Columbia church extends aid to sister parish in San Salvador

November 16, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

The connection was forged during the Salvadoran civil war and nurtured through times of poverty and upheaval.

This week, members of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Columbia met with their brethren at the parish of San Roque in San Salvador, the Columbia church's sister parish since 1987.

The Rev. Richard Henry Tillman and three church members, who return Friday, made the week-long trip to deliver $5,000 in medical supplies and 33 pairs of prescription eye glasses to needy Salvadorans.

But members of the Latin American parish aren't the only ones who benefit from the relationship, said the Rev. Patrick M. Carrion, who visited El Salvador in August 1991 and remained behind this year.

"It gives us a global awareness of the concept of helping and loving our neighbors," said Father Carrion, whose parish raised the money for the group's trip.

During this week's visit, members of St. John were scheduled to attend a prayer vigil for six Jesuit priests slain in November 1989 by members of the Salvadoran armed forces. The group also was scheduled to discuss health issues among citizens who cannot afford to buy medicine.

"It's very poor," said Father Carrion of conditions in El Salvador. "Our concept of poverty here and their

concept of poverty are probably worlds apart."

St. John's relationship with the Salvadoran parish began in 1987, at the height of El Salvador's bloody 12-year civil war, which ended in 1992, leaving 75,000 people dead. The church was invited by SHARE, a San Francisco-based umbrella organization for groups committed to rebuilding El Salvador, to help parishes in the country.

Since then, the 2,650-family Columbia church has donated money, clothing and medical supplies each year to San Roque. The parish even sent a nurse-midwife to assist Salvadorans five years ago. She stayed for three years before returning to the United States.

James MacDonald, a 20-year member of St. John, went to San Salvador in 1988. He recalls a tense

visit during which the group had to ask the Salvadoran government for permission to travel throughout the country.

His wife, Irene, a native of South America, is part of the group currently visiting San Salvador.

The church has been reaching out locally and internationally since it began in 1968, when 30 families began meeting at Slayton House in Wilde Lake.

Today, there are about 8,000 individual members. The congregation meets at Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills interfaith centers. It is the only county Roman Catholic church in an interfaith center. It offers Saturday services to its Spanish-speaking members.

Father Tillman, 54, began guiding St. John parishioners in 1977. The silver-haired priest has taken

part in civic, community and ecumenical groups. He has encouraged his members to do so, too.

"I think we've made a difference in helping people be Catholic and be a part of a Catholic congregation," Father Tillman said before his El Salvador trip. "I think there's grace in that."

His efforts have inspired other Catholics in the community.

"Dick has become a real institution in Columbia," said the Rev. HTC John F. Kinsella, priest for the 1,200-member St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Mission in Kings Contrivance, created from St. John five years ago.

Father Tillman "encouraged his own community to be open in joining us and gave me his pulpit so I can recruit people," Father Kinsella said. "He's one of the good guys."

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