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St. Louis priests make a difference in lives of Bolivian people

Collection in parishes enables mission in La Paz to reach out to people in need

An Aymaran woman, Maria, walked down a steep hillside in Las Lomas, Bolivia. on June 23, 2016.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
St. Louis priests and their small staff at a parish in Bolivia offer a wide range of programs, but it’s their pastoral approach with individuals and families in crises that stands out.
Fr. Michler

People remember “when we came to anoint an ill person or were with a family when a baby died,” said Father James Michler, associate pastor of Maria Reina Parish in La Paz. “We’re glad to accompany people, and we feel their pain. We trust that our presence, our prayer, whatever we did to show our love for the people made a difference.”

Besides the response to individual needs, programs are offered for children, teens, engaged couples, families, older adults and others through the missionary program of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Father Michler returned to St. Louis recently for a visit with family before leaving again for Bolivia. He spoke to the St. Louis Review about the mission and Bolivia.

Catechesis programs for children and for high-school-age students preparing for sacraments at the parish in Bolivia are impressive, Father Michler said. The students are involved in various ministries of the Church and become enthused about their faith, he said.

Catholics of the St. Louis Archdiocese will have a chance to show their support by contributing to the collection for the Latin America Apostolate the weekend of Aug. 3 and 4 in parishes. They have supported the apostolate for more than 60 years.

Another program at Maria Reina called Missionary Children helps young people become prepared for Advent and Lent, Father Michler said. Children participate in the lunch program at the parish where they also receive tutoring. Four groups of women from the parish learn craft-type skills and support one another. Those who need it can receive food from the parish food pantry. A health clinic at the parish fills an important need by reaching people who otherwise wouldn’t see a doctor or dentist.

The archdiocesan collection “makes it possible to continue to offer these programs, just to pay the bills for utilities and salaries for employees,” Father Michler said.

He and the parish pastor, Father Patrick Hayden, appreciate the support, Father Michler said. “We continue to offer our presence and our love for the people in their suffering and need. I’m glad to represent the city of St. Louis, and I’m proud to tell the people of Maria Reina Parish that the Church of St. Louis cares about what we are doing and what is happening in their lives.

“To tell people, ‘This is from the faithful, the Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Louis,’ is a source of joy and fulfillment for all of us who have been priests at Maria Reina Parish,” he said.

Father Michler recalled that as a young priest serving in St. Louis, he was impressed with what he heard was happening in the apostolate and he’s glad to be a part of it now. “To come to know the Bolivian people and experience their struggles with them gives me a great deal of fulfillment,” he said. “I feel support from the Bolivian people, they have accepted us and they love us for what we do. There’s so many situations when you feel you’re called to be an instrument of God’s love for people.”

>> To help

Archdiocesan priests, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O’Fallon, the Papal Volunteers in Latin America and other lay volunteers have taken part in the Latin America Apostolate for the last 60 years.

St. Louis priests Father Patrick Hayden and Father James Michler staff Maria Reina Parish, which serves more than 14 neighborhoods and about 60,000 to 70,000 Catholics.

Donations may be made:

• at parish collections Aug. 3-4.

• through parish online giving.

• online at www.bit.ly/2Y12iWF.

• by check to Latin America Apostolate, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119.

For information, visit archstl.org/missions or call (314) 792-7655. For an in-depth look at the mission, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bDK.

>> Generosity

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson summed up the work of the Latin America Apostolate in a letter to parishioners:

“Our archdiocesan mission also tends to the distressing needs of individuals who cannot afford basic medical care, dental care, or even provide food for their families at times,” Archbishop Carlson wrote. “Through the health clinic and social outreach programs, your generosity transforms the lives of thousands of people each year. Young people can prepare for the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Confirmation, receive tutoring and a hot meal, and participate in formation as missionary disciples. The elderly come together to celebrate life, grow in faith, and receive assistance with food and medicine if necessary. Couples prepare for marriage, families baptize their children, and adults are received into the Church at Easter all because of your support.”

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