Maryland parish helps sister parishes in Nicaragua amid increasing unrest

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy St. John Vianney Parish

By Kelly Sankowski

FREDERICK, Md. (CNS) — For many parishioners of St. John Vianney Catholic
Church in Prince Frederick, the violence happening in Nicaragua is more than
just headlines flashing across the screen.

parish here is impacted by it a lot,” said Father Dan Carson, the parish’s pastor.
“People (are) constantly asking about it.”

10 years, the parish has been working with sister parishes in San Juan de Limay
and more recently in Esteli to build homes for the poorest of the poor in
Nicaragua. The parishioners of St. John Vianney raise money to build simple
brick and mud houses, which cost about $2,600 each, and then send the funds to
their sister parish.

there is so much unemployment in Nicaragua, Don Mueller, the parishioner who
leads the project, said the group does not go down to build the houses
themselves, but instead pays a foreman and two workers to do the building,
assisted by the volunteer labor of the people receiving the house.

house is 20-by-20 feet, which is roughly the size of a master bedroom in the
United States, and has no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water.
Nevertheless, Father Carson and Mueller both recalled how the people receiving
the house say it is like a mansion to them, since they have often been living
in three sided shelters made out of things like sticks and plastic bags.

St. John Vianney began this work in 2008, they have built about 450 houses.

who have nothing really treasure their faith, family and friends,” said Father
Carson told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.
“They have a joy that we don’t in our country because we have so much stuff.
They just appreciate the little things.”

takes about two trips per year down to Nicaragua, along with a group of eight
to 12 other parishioners, to visit with the families whose homes have been
built and to pray with the committee that helps select the families who are
receiving homes.

only rule is it has to be the poorest of the poor, without regard to race,
religion politics or anything like that,” said Mueller. “The committee looks at
everybody and decides who is the poorest of the poor.”

last trip was in January, and it was Father Carson’s first time there, since he
had been newly appointed to the parish. While they were there, he blessed the
newly constructed homes.

recalled the faithful dedication of the people who they have met in Nicaragua,
who often live in remote areas. One man in particular whom they had met hiked
three and a half hours with his guitar in order to get to the church to sing at
Mass on Sunday.

group from St. John Vianney had intended to take another trip this summer, but
could not go because of safety concerns. The housing program continues to
operate, even though the parishioners from St. John Vianney are unable to go
visit the parishes and families.

recent months, unrest in the country has increased, with police and
paramilitaries killing people who are peacefully protesting the regime of the
country’s president, Daniel Ortega. Many of the protesters are young students.

the protests began April 12, the death toll has reached 448, according to human
rights groups in the country. Ortega has labeled Catholic clergy as enemies and
those supporting them as terrorists.

Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara of Esteli, whom the St. John Vianney group always
visits when they go to Nicaragua, has been attacked and shot at on multiple
occasions. As far as they know, the parishioners of their two sister parishes
are still OK.

Mata has become a friend over the years,” said Mueller. “He has been attacked
and shot at and threatened by the government and that really hurts. I consider
him a friend, he has been to the states, he has been to our parish, he has been
to my house.”

help their friends from afar, donors from St. John Vianney Parish sent $20,000
to Bishop Mata to be used at his discretion for emergency purposes, which they
sent in small installments so as not to raise suspicion.

a day after the money arrived, Ortega ordered the public hospital not to treat injured
protesters, so Bishop Mata treated them at the medical school he had opened,
with medicine bought with the money that St. John Vianney had sent.

called it a miracle that the money had just arrived the day before,” said

the Nicaraguan government has declared any doctor who treats injured protesters
a terrorist.

John Vianney raised $464 for the housing project with a recent fundraiser at
the parish picnic. Also, in solidarity with those facing violence, the parish is
praying the prayer of St. Michael as the bishop and priests in Nicaragua say
the same prayer.

Carson remarked that the circumstances are particularly sad for such a poor
country, where it is tough “to see the people that have nothing there hurt even

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is on the staff of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of

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