(L-r) Carol Collins, Angela Casanova and Joy Rolfsen pause for a photo during their trip to El Salvador in February. The three hope to forge a bond between Mother of God and San Antonio de Padua parishes.

“Why did I spend two weeks traipsing around Israel under the broiling sun to see places where a former carpenter lived and sites that he may (or may not) have visited?” James Martin asks himself at the beginning of Jesus: A Pilgrimage. 

Why did Angela Casanova, Joy Rolfsen and Carol Collins immerse themselves this February in an intensive exploration of Catholic parishes in El Salvador? For Angela Casanova, lay missionary and pilgrim, yearly visits like this one facilitated by CRISPAZ, Christians for Peace in El Salvador, are like a retreat, to witness how these people live the gospel and are involved in their parish life. Deeply moved by the commitment of St. John the Baptist Church in Harrison, OH, to bonding with sister-parishes, Santa Cruz and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, in El Salvador, Casanova envisions how Mother of God might become a sister-parish to San Antonio de Padua. 

What would this “twinning” relationship be like? Somewhat like Mother of God’s Knights of St. John commitment to raising scholarship money for Northern Kentucky students, but with a more intensive personal relationship. Individual St. John’s parishioners step up to raise scholarship money for the students they sponsor. 

Since the base salary of a head of the household in El Salvador is $150/month, families often can’t afford the uniforms necessary for their kids, let alone tuition. Money raised goes to the El Salvador church’s pastoral council to administer. Once a year, sponsors travel to meet the students and enjoy meals with their families. Casanova recalls with delight how kids waving flags of the US and El Salvador welcomed the MoG visitors and how teenagers, men and women of all ages, different cultures and social classes, with the help of translators, sat in plastic chairs on a dirt floor in a circle around a little altar with Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners, sharing personal stories of struggle and hope.  

The journey became pilgrimage as the group visited the tomb of Monsigñor Oscar Romero, the chapel where he was killed because of his work on behalf of his people, the site of the murder of the four US women, Sisters Maura Clark, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, and the memorial to the almost 40,000 who were murdered or who disappeared during civil war in the 1980s. 

Perhaps the most significant gift Casanova brings to her Mother of God community is that of offering a more global dimension to our charism of service to people in Northern Kentucky.She introduced us to the Fair Trade coffee ministry.She arranges the annual sale of Crispaz-sponsored gifts and crafts. She gathered the prayer group “Women At the Well,” which offered an experience of base community among us.

When she and her sister Spanish lay missionaries arrived in the Diocese of Covington in 1960, these women had some of us stumped. Wasn’t the US supposed to send the missionaries, not stand in need of them? So someone saw to it that these ladies got into quasi-religious habits and did time at Camp Marydale in innocuous pursuits like cooking and improving their English. 

Today, after a career of founding and directing the Covington Community Center, now The Center for Great Neighborhoods, Casanova hopes there might be energy and resources among us to twin with St. Anthony of Padua parish. How likely is it that we’d form and sustain a bond with a Latin American church?  Right now many of us feel overwhelmed by our own expenses, not the least of which is the ACUE obligation through which we subsidize inner city Catholic schools students close to home.

 “I asked Oscar Romero,” Casanova answers. Contact her at 859-331-5117 or cpedro76@aol.com.