A Catholic priest gives the Eucharist to a parishioner in the Dominican Republic.
Cross Catholic Outreach Priest Father Pascal Kumanda celebrates Mass in the Dominican Republic.

Field Updates: Dominican Republic

June 2023 Update

In March, we traveled to the Dominican Republic along with members of the Catholic media to meet with our in-country ministry partners and learn more about the incredible programs they run to serve the poor and vulnerable.

One highlight was a visit to partner FUNDASEP (the social outreach arm of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana) to see a project the organization has undertaken to help families lift themselves out of deep poverty. This outreach established a unique cheese factory capable of producing products participants can eat or sell in the community to increase their income.

Poverty in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is, in many ways, a Caribbean success story. It has a healthy tourism model, a stable government and a generally favorable economic environment, all of which have enabled it to rise to upper-middle-income status, ranking 80 out of 191 countries in the 2021-2022 Human Development Index.

However, that success hasn’t touched everyone. For Haitian immigrants who have entered the country to escape poverty and social unrest, opportunities to succeed are extremely limited. Most of these immigrants end up struggling to survive as workers on sugarcane plantations.

Today, 40.4% of the Dominican Republic’s population lives in poverty, 10.4% lives in extreme poverty, and 28% of children under 5 years old suffer from anemia (a symptom of malnutrition). While perhaps the starkest examples of poverty can be found in remote, rural communities, most of the poor live in urban settings, filling the crime-ridden barrios and straining to scrape out a piece of the country’s economy.

The Work of the Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic

During our trip, we were honored to meet with local Catholic clergy serving on the front lines of the fight against Dominican poverty. FUNDASEP’s founder, Bishop Emeritus José Dolores Grullón, talked about his work.

“When I arrived in San Juan de la Maguana, I knew there were 100 communities I needed to visit, so I would take a backpack, leave for a week and just go. To me, it was a joy to do that. I needed to go to them to share the joy of being with God,” he said. “I would say I’m not in retirement. I’m a retired bishop, but that means it’s not work; it’s still something that I get to do.”

We also met with FUNDASEP’s new president, Father Mike Seis. Originally from Wisconsin, Fr. Mike has spent many years in the Dominican Republic as both a parish priest and a leading advocate for the poor in his diocese. He will tell you that by the country’s own reckoning, extreme poverty is more than double the UN estimate. But he also sees progress. Years ago, a big focus of FUNDASEP was latrine construction. The organization’s efforts were so successful that sanitation is no longer a major issue in the diocese.

Microenterprise and Cheese

While in the Dominican Republic, we also had the opportunity to accompany Fr. Mike for the blessing of the recently built cheese factory.

This humble facility, equipped with agitators, pots and dairy jars, was born out of FUNDASEP’s commitment to empowering low-income families and communities for economic success. FUNDASEP purchased cows and has set up the factory to be entirely self-sustaining and eventually fully managed by the community. Participants will be able to produce a variety of dairy products, including cheese, yogurt and butter, for sale as well as consumption.

“God bless these projects, in particular the production of dairy,” Fr. Mike prayed before leading the group in singing a hymn.

What makes the factory — and all of FUNDASEP’s work — so amazing is how communities are mobilized and motivated to take charge of their future. These are not simple hand-outs. From day one, the people are told they will have to work to achieve their dreams. This strategy honors their human dignity, upholds the value of labor, and provides a realistic way for the poor to rise out of deep poverty. The results have been tremendous, and this is why Cross Catholic Outreach supports FUNDASEP’s transformative work year after year.

A Motivated Beneficiary

A Dominican woman displays freshly made cheese at a cheese factory.
Gladys received training on how to make cheese.

We then met Gladys Rosas Santo Delgado, one of approximately 50 women being trained to use the equipment.

Until now, Gladys’ sole work has been farming, whether growing subsistence crops on her own land or serving as a day laborer for a very low wage. The factory gives her a way to supplement her meager income.

“Now that we have this factory, we can make cheese and we can make butter and give that to our community. We also want to share with other communities,” she said.

Gladys showed us how they combine milk and water and agitate it until the cheese begins to form. They extract the cream that rises, add salt and more milk and refrigerate it, and it is then ready to eat.

Catholics Can Help Empower the Poor!

Learn more about Cross Catholic Outreach’s microenterprise and agriculture projects in struggling communities around the world and how you can get involved. Your generous giving can manifest Christ’s love to a family in need, restore their hope, and equip them to achieve tangible, practical financial steps toward a more prosperous future.

Working Alongside the Poor

December 20, 2018 by Cross Catholic Team

Father Christian doesn’t look, talk or act like a priest — by which I mean he doesn’t fit the mold popular culture perpetuates.

