A Return to the Panama Ministry

The Very Rev. Stephen M. Grozio, C.M. updates on the progress the Vincentian community is making to combat the region’s poverty:

Recently, I had the opportunity to return to Panama to get an update on the progress our Vincentian community is making to combat the region’s poverty. My colleague, Emmet Nolan, escorted me as we travelled though the city of Colón. It was an eye-opening experience.

In previous years, I had seen the extreme poverty there, but the situation has gotten progressively worse. Devastation is everywhere as many more houses have been torn down, while others are partially collapsed. In one large building, half the structure was demolished, yet people still lived in the other half in rooms that were dimly lit by wires strung from the street. I never thought I would feel so very sad to see children playing on the sidewalk in front of their homes, and knowing they lived inside those dilapidated buildings was heartbreaking.

As we drove through the streets to the parish, my companion related another tragic story of the increase in gang violence resulting in the increase in the loss of many innocent lives. Recently, a three-year-old child was killed by a stray bullet intended for his father.

While this list may look grim, our Vincentian parishes are undertaking new initiatives to alleviate poverty and combat street violence. In one instance, a group from Saint Joseph’s Parish prepared sandwiches to feed the homeless. To their surprise, many hungry children came out of the nearby dilapidated buildings and asked for the sandwiches. Soon, the parish organized a free daily lunch for those children. Because the children only go to school for a half a day, the group was able to serve those attending the afternoon classes on their way to school and later fed those in the morning class on their way home. Each day they fed about 150 children.

While visiting the confreres in Colón, I was able to meet the young men who are discerning and studying at varying stages for the priesthood. I was pleased to learn there are several young men in the program.

Another part of my journey took me to San José Chapel near the highway in Progreso, which has 20 to 25 congregants. The church is beautifully decorated on the inside. While small, the group’s enthusiasm and passion for prayer were infectious as they sang so wholeheartedly.

Another stop took me to a church in Concepción. As we arrived, the parishioners were filling in for the 9:00 a.m. Mass. Because of social distancing during COVID, the pews had been spaced farther apart with several outside in an area left of the sanctuary where people could participate through the large window openings.

One of our Vincentians, Fr. Olmedo Guerra, celebrated the Sunday evening Mass, while another, Fr. Pio Jiménez, preached. His homily was powerful and animated. As he spoke, a severe thunder and lightning storm provided special effects causing the lights to go out for a few minutes. The parishioners activated the “flashlight” app on their cell phones as Fr. Pio raised his commanding voice over the din of the downpour. He received an applause as he finished and returned to his seat.

For more than 100 years, the Vincentian Priests and Brothers of the Eastern Province serve the poor people throughout the Eastern Seaboard and Panama, bringing the Gospel—and hope—to everyone they encounter. Whether in catechetics, social services, or parish ministry, they collaborate with the people they serve to create effective and long-term changes. Support us and help transform the lives those who live in poverty. Your donation will ensure the work continues for generations to come.

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