Spiritans have been ministering in Haiti for more than 150 years but 2004 brought the first Spiritan missionary presence in the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic, in the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, located in the Caribbean between the islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba.
About 80 percent of the nine million people in the Dominican Republic are Roman Catholic. Still, the primary work of this new Spiritan team has been evangelization.
The Spiritan mission in the Dominican Republic was founded as a collaborative effort by the Spiritan Provinces of North and Central America. Fr. Jonas Rivera Martinez from Puerto Rico, Fr. Donald McEachin from the U.S. and Fr. Werby Mitial from Haiti have recently been joined by a fourth Spiritan from Mexico, Fr. Baltazar Hernandez.
Frs. Jonas and Werby work in the Parish of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of Grace) in Juan de Herrera, and together serve more than 30 outlying missions in the mountains. These are sprawling rural parishes of 33 different agricultural communities, where new and expanded chapels are being built.
In both parishes, there is a lively and energetic youth ministry with youth groups, retreats, summer camps and social outreach activities, along with catechism classes and sacramental preparation classes.
Fr. Werby Mitial, a Haitian Spiritan, is in charge of the ministry to Haitian immigrants in the Diocese and also serves on the national commission for Haitian immigrants. He has been active in coordinating the earthquake relief efforts following the devastating earthquake that struck Port au Prince in January of 2010.
Our Lady of Hope Parish
Fr. Donald McEachin serves as pastor of the parish of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza (Our Lady of Hope) in a poor barrio called Villa Liberación, in the northern sector of San Juan. Here his challenges are high unemployment, adult illiteracy, lack of access to education beyond primary school, and drug gangs’ violence and insecurity.
Working with the youth has been a constant priority from the beginning, since youth in the community are both the problem and the solution to the problem.
In the last five years the Spiritans have created a job training center for adults, a children’s day care center, catechetical formation annually of more than 300 children, a new basketball gymnasium, two computer centers with internet access free of charge for school children, a music school, and this year, a new parish technical high school.