to this
--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.
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