St. Louis priests Father Patrick Hayden and Father James Michler continue to faithfully serve the people of Bolivia despite enormous challenges in the last year.
La Paz and nearby El Alto were the sites of intense clashes between Bolivia’s military and supporters of former President Evo Morales. Political turmoil broke out Oct. 20 after Morales was elected to a fourth consecutive term as president in a disputed election. He resigned after weeks of riots and protests, which continued for a few months.
Father Hayden, pastor of Maria Reina Parish, which is in one of the poorer areas of La Paz, wrote in an email to the Review late last year that parishioners prayed for forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. He also thanked “our brothers and sisters of the Archdiocese of St. Louis for their solidarity in humble prayer and sacrificial generosity.” Knowing of such spiritual communion and fellowship “has been a source of great peace and strength for Father Michler and myself, as well as for Sister Guillermina Loma, an O’Fallon Precious Blood Sister here with us, and for all of our parish community.”
Just about the time things calmed down, the COVID-19 outbreak rocked the country. Using government-supplied data, Worldometer reported that total COVID-19 cases, new cases and deaths in Bolivia began rising in early May and as of mid-July were still rising.
Parish catechetical programs had just started when a health emergency was declared in Bolivia. Later, priests were allowed to celebrate Masses with the faithful present again, but that permission was quickly revoked with only three public Masses celebrated.
The priests have been calling parishioners to encourage them. They also have livestreamed short prayer services on their Facebook page, Parroquia: Maria Reina La Paz-Bolivia, among other efforts.
Kim Becvar, interim director of the archdiocese’s Mission Office, said “their heroic witness has been a powerful example to me of living the Gospel message and seeing how the Lord continues to work in the midst of such suffering.”
In a message about the Aug. 1 and 2 parish collections to support the apostolate, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson wrote that “their perseverance and endurance, especially in the midst of the recent crises in Bolivia, is an outstanding testimony to their faith and to the support and encouragement they receive through the faithful of our local archdiocese.”
Though their pastoral approach is what stands out, the priests and their small staff at Maria Reina Parish in La Paz run a variety of programs. During the political turmoil and pandemic, the parish is helping with health care, rent, food assistance and other emergencies. “Bolivian families find themselves in severe straits,” Father Hayden wrote.
Programs at the parish are offered for children, teens, engaged couples, families and older adults. Catechesis programs reach children and for high-school-age students. Children participate in a lunch program at the parish where they also receive tutoring. Women from the parish learn craft-type skills and support one another. Those who need it receive food from the parish food pantry. A health clinic at the parish reaches people who otherwise wouldn’t see a doctor or dentist.
Catholics of the archdiocese support those programs and the presence of the missionary priests through the collection for the Latin America Apostolate, support that has continued for more than 60 years.
Latin America Apostolate
Donations may be made:
• at parish collections Aug. 1-2
• through parish online giving
• online at bit.ly/2CokOOR
• 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.