From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Presiding bishop finds vital, growing church during visit to DR

Date 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, 
nearing completion. 

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.

Common cause

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 
one another."

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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