“Oh Lord, what could we do with our Maryknoll experience after returning home?” This was the question nagging me, as my wife Kathy, I and our four sons returned to Cincinnati after our assignment in Venezuela.
By chance or the Spirit’s intervention, we met Father Paul Rehling, a pastor in our archdiocese who had recently returned from Ghana, West Africa. He had served there as a spiritual counselor at a seminary. Father Paul invited me and other parishioners to meet his friends in Ghana, which would lead to more spiritually and culturally enriching visits and friendships with Ghanaians also living in Cincinnati.
I soon learned that this was a ministry called “parish twinning” and that it was growing across the U.S. Eventually I convinced local African American Catholics to join our efforts of solidarity, which led to five more trips to Ghana with great enthusiasm.
After I became the director of the mission office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2000, I met Don and Kathy Meyer, whose son T.J. was serving in a parish in El Salvador as a Maryknoll lay missioner. Remembering the joys of the relationship with Ghana, I invited Don and Kathy to bring their shy and older pastor, Father Ed Shine, and some fellow parishioners to visit T.J.
Father Shine had never owned a passport, but after some coaxing, he joined us. After our first dinner there, a party broke out and several older Salvadoran ladies invited the coy Father Ed to dance… Oh boy, holy cow, that guy could cut a rug! The Spirit was a-working!
Before we left, I recommended that they build a twinning relationship between their parishes, and after almost 25 years of visits back and forth, school and clinic programs developed. Wonderfully, Father Shine returned 10 more times while 50 Ohio families and Salvadoran families connected for the long term. And inspired by this experience, Father Shine learned enough Spanish to have Mass for Latino families in his Harrison, Ohio parish.
Sue Keefe and her husband, Pat, were lay missioners in southern Mexico. Years later, they built a long-term relationship between their Cincinnati parish and an educational and cultural center in Batahola, Nicaragua. Many joyful and life-giving reciprocal trips with youth and members of both communities have blossomed during the past 25-plus years.
We currently have 48 parishes in our archdiocese in such solidarity relationships with church communities in Kentucky, the Navajo nation, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa. And still more parishes are calling for advice on how to start new twinning ministries.
Parishioners on both sides of these relationships have benefited from these relationships. They report that their minds, hearts and spirits have expanded, touching their religious, political, social and economic perspectives. Some partners have even met with their U.S. congresspersons and senators to teach and urge them to act with Catholic social justice principles.
And so I highly recommend to all Maryknoll lay missioners — those who are in training, those currently in mission, and those who have returned home — to consider building such bridges of faith and solidarity. There are many resources available now to build these relationships based on solidarity values and not on paternalism.
I especially recommend resources from the Third Wave of Mission website, which has videos and other materials developed by Maryknoll Father Dave LaBuda and former Maryknoll lay missioners Mike Hassl, Bob Short, myself and others.
Other parish twinning materials can also be found at the websites for Catholic Relief Services, PTPA (Parish Twinning Partners in the Americas) and at our Mission Office of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
So yes, there are many ways to continue your mission efforts of solidarity during and after your return home — and the joys of parish twinning could be one of them.
For more information on parish twinning, please contact Mike Gable here.