Men on a mission

A Guatemalan family at home for cover story

A Guatemalan family at home for cover storyTwo men heed a different call to serve

By Connie Berry
Sun editor

Every year priests, religious and lay people representing missions all over the world come to speak at Masses in the diocese. Sometimes the parishes are moved to action after a visit and sometimes individuals take up the cause, pack their bags, leave their comfort zones and go out into the countries where they can make an amazing difference.

   Pat Smyth heard a priest from Helping Hands Medical Ministry in Guatemala speak at his parish, Holy Family in Fairmount in late 2004. While he was listening, Smyth said he felt the slightest nudge and a little voice that said, “I’m going to go.” He leaves for his seventh trip to Guatemala next week.

   Father Francis Scott Binet spent a good portion of his childhood in Manlius before his family moved to Little Rock, Ark. He knew he liked helping people and that he gravitated toward the sciences in school. He also knew there was something God was calling him to do but he just wasn’t sure what that was. Father Scott eventually made his way through medical school after exploring acting and baseball opportunities. He would focus on radiology and was getting ready to begin his residency when he said, “The Lord got me on my knees and let me know He wanted me to enter the priesthood.” The result is what Father Scott called “a complicated vocation.” He is a priest and a physician and he has had an amazing journey — Father Scott travels all over the world helping in the wake of natural and man-made disasters.
  Both men heard a calling, heard a voice and their lives have changed.

Guatemalan adventure

   Pat Smyth is what he calls a “gopher” when he goes on his annual mission to Guatemala. He assists doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical personnel who set up makeshift exam rooms in towns and villages. Guatemalans from miles around take a bus to the clinics. The medical staff comes from all over the U.S. and other countries. They stay in quarters which are part of a sugar cane plantation and begin each day with Mass before they are bused to the different sites.

   “Never in my wildest dreams would I think I would ever be doing something like this,” said Smyth, who turns 77 in July.  He has traveled with other parishioners from Holy Family and with a few from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Smyth’s background in urban and environmental planning has come to play in his new role as annual missionary. The first thing he saw when he arrived on his first mission trip at San Andres Osuna Church in Guatemala was a burned out church with a heavily damaged roof. Smyth and Paul Streiff, a nurse and parishioner at Holy Family, decided something had to be done about the church roof. Once they came back home, the two men gathered donations and sent the money back to Guatemala. When they returned the following year, the roof had been repaired.

   In Guatemala, Smyth works with local hosts of Regnum Christi and although he says much is accomplished during the medical mission trips, they last nine days and Smyth is left wondering what more he can do to bring relief to the poverty-stricken people he encounters there.

    “Wherever you go you will always find the poor.  I think about what I can do to alleviate the suffering and to carry on the work we do once a year,” Smyth said.

   Smyth met Lazaro Rodriguez while on his trip last year. Rodriguez is a volunteer from Orlando, Fla. and was just as moved as Smyth was after his trip to Guatemala. The two men continued their conversation once they got back to the states and the result is Religion Builders, Inc., a 501C3 Section 170 non-profit tax exempt corporation.

   “We are dedicated to provide low-cost housing using local labor and materials in order to create on-the-job training to develop skills that may generate small businesses, to build schools to edcuate the young of poor families, to training teaching assistants and to expand clinical services to more than once a year,” Smyth said.

   Smyth says he knows the Spirit has moved others to help because he’s met them. He is also confident that if this work is to continue, the Holy Spirit will lead the way. The non-profit is in its infancy and Smyth is interested in gathering support from people all over the U.S.

   “These people are extremely poor,” Smyth explained. “They mostly do agricultural work. You’ll find little kids climbing trees to bring the fruit down to be sold. They do whatever they can to make a buck and most of their money goes for rent or food.”

   Anyone interested in learning more about Smyth’s project can reach him at Religion Builders, Inc. c/o Patrick J. Smyth, treasurer, 112 Mansfield Dr., Camillus, N.Y. 13031 or send an email to  patsmyth1@yahoo.com.

Father-Doctor

   Father Scott Binet’s journey to the priesthood followed a meandering path. He knew he wanted to help people and he thought being a doctor was a sure way to serve. But before Father Binet decided for certain to make that career choice, he moved to New York City to try acting and modeling. He played on a couple of prominent soap operas but found the roles would require him to act in ways he wasn’t completely comfortable with. All the while he was still feeling unfulfilled and still asking the question, “Okay, Lord, what is it You want me to do?”

   He moved back to Little Rock and went to medical school. It was during his fourth year in medical school that Father Scott figured out that his calling was unique — he wanted to be a priest and a doctor. Father Scott applied at various dioceses, including the Archdiocese of New York. He found most bishops were not looking for a combination priest/doctor. His search eventually led him to the Ministers of the Infirm, (Order of St. Camillus de Lellis). There, he fit perfectly. The order’s base in the U.S. is in Milwaukee and there are more than two dozen doctor-priests in the congregation.

   “As soon as I made the decision to enter the priesthood I experienced peace and joy,” Father Scott said, “almost immediately.” He said he knows from the outside, his path to the priesthood seems a little crooked. “From the outside it looks crazy — baseball player, actor — but if you’re comfortably searching all the while what God wants you to do, He can straighten crooked lines and he uses those experiences and gifts for His glory.”

   A metaphor Father Scott used to describe his vocation is that of a tapestry — one side is messy and has strings hanging out every which way, but the other side is beautiful and easy to look at. “It’s a beautiful tapestry,” he said. “It just depends upon your point of view.”

   Father Scott’s surprising journey just began with his priesthood, but it certainly didn’t end there. These days he is busy with the organization he founded, SOS Drs. (Servants of St. Camillus – Disaster Relief Services) traveling all over the world in response to natural and man-made disasters such as earthquake and tsunami areas in Indonesia, Hurricane Charley in Florida and the earthquake disaster in Haiti. Father Scott has traveled extensively to wherever there is suffering and poverty. He has established a group in Haiti continuing to help the people there. “I’d been to Haiti before the earthquake and it was devastated then. I had a desire to learn Haitian Creole, to go there and stay awhile,” he explained. Father Scott made a commitment to help the people of Haiti, who still suffer the effects of the earthquake though much of the rubble is gone.

   “There is still poverty. It is a very dependent country. They are dependent on foreign aide and humanitarian organizations but they are faith-filled people and they’re survivors,” Father Scott said.

   The more Father Scott listens to the Holy Spirit in his life, the more attuned he has become to it. Currently he is in the midst of what could prove to be his most significant endeavor — he is forming a new religious community: the Missionaries of Mercy. Father Scott founded a base of operation in Miami, Fla., relatively close for travel to Haiti, and he has the support of the archdiocese there. He has also traveled to Rome for initial support from the Vatican. He’s been given the go-ahead to form this new community. For the time being though, he will remain a Camillian until the formation process for the Missionaries of Mercy is determined.

   “This is a big faith journey, for myself and for those who might be interested in the consecrated life of service,” Father Scott acknowledged.

   Father Scott said he’d love to respond to anyone from the Syracuse Diocese, or anyplace else, who might be interested in the life of a missionary bringing God’s mercy in a very tangible way to others. He spoke at Holy Family Church a couple of years ago and a young man from the parish did come to volunteer in Haiti for a several months, Father Scott said. “We also have an on-going relationship with Holy Family School and I’m hoping I can come back and visit and talk about the ministry again. I’d love to come back to the Syracuse Diocese,” he said.

   Anyone interested in supporting Father Scott’s work or in learning more about the Missionaries of Mercy, may contact him through email at fatherscott@sosdrs.org.
  

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