When we joined the Dominican parish priest en route to a remote farming community in need of a water system, Fr. Christian arrived in jeans and a white t-shirt. If a colleague hadn’t let me in on the secret, I would’ve assumed he was a local farmer or maybe a water engineer.

On the bumpy mountain road to our destination, Fr. Christian waved hello to every person we passed, and he pointed out every coffee bean farm with the exuberance of a child spotting cows. He grew up in this world, close to the earth, with dirt under his fingernails and manure on the soles of his shoes. He doesn’t pity the poor — he’s proud of the poor and the work they do each day — and he carries himself as if saying prayers were no less natural than rising at daybreak to feed the chickens.

Along the way, we stopped to pick up a delivery that had been stranded the day before when Fr. Christian’s truck couldn’t clear a muddy incline. The stack of PVC pipes was significantly longer than the bed of our pickup truck, but Fr. Christian went to work. We secured the load, cleared the hill, got stuck in another muddy patch, and ultimately reach our destination, where families suffering from insufficient water access waited to greet us.

This is what it looks like to work alongside the poor.

Two men handing off a bag of cement to a third man overseeing the construction of a water system.
Building a water system for clean water access.
A man overseeing the construction of the water system prepares to lay the pipe that will bring water to local villagers.
Installing water pipes for clean water distribution.

Good News: Clean Water for the Village of Catanamatias!

August 1, 2018 by Cross Catholic Team

Cross Catholic Outreach just received these photos from our ministry partner FUNDASEP in the Dominican Republic. Thanks to gifts from our generous supporters, Bishop Jose Grullón Estrella recently dedicated this water system in the village of Catanamatias. Before the system was installed, poor villagers walked miles in mountainous terrain to collect contaminated water. Because of our compassionate donors, clean water is now pumped to a spigot in front of their homes. Praise the Lord!

One Priest. One Faith. 31 Congregations.

May 8, 2018 by Cross Catholic Team

Once a month, Father Juan Reyes celebrates Mass at this makeshift chapel in Batey #2.  The Batey is one of many communities formed by poor Haitian immigrants who have migrated to the Dominican Republic in search of gainful employment in the sugar cane fields. Fr. Juan travels to an astonishing 30 remote locations like this – in addition to serving his home parish. What keeps him going? Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Cross Catholic Outreach ships supplies of medicine and food to Fr. Juan to serve the poor in the region. We love to work with such dedicated men of God in our efforts to improve the lives of the needy!

Fr. Juan and Hector
Fr. Juan is now training a young seminarian, Hector, to take over the parish.

An Astonishing Thing to Behold

September 9, 2015 by Chris M.

It was one of those images you never forget – a lone priest riding a donkey, traveling from house to house to carry out the Lord’s work.

I was in the Dominican Republic, helping our Goods-In-Kind partner, Fundación Ciento Por Uno, deliver food to the poor in the remote Azua province – a long 3-hour drive from Santo Domingo way up in the mountains along winding dirt roads. That’s when I met this simple parish priest, Father Juan Cardenas, who felt the presence of God from the moment he started serving the poor.

“I never imagined myself working in the mountains; riding a donkey,” said Fr. Juan. “I was a scholar, studying in Rome, Portugal and Brazil. But God decided he needed me to serve the poor here in the remotest of places in the DR. That is what I do now and I know God is with me.”

He leaned forward, put his hand on my arm and his face erupted into a huge smile. He said, “You know how I know? Because God was with me even when I was robbed by bandits. They kidnapped me and tied me up. And even though I was frightened and weak, I somehow convinced the bandits to let me go. That wasn’t me,” he said. “That was God!”

Fr. Juan is such a humble man. I didn’t find it at all surprising that his favorite scripture was the Gospel of John. “It touches my heart,” he said. “He seems to be writing about his personal relationship with Jesus.” And as he spoke, I couldn’t help recalling the personal accounts that Fr. Juan was speaking of – how Mary anoints Jesus with her perfume, how Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, among others.

In the months to come, when the poor parishioners of the Azua province see this humble priest approach on the back of his donkey, they will notice he is training a young seminarian, Hector, to take over the parish. My heart is filled with hope that the same spirit of simple generosity will be passed on to a new generation.

A young woman in Rinconcito, Dominican Republic using a water gathering method involving leaves and jugs
A young woman in Rinconcito, Dominican Republic using a water gathering method involving leaves and jugs.

Water that Saves

December 18, 2012 by Annie W.

Before Cross Catholic Outreach and our ministry partner FUNDASEP began construction on a new water tank, the people of Rinconcito used to use leaves to guide a small trickle of water into jugs.

