By Rev. Jason Weber
Tucked away in a nook of the Rio Artibonito, is a town that time forgot on the Dominican side of the border with Haiti. What you are about to read is the musing of a missionary priest from the diocese of Arlington and his adventures in a town called Bánica.
Patronales is the most important feast of a town or city in the Dominican Republic, depending on their Patron Saint. In Bánica, we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. However, we start the celebration with a 6am procession on Sept. 24 for our Lady of Mercies. Prayers and hot chocolate are offered every evening at the Church until Oct. 2 when the feast really begins to ratchet up.
Every October 4th thousands of people descend upon the town of Bánica to visit a cave where St. Francis of Assisi is purported to have appeared some three hundred years ago. Bánica is a town of about 1,800 people and usually receives around 10,000 visitors between Oct. 2nd and 4th in order to celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It is no mean feat for a town of this size! The Catholic church, headed by your truly, is responsible for the activities and safety of those who visit the cave. We provide food and organization for the numerous volunteers who help. Among those volunteers, this past year boasted of about 15 military, thirty defense civil (or more- I lost track), about fifteen police, and around forty five parish volunteers. A bit more than a team of one hundred in order to oversee safety and security.
This year also had an unwelcome visitor named Matthew, hurricane Matthew to be exact, and despite his menacing presence (which, thankfully, was only menacing; sparing Bánica his dangerous wrath) I would estimate that somewhere around 4,000 people still made the pilgrimage out to fulfill their promises to St. Francis.
Rev. Jason Weber is a missionary of the Arlington Diocese stationed in Bánica. He is pastor of San Francisco de Asis Church.