September 16, 2022

A program to connect parishes creates a lifeline of hope and faith

During a mission trip, David Siler shares a moment of joy with children who are students at the school of St. Mary Who Unties Knots Parish in Haiti, the twinning parish of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, where Siler is a member. (Submitted photo)

During a mission trip, David Siler shares a moment of joy with children who are students at the school of St. Mary Who Unties Knots Parish in Haiti, the twinning parish of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, where Siler is a member. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

David Siler has never forgotten the words that a teacher in Haiti shared with him and others as they made a mission trip to a small, impoverished parish in that country.

The teacher told Siler and the others in the group from St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, “When we see your smiling faces here, it brings us great hope.”

That connection has also led to great results for both parishes.

“Our twinning relationship has been our parish’s opportunity to directly and significantly respond to the call of Jesus to serve ‘the least among us,’ ” Siler says.  “The spiritual benefits for all of us who have traveled to Haiti have been profound, which in turn has an impact on our entire parish.

“And our support in Haiti allows 480 children to get an education, and 480 children to get a good meal four days per week—thanks to our eventual partnership with our neighboring parish in Indianapolis, Christ the King. And we helped a Catholic priest have the means to live among his parishioners. We raised the funds to build a rectory.”

Ten years after Siler helped establish that life-changing connection between the parishes of St. Matthew and St. Mary Who Unties Knots, he’s now on a mission to create more “twinning” connections between parishes in the United States and parishes in Haiti and Latin America.

On Aug. 15, he became the executive director of the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas (PTPA), an organization that oversees the relationships between Catholic churches in the United States and more than 325 parishes in Haiti and Latin America.

Siler talked about his hopes and goals for the organization in an interview with The Criterion. Here is an edited version of that exchange with the former executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.

Q. Share your perspective on the importance of creating twinning relationships between parishes in the U.S. and parishes in Haiti and Latin America.

A. “Most parishes in Haiti and Latin America are extremely isolated and feel disconnected from the larger Catholic Church. And the level of poverty that exists in these countries is so extreme that it is impossible to fathom for a U.S. Catholic who has never traveled to these countries.

“The pastor that my own parish supports near Cap-Haitien, Haiti, collects a mere $4-$6 per weekend from his several hundred parishioners. A bishop in Haiti once told me that there are some areas of Haiti that he would like to send a priest to serve, but he fears that they won’t even be able to eat due to the level of poverty and scarcity of resources.”
 

Q. How should we as Catholics view such twinning relationships as an extension of our Catholic faith?

A. “Throughout the entire history of our Church, we have been called to regard the inherent dignity of every human person. A twinning relationship with a parish that is extremely poor, whether inside or outside the U.S., is a very real way for Catholics to express this regard.

“It is pretty tough to experience dignity when one doesn’t have enough food to eat, clean water to drink or a worship space that is tattered and torn. When we join with others who are living in these conditions and improve their lives, we allow them to experience dignity—and in that dignity, they experience God.”
 

Q. You helped to form a twinning relationship between your home parish, St. Matthew the Apostle, and a parish in Haiti. Talk about some of the benefits you’ve seen from that relationship.

A. “The twinning relationship is one of solidarity and partnership. It is more about the connection with one another rather than the material support. The benefits to the parish in Haiti are spiritual, in that they feel deeply connected to the larger Church, in addition to the many very practical benefits.

“At St. Matthew, we have more than 100 parishioners who provide ongoing financial support to pay the teachers and school administrators in Haiti, so although they may never travel to Haiti, they participate in our mission.”
 

Q. Has the interaction between the two parishes carried over to interaction between the two schools?

A. “We have been blessed to have our Haitian pastor travel to Indianapolis and visit our church and school. He spends time in our classrooms, teaching our students what life is like in Haiti and helping to make real the impact of their prayers and support.

“Our St. Matthew students do a fundraiser each year that allows the pastor in Haiti, Pere Max, to throw a Christmas celebration for his 480 students. We’ve even had a few young students, when having their own birthday celebration, invite their friends to make a donation to Haiti instead of a gift for themselves.”
 

Q. You have participated in mission trips to St. Matthew’s sister parish in Haiti. For a parish considering a twinning relationship with a parish in Haiti or Latin America, what impact do such mission trips have on people and their faith?

A. “I have been privileged to see the very face of God, and the mark that this has left on my heart and soul is immeasurable. I have developed a love and a passion for serving our friends in Haiti. I’ve also had the privilege of accompanying many others to our twin parish, and their reactions vary widely.

“Many travelers, upon seeing the profound poverty and life challenges that they could never before imagine, are moved so deeply that they want to remain involved in nurturing our relationship with our sister parish. Even if your heart is only partially open, it is impossible for you not to be touched deeply by the faith and joy of the people in Haiti and Latin America, in spite of their struggles.”
 

Q. What are some of your goals for the PTPA?

A. “In my first year, I intend to connect with every parish in the U.S. that has a twin in Haiti and Latin America. We currently have 293 such parishes twinning with a parish in Haiti and 35 twinned in Latin America. I want to learn about the work they are doing, their successes and their challenges so that PTPA can seek ways to help them meet their challenges and replicate their successes broadly.

“Every parish twin relationship is unique, yet at the same time there are many aspects that we all have in common—such as the need for water, a means to clean the water, education of children and church facility needs. It is my goal to make our parishes aware of others working in Haiti and Latin America and connect them so that they can form collaborations and partnerships.

“I also hope to find more parishes in the U.S. that want to begin a twinning relationship, as we currently have a list of about 100 parishes requesting a twin in Haiti and nearly that many throughout Latin America.”
 

Q. How many parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have twinning relationships with parishes in Haiti and Latin America? 

A. “I am very proud to report that we have 11 parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who have a twin parish. And the state of Indiana has more twin parishes than any other state in the country, with a total of 46 parishes.”
 

Q. What guidance would you give a parish wanting to start a twinning relationship?

A. “Take this leap of faith. It will be the best decision your parish has ever made. Parishioners, the parish as a whole and your twin parish will be enriched in ways that you cannot imagine.”
 

(For more information about the parish twinning program, contact Siler at 317-431-3635 or dsiler@ptpausa.org.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!