As a priest, it was my happy privilege to travel to the Dominican Republic during this past March break with a caring group of Catholics. The trip via D.R.E.A.M.S. the (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) for grade 12 students at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School, was memorable and heartwarming. The group, including teachers and parents, participated in building homes for the poor in the mountainous Ocoa region, which was true meaningful Lenten work.
The Ocoa region is reminiscent of Biblical times. Individuals travel upon mules as a method to transport items such as potatoes, sugarcanes and san. It is hard to believe that in the 21st century, people are still using such animals as their mode of transportation. I was born in Sri Lanka, a third world country. Upon setting out, I believed that I would be unaffected by poverty as I have encountered poverty in my own country. This however, was poverty far worse than I have ever seen. How could I not be moved and deeply affected? The people of this region have to face struggles in their daily lives that seem insurmountable, yet they persevere. Each day is a valiant fight to survive.
During my stay in the Dominican Republic, I witnessed the true meaning of being a Christian. I was very proud of this Canadian contingent and all that they accomplished. They worked very hard doing manual labor by building homes and did not complain at just how challenging it was. The group did not have their Canadian comforts. They worked diligently through the intense heat and experienced sunburn and gastrointestinal ailments. It made us all truly appreciate our great, abundant country of Canada. It was very meaningful for me to celebrate Holy Mass for this group of brave and compassionate Canadians. Amidst great poverty and hardship, I witnessed heroism and great generosity. There were many smiles and positive attitudes throughout this meaningful experience. As the Bible states, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) The work of our St. Mary’s students truly exemplified this Biblical quote. The students reached deep into themselves to find courage and compassion to help the less fortunate while honoring our dear Lord. I am very proud of this exemplary endeavor.
My recent experience with the D.R.E.A.M.S. program has renewed my faith in our Catholic youth in Hamilton. It is wonderful to see young people making such positive differences in the lives of others. I am sure that this has been a life altering experience for them, as it has been for me.
Well done and God bless,
Rev. Fr. Joe Selvanayagam
Canadian Martyrs Church
Hamilton March 2011