Bolivian Mission Celebrates

Its 25th Anniversary

September 16, 1990
by Paul Turner
Special to the Catholic Key

San Antonio Parish, founded in La Paz, Bolivia, by missionaries from the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph, celebrated its 25th anniversary August 26.  At the same time, the cornerstone for a new parish church was laid.  A delegation from the diocese attended the festivities.

Mass and Fiesta

The anniversary was celebrated with an outdoor Mass and fiesta on the parish grounds.  Some 500 Bolivians, missionaries and visitors attended the celebration.  Archbishop Luis Sainz of La Paz presided.

In his homily, Archbishop Sainz thanked the people of the diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph, "who heard the call of Pope John XXIII to send missionaries to Latin America."  The archbishop praised the success of this mission, due to the labors of priests, religious, and lay people.

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"Where before there was no faith community, there is now a large one," archbishop remarked.  He noted the presence of basic Christian communities as an example of how the parish had grown.  These communities were formed by the teaching of the Gospel regarding the Christian way of life.  The archbishop challenged the people through a life of faith and prayer to form "a stronger barrio through civic accomplishment."

"If Bolivia is to grow," he said, "it will do so through the Catholic church and especially through basic Christian communities."

Archbishop Sainz acknowledged the youth of the assembly as "the future of the Bolivian Church."

Mass concluded with a blessing of the cornerstone for the new church.  For the blessing Archbishop Sainz was accompanied by Father Michael Gillgannon, pastor of San Antonio and a priest of the diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph, and by Rev. Norman Rotert, Vicar General of the diocese and representative of Bishop John Sullivan.  The cornerstone, painted bright silver, was incensed and, in the Bolivian custom, covered with coca leaves and confetti.  Other concelebrants include Fathers Chuck Tobin, Donald Powers and Michael Walker, all priests of the diocese who served the Bolivian mission.

In the fiesta which followed, members of the parish presented traditional Bolivian songs and dances.

Parish Life

The parish of San Antonio de Padua is in a newly developed section of the city of La Paz.  Father Gillgannon recalled, "When I came to La Paz fifteen years ago the city was exactly half the size it is today."

Teeming with a million and a half people, La Paz today is a relatively small downtown area surrounded by residential barrios.  In recent years people from the countryside have moved toward the city and taken up new residences.  It is in one such area, the barrio of San Antonio, where the parish has grown for 25 years.

The parish is the site of a full grade school co-sponsored by the Bolivian government.  Some 1,400 students attend school at San Antonio.  And every one of them attended one of two assemblies to honor the delegation from Kansas City - St. Joseph.

Lined in perfect rows on the playground, students sang national songs.  Many of them, dressed in native costumes, then participated in traditional dances to entertain the delegation.

Sister Vickie Perkins, SCL, superintendent of schools for the diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph was part of the delegation.  Her community, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, has long made Bolivia part of its own Latin American mission.  Sr. Vickie presented to the students of San Antonio a gift from the children of northwest Missouri:  a new television and videocassette player.

The parish also sponsors a lively youth group.  Some thirty five members presented a session for the delegation on its first full day in La Paz.

The session, conceived by members of the youth group, was a presentation of "socio-dramas" followed by bi-lingual discussion.

The students acted out several short plays, each with a theme about social problems facing Bolivians:  A group of students is forced by peers to choose between traditional Bolivian music and modern rock.  A poor young woman hired to clean for a wealthier household has to decide about an untimely pregnancy.  The Bolivian government must determine on what grounds it will accept financial aid from the U.S.

The delegation also met with leaders of parish basic Christian communities.  These communities were formed around the principles of the Gospel and provide a means of spiritual support for members.  In a parish of almost 40,000 members, most of whom do not attend regular Sunday Mass, the development of smaller communities were formed around the principles of the Gospel and provide a means of spiritual support for members. In a parish of almost 40,000 members, most of whom do not attend regular Sunday Mass, the development of smaller communities has helped form faith.

Father Gillgannon says the communities began simply.  "They began as sacramental preparation programs.  Parents of children preparing for first communion came together, and then they invited their friends.  Gradually this whole movement began to grow."

Father Gillgannon says the communities are stronger in Brazil.  There the groups have moved beyond sharing faith to taking action for the development of the civic community.  "We're just at the stage now of developing in that direction," he explained.


Photos taken by Father Tobin accompanied this Article.

Photo #1 Caption:
The 25th anniversary of the founding of the parish was commemorated at an outdoor Mass.  The concelebrants are Fathers Julio Rojas, Chuck Tobin, Dave Ratterman, Archbishop Luis Sainz Hinojosa,OFM, Fathers Michael Walker, Michael Gillgannon, Paul Turner, Norman Rotert, Ken Criqui and Dave Powers. 

Photo #2 Caption:
Father Chuck Tobin, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Church north of Independence, and three boys who were adopted by American couples with his help.  The boys are Scott Gibson, Matt Morgan, and Chris Graham.

Photo #3 Caption:
Maryknoll Sister Joan Mury of the San Antonio parish, Father Norman Rotert, and Father Don Powers at a reception in La Paz.

Photo #4 Caption:
Auxiliary Bishop Adhemar Esquivel Kohenque and Father Gillgannon.


[Special Article published in the Catholic Key on September 16, 1990.]

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