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St. Henry’s welcomes three visitors from El Salvadoran sister parish

Trio aims to build relationship during nine-day trip

By Sharon Witty
Witness Correspondent

MARSHALLTOWN — “I wanted St. Henry to develop a sister relationship with a Hispanic parish. I wanted our youth, especially Hispanic youth, to know the struggles of other youth. I don’t want our Hispanic youth to lose knowledge of their heritage, of the struggles their parents faced. And I wanted adults to rid themselves of hardness of heart, to understand what immigrants are fleeing from,” stated Father Don Czapla, pastor of St. Henry Parish in Marshalltown.

St. Henry and St. Martin de Porres in Santiago de Maria, El Salvador, becoming sister parishes has been a long and twisting journey culminating in Father Cesar Ochoa, Roberto Iglasias and Mateo Bermidoz, members of St. Martin, visiting Marshalltown September 4-12 to build relationships with St. Henry members and to observe American life.

In 2006 the impetus for the St. ­Henry adult missions committee to develop a sister parish relationship was born following three mission trips, one to El Salvador and two to New Orleans, studying the book “When Helping Hurts” and ­Father Czapla’s desire for a sister parish.

The committee’s first step was to contact the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas (PTTPA). U.S. parishes and Haitian/­Latin American parishes who want to “sister” fill out PTTPA forms, and PTTPA matches up the parishes.

St. Martin de Porres seemed to be the most compatible with St. Henry and they agreed to sister with St. Henry.

Father Czapla explains that for a sister parish relationship, “Three Pillars need to be present. First, the spiritual aspect where we pray together and discern our strengths and weaknesses. Second, the cultural exchange where we learn about each other and build friendships. Finally, we begin planning pastoral work together for the good of both parishes.”

In July 2008 four members of St. Henry and a PTTPA representative visited St. Martin de Porres, becoming acquainted with the St. Martin church members.

In May 2018 five St. Henry members and the PTTPA representative returned to St. Martin. “This time,” stated Mark Mack, committee chair, “we attended Mass more, participated in religious processions and a celebration of their patron St. Martin de Porres,” thus continuing to build the spiritual aspect of the relationship, communication and friendships. During this visit, the two parishes signed a cooperation plan, which “spells out what the two parishes agree to do under the three pillars,” stated Mack.

The visit of the three El Salvadoran men to Marshalltown was a time of their learning a bit about American culture, meeting members of the Marshalltown community, eating American food and laughing together — building relationships.

El Salvador, one eighth the size of Iowa, is populated by six million people. Iowa is populated by three million people. One third of El Salvador’s population suffers poverty. Ten murders are committed every day. In 2016 Iowa had 70 murders during the whole year.

The three El Salvadoran men shared these concerns while visiting, explaining the effects of these situations on the youth. “The youth are not going to school. They cannot find worxk, so they are using drugs and joining the gangs,” lamented Iglasius. “We have to stop our people from immigrating. It isn’t so much poverty that causes the youth to join gangs, but the lack of fathers, of parental direction.”

So it is no surprise the men expressed their interest in seeing how Marshalltown educates its youth and cares for its poor. To accommodate that request St. Henry planned tours of St. Francis Catholic School and Woodbury Elementary School. Woodbury students study in two languages — Spanish and English. The men also visited Marshalltown High School, Marshalltown Community College and IVCCD Training Center.

Their tours included the Marshall County Food Box, which provides food for the economically disadvantaged; the House of Compassion, which provides a variety of services for the same group of persons and Primary Health Care, which provides medical services for the poor.

The going was nonstop for the men and their hosts during this nine day ­visit. Their tours went from visiting educational opportunities and provisions for the poor to the tornado affected Marshalltown areas, Des Moines Farmers Market, the basilica in Des Moines, a Hispanic retreat, and Grimes Conservation Farm.

The words “amazing” and “unbelievable” were heard more than once from the visitors as they visited JBS meat packing plant, which processes 18,000 hogs a day, and Tom and Jim Stalzers’ 2,000 acre farm with its big machinery.

Their visit to the Blood Dairy Farm in State Center, where 3,000 cows are milked three times a day caused Iglasius to tell the owner, “You could feed my whole country with what your cows produce.”

The process of becoming sister parish­es has begun. So what’s next? “St. Martin has a religious education program using workbooks, expensive for the parents. If we help, more kids can have workbooks,” explained Mack.

“They also have a music program, trying to get kids away from unhealthy behaviors. We want to help with that.

“And we’re planning video chats between the students of the two schools.”

“By our sistering with St. Martin,” reflected Laura Allen, committee member, “we benefit from their prayers; have opportunities for service and benefit from their examples of spirituality. By walking with them, we can realize our human similarities.”


(l to r): Roberto Iglasius, Father Cesar Ochoa and Mateo Bermidoz of Santiago de Maria in El Salvador visited Marshalltown. Their parish St. Martin de Porres is sister parish of St. Henry Parish in Marshalltown. (Contributed photos)