Oct. 20-26, 2005
‘He’s Got the Whole World…’
By Father Donald C. Maldari, SJ/ SUN contributing writer
DOMINICA — For the fourth time in as many years, a group of Le Moyne College students and faculty set off for the Commonwealth of Dominica this past May for a ten-day service project. Dominica, not to be confused with the larger and better-known Dominican Republic, is an island that lies between Puerto Rico and Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea. Its inhabitants speak English and French-Creole. It is among the poorest countries in the Caribbean: according to U.S. government statistics people earn on average $5,500 per year ($40,100 in the U.S.); 30% of the population lives under the poverty level (12% in the U.S.) and the unemployment rate is approximately 23% (5.5% in the U.S.). Le Moyne sponsors a service project there because of the great needs in the country, because the students can easily communicate with the people in English and because it’s safe!
All the students who participated in the project were freshmen and members of the “LEAD” (Leadership, Education, Action, and Decision) learning community. Learning communities at Le Moyne are groups of students with similar interests who take some of their courses together, participate in some common activities and often live together in the student residences. During the preceding academic year these students had taken two courses together that were coordinated to emphasize themes of service and leadership: “Religious Perspectives on the Human Situation” and “World Civilization.” As part of the Dominica Service Project they also took a course entitled “Cultural Literacy.” They had all done at least 24 hours of community service in Syracuse. That community service was a kind of lab that provided data upon which they could reflect in the classroom. The trip to Dominica was a continuation of that experience in a very different culture.
The morning of the first day in Dominica the whole group was warmly received by Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica’s capital city. He expressed gratitude for the group’s generosity and wished them much success. During the rest of the time in Dominica the group did volunteer work during the day and had class in the late afternoon. The whole project is aimed at promoting Le Moyne’s mission as a Catholic college: that the members of the group perceive and minister to Christ in the people they met. The service project put into practice the theories the students had been learning all year.
The Dominica Service Project gave the students an opportunity to participate in the Church’s mission establishing the Kingdom of God. As they learned from reading The Divine Milieu by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the world is charged with God’s presence. It is up to humans to perceive it, to act on it and to let it permeate them. The students acted by working with the people of Dominica and by making substantial monetary contributions to a variety of needy causes. They tutored elementary school students in reading and math; helped out in a school for the handicapped; bathed, dressed and fed babies in day care so their parents could go to work; visited and entertained the elderly; helped to clean a center devoted to the promotion of women’s rights and welfare; joined with a group of young Dominicans who have banded together to combat drug and alcohol abuse.
Thanks to the generosity of many churches, especially of the Diocese of Syracuse, and of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the students were able to contribute substantially to the rebuilding effort of a 150 year old church that was leveled during an earthquake on the solemnity of Christ the King last year. Miraculously, because the parishioners had planned to celebrate Mass that day with another parish, no one was in the church; the earthquake struck when Mass would have been taking place! They also contributed to rebuilding the parish school whose damage has closed 1/3 of the building and forced the school to go on spilt sessions.
Acting is important, but, as Teilhard proposes, so is allowing oneself to be “acted on.” The biggest transformation that occurred as a result of the ten-day service project resulted from all the participants — Le Moyne students and Dominicans — allowing others to touch their hearts in love and thus to be touched and transformed by God. Jarrod Weir, one of the Le Moyne students, beautifully expressed this experience as he reflected on a conversation he had with a Dominican: “Patricia has a strong sense of humanity flowing within her.
In order to realize your humanity, you have to give up a part of yourself and fill it with someone else. Teilhard urged this in The Divine Milieu. He imagined all the people of Earth working together in harmony; the divine energy could then grow and manifest itself in the completed Incarnation, a time when the Kingdom of God will be palpable on Earth. The energy seems to be stagnant in the world today because people do not want to jump to the unknown and give up their securities in order to help someone else.
Patricia amazes me because she has taken that plunge and has found her true humanity.” The Le Moyne students had the courage to take that plunge as well.Everyone’s humanity, which is the image of God, was enhanced by the experience.