Meeting basic water needs was a near impossibility for families in Rinconcito, a poor community in a remote, rural region of the Dominican Republic. Villagers only had three options—and all of them were unpleasant. They could draw from a hand-pump well that delivered salty water; they could spend half a day walking to a distant, freshwater river; or they could stand in line at the bottom of a hill, where villages use leaves to guide a small trickle of water into jugs. But, this river water tastes and smells like animal waste, and people using it run the risk of developing waterborne illnesses like cholera and chronic diarrhea.

In such dire circumstances, the needy people from this poor community cried out to the Lord in their thirst. And thankfully, their prayers are being answered though Cross Catholic Outreach and our ministry partner FUNDASEP, the rural outreach arm of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana. Together, we have almost finished building an aqueduct and clean water holding tank that will provide hundreds of people with the gift of water.

I remembered the people living in Rinconcito during this morning’s daily reading from Psalms 72:1, 12-13 and 18-19, which says:

God, endow the king with your own fair judgment, the son of the king with your own saving justice,

For he rescues the needy who call to him, and the poor who has no one to help.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the needy from death.

Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders;

Blessed for ever his glorious name. May the whole world be filled with his glory!

This responsorial psalm is an encouraging reminder that our God rescues the needy and cares about the welfare of the destitute. Even though he alone saves, he invites us to help extend his blessings to his people. Families in Rinconcito have received the blessing of water that saves and are living proof of the wonderful works accomplished by Christ our Lord.

Nothing is Impossible with God

August 7, 2012 by Annie W.

Thanks to Cross Catholic Outreach and our supporters, nearly 250 poor residents in the Dominican Republic are now receiving safe, clean water.

Cross Catholic Outreach International Projects Officer Claudio Merisio recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic, where he shared in a joyful celebration with the residents of La Patilla.

Why were these people celebrating?

Thanks to Cross Catholic, through our ministry partner FUNDASEP, they recently received a new 15,000-gallon water tank that is bringing safe, accessible water to 250 poor residents, who were previously using polluted water from a distant river.

“This water has united people,” said beneficiary Epifanio Mateo. “The community was deteriorating and many people were migrating to other areas. But now that the community has water, people are starting to come back and new people are moving in.”

The new water source is not only saving lives; it’s changing lives.

“I used to go to the river to fetch water. This was a difficult chore for me. One time I slipped and fell and was in pain for a long time,” said 70-year-old Rosa Moreta. “But now I have water at my doorstep. It is easy and painless to get. I am very grateful.

Claudio reported that the entire community shared in this thanks for the new water source. During his visit, they celebrated with hymns, Bible readings and a drama depicting the lives of residents before and after the water project.

“We are grateful for the Catholic Church for laying the first stone of this tank,” said one community member.

The community views the new water tank as a tangible expression of God’s faithfulness—and this has greatly encouraged religious leader Msgr. Jose Grullon Estrella: “The best evangelization is the one that manages to change people’s culture by bringing them closer to God.”

And that’s exactly why Cross Catholic partners with FUNDASEP. According to Claudio, FUNDASEP is doing a wonderful job displaying the Gospel. This was evident on many occasions during his trip—but one moment stood out among the rest.

He said by funding this water tank, it was apparent that Cross Catholic was not only meeting a physical need, but a spiritual one as well when beneficiary Francisco Medina performed a song he wrote in gratitude for our support: “Nada es imposible para ti; con Dios todo podemos!”  Nothing is impossible for you; with God we can do anything!”

Victoria Victoriana smiling
Victoria Victoriana prayed for “the miracle of the bridge."

An "Old Lady" Gets Her Miracle

June 30, 2011 by Nola B.

I recently returned from the boondocks of the Dominican Republic, where we’re sponsoring construction of a remote bridge. We had to make sure my visit didn’t have rain in the forecast because once the river swelled I could have gotten stranded on the other side. The villagers have been stranded for weeks and months at a time. Farmers couldn’t take their harvest to the market, sick people couldn’t get to the hospital, teachers couldn’t come to the school, and villagers in town weren’t able make it back to their homes. Kids went without education, income-generating harvests rotted, supplies ran out, and things got pretty desperate. Some families even lost loved ones who tried to cross the river to get help, but died trying.

Victoria Victoriana came close to joining the mourners when her son almost drowned trying to cross the river. Villagers were able to rescue him, but Victoria never forgot that day’s trauma. She said, “Ever since my son was rescued, every day I asked God for the miracle of the bridge!”

Well, God answered her prayers. Today Puente de Milagros, the “Bridge of Miracles,” is being constructed and Victoria laid the first cornerstone.  She even contributed $5 of the $8 she owned toward the project. She told me, “I’m an old lady – I want to cross that bridge before I die!”