It's not too early to think about 2018 Peru Mission Dinner

Those who have been to the diocesan mission in Chimbote, Peru, or are familiar with its work, know that its life-saving mission touches thousands. And yet, many of the faithful have still not heard its message.

Officials hope that by attracting more people to the annual Peru Mission Dinner, they can form new ambassadors who can go out and tell the story.

“(It’s) a success story that can’t be ignored,” said Dr. Patrick Joyce, diocesan director of the Office for Stewardship. “You’re the reason they’ll come to hear the story.”

Joyce addressed supporters of the mission during a brainstorming/advocates meeting July 25 in the Cardinals’ Great Hall at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton. Its focus was the 53rd Annual Bishop’s Peru Mission Dinner that will be Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

In attendance at the meeting were members of the 2018 mission teams, who recently returned from Chimbote, past team members and others who have supported its cause.

By getting involved with the “celebration” of the dinner, Joyce noted, supporters can help ensure that the “bridge of love and hope” that exists between Pittsburgh and Chimbote can continue for another 50 years. The Center for Social Works in Chimbote consists of a maternity hospital, outpatient clinic, clinical laboratory, pharmacy and a home for abandoned children. It also sponsors a home visit program that aids “the poorest of the poor” in desert barrios. More than 96,000 babies have been born in the maternity hospital.

The late Msgr. Jules Roos, a priest of the diocese, co-founded the mission in 1966. He was assisted by Dominican Sisters Margaret Mary Birchmeier and Lillian Bockheim, who continue to serve there today. The two are guests at the dinner each year.

“We are part of the lifeblood of that continuing,” said Mary Lou Einloth, a member of mission teams 3A and 4A. “We have to really get the message out.”

The dinner is the principal source of the annual $250,000 subsidy the diocese provides to the mission each year. Joyce spoke of the overwhelming success of the Mission Milestone Investment project that began in 2015. It invested an additional $1 million to expand and modernize the Center for Social Works, resulting in a modern, two-story clinic, la Nueva Posta Medica. It has grown to about $1.9 million.

“I still get goosebumps when I think about how people responded,” Joyce said.

Ideas discussed for the dinner included having ambassadors go into parishes to promote it, media commercials, discounted tickets for child ambassadors and the possibility of hosting Chimbote covered-dish dinners at satellite sites.

“They’re not hearing about Chimbote, that’s the problem,” said Father Albin McGinnis, pastor of St. John Neumann Parish in Franklin Park, who has served in Chimbote and was a member of team 3A. “You’re the answer to that. You want people to be there and hear the message.”

He pointed out that while there are large donors, it is the “average” people who originally supported the program and are counted on to support it. “It’s our mission,” he said.

Gretchen Roos, niece of Msgr. Roos and chairwoman of the Chimbote Strategic Planning Committee, posed the idea of lowering the cost of the dinner to attract more people. She also advocated the idea of getting new groups involved, even those outside the faith.

“You don’t have to be Catholic to be touched by the story,” she said.

Joyce was among those who said that 100 percent of the money raised above the cost of the dinner goes to Chimbote.

Those who have been to Chimbote noted that dinner attendees will be touched by the images they see and the stories they hear.

“They have nothing, and still they have a look of happiness on their faces,” Sharon Sparacino, a member of mission team 5A, said about the people of Chimbote.

Added Do Sabol, a member of teams 1 and 4B: “Once you have it in your heart, it never leaves.”

Deacon Frank Szemanski has served on teams 4B and 5A. The trips to Chimbote were just the beginning, he said, adding, “I can continue this mission every day of my life as far as being a witness.”

Said Jeaneen Osborne, a member of team 4B: “It’s an experience I’ll never forget. I feel honored to have been called to it.”

The task is for people to go back to their parishes and spread the message to clergy and laity, Joyce said. The importance of the dinner, he noted, can never be underestimated.

“We hope to see you there, and fill the place together,” he said.

More information on the dinner is available by calling 412-456-3085, by e-mailing chimbote@diopitt.org or by visiting www.chimbotefoundation.org.