One special aspect of the 50-plus-year relationship between the Diocese of St. Cloud and the Catholic Church in Venezuela is that it has built not only an appreciation for Hispanic/Latino culture and tradition among the local priests, religious and lay people who have served there, but it also has prepared them for Hispanic/Latino ministry once they returned to the St. Cloud Diocese.
Many of the missioners — whether short-term or long-term — are willing and able to continue to minister to, and with, the Hispanic/Latino communities in the St. Cloud Diocese by celebrating Masses, performing the sacraments and providing pastoral ministry.
Even more, it has been a long-term example of accompaniment — one of Pope Francis’ most repeated themes — which he says “always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization.”
The relationship began in 1964 when Bishop Bartholome of St. Cloud responded to an appeal by Pope John XXIII to assist the church of Latin America with human and economic resources. At the same time, Bishop Feliciano Gonzalez of Maracay, Venezuela, asked the American bishops for personnel for his young diocese that had just a few native clergy.
Two priests, Father James Minette and Father Mark Willenbring, from the St. Cloud Diocese went to Maracay to live and serve. Over the years, many priests, religious and lay volunteers from St. Cloud served in various parishes in Venezuela. That assistance helped the diocese mature and strengthen.
Between 1964 and 2000, the St. Cloud Diocese sent 29 people to serve in Maracay. Of that 13 were priests, seven were Franciscan sisters and nine were lay people.
In the year 2000, the then-coadjutor bishop and later bishop of Maracay, Reinaldo Del Prette, and St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney, redefined the mission relationship between the dioceses of St. Cloud and Maracay.
Also in 2000, Father Richard Walz, the last diocesan priest to serve in Venezuela, returned from Maracay. Because the bond was strong, in 2002, the Diocese of Maracay sent Father David Trujillo as a missioner priest to serve in the St. Cloud Diocese for three years.
Between 2000 and the present, St. Cloud sent 42 people as short-term missioners/delegates. Three additional mission priests have served in the St. Cloud Diocese, including Father Jose Bracamonte, Father Freddimir Villavicencio and currently, Father Oswaldo Roche.