News 27 Jun 2024

Faith in the bateyes of the Dominican Republic

In Batey 5, a peripheral area of the Diocese of Barahona on the border with Haiti, three missionaries, with the support of Aid to the Church in Need, help fight poverty and social exclusion in the neediest parish in one of the poorest dioceses in the Dominican Republic.

Not far from the luxurious resorts and the beautiful Caribbean beaches of the Dominican Republic lies a different reality which defies the imagination, with many families living in communities marked by shacks and often deplorable conditions. These are the “bateyes”, a Taíno term used to refer to the settlements built during the height of the industrial age, in the first half of the twentieth century, for sugar cane workers in the Antilles. 

According to the United Nations Development Programme there are still approximately 200,000 people living in 425 bateyes all over the Dominican Republic, many of them descendants of Haitians and Dominicans, living without clean water or electricity. 

Batey 5, in Barahona, is one of those places. Located in the southwest of the country, it is home to three religious sisters from the congregation of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and Saint Catherine of Siena, also known as “Lauritas”, who are supported by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Since 2017, they have served in the parish of Saint Martin of Porres, the oldest in the diocese. Many of its inhabitants work in the sugar cane plantations, enduring terrible conditions, with temperatures over 30°C, for under 14.7 dollars  – per day. 

Man working on a sugar cane - Photo Credit - Fran Afonso

“People struggle every day to survive”, says Sister Patricia Álvarez. “Amid this difficult reality, we accompany the people in their struggles and support their claims for better rights, so that they can have decent salaries and a dignified life. It hasn’t been easy, but we continue to fight”, the missionary explains. 

“It is worth continuing to fight for them”

The religious sisters are well-loved in Batey 5. “They are comforted by our presence, and they appreciate our visits”, Sister Patricia says. “There are many illegal immigrants in the country”, she continues, “and because of the situation in Haiti, many come to the Dominican Republic in search of a better life, but sometimes all they find is discrimination, and they cannot leave the batey, otherwise the police will take them back to the border.” The sister adds that the diocese has helped some people obtain legal documents.

In some cases, the sisters also accompany people to doctor’s appointments or other services in the capital, Santo Domingo. When possible, the priest drives them in the parish car, which was also funded by ACN, so that they can get there more safely. “Whenever necessary, to make things easier, we act as intermediaries or offer help to the local authorities”, the missionary explains.  

One of the locations where the sisters work is a day centre for 20 of the elderly in the diocese. “Four of these elderly people are completely alone, and undocumented. They left their families in Haiti and spent their lives in the Dominican Republic”, Sister Patricia says. “We provide them with support, we go with them to the hospital, and in these cases, we register as their next of kin, so that we can accompany them more closely.”

“The work of the Lord and of Our Lady is being done, but it hasn’t been easy”, the religious admits. “God gives us the grace, and it is well worth continuing to fight for these people, and to give it our best, so that each of them might reflect the presence of God in their lives.”

Hope in the bateyes

Life in the bateyes is not simple, but Sister Patricia says that “it is a great joy for us to witness this spiritual and personal growth in all the parish groups, which are the hope of these bateyes”.

Batey 5, she explains, is an area where there is much violence, and many children and adolescents get involved in drugs, which is why working with young people is a priority for the missionaries, who have seen a growing commitment of the young people to the parish and the community. “The children and the adolescents are very faithful in their attendance and to their catechism on Sundays. Only a few do not take part, and when they don’t it is because they are sick. This good habit has borne fruit: they are more respectful towards each other; they are more tolerant, and we have had fewer cases of aggression. They participate actively in Sunday Mass; they show commitment to the parish and a spirit of incredible solidarity. We go on several field trips with them, including to the ocean, which for many of them was their first time.”

Catechesis in the parish

For several years, ACN has been supporting the parish’s pastoral activities and formation meetings. “These gatherings have led to cases of forgiveness and reconciliation, to acceptance of difference, accepting people as they are, and saying things without hurting each other”, the religious explains. 

Sister Patricia and the other two religious sisters who work by her side are very grateful to ACN and its benefactors for funding this project. “We thank each person who has contributed with their grain of sand to make this a reality: without you it would not have been possible to gather so much fruit and do all the wonderful work we do with all the parish movements”, she admits. “We send you a warm embrace from the bateyes, that the God of life may continue to bless your work in favour of so many needy people.” 

The Mass is the most effective prayer that could be said on behalf of those who have died. ACN can arrange recurring annual Masses for your dearly departed loved ones.

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