By Father Charles P. Keeney
As director of the Propagation of the Faith, I am meeting missionaries from many faraway places right here in my office. Most of them are priests and some are religious. Today I am writing about a very unusual missionary whom I have met with only a couple of times, but who has been a regular visitor to the Propagation. She is a laywoman who lives in Jackson Heights and has illustrated her love for the poor in the missions for many years.
Hilda Paloma Contreras was born in Peru and graduated from the Escuela de Bellas Artes in her native country. There, she developed her talents in painting and dancing, which would come in handy later in life and in her ministry. In 1960, she came to New York and began to volunteer in the offices of the Visiting Nurses. There, she demonstrated her ability and compassion in many social and humanitarian projects. Her volunteering prepared her to work as a fundraiser for the same organization for 21 years, during which time she won many awards as an exemplary employee.
After the period of paid employment, she began to get involved with social and humanitarian activities to promote the Catholic faith. With the help of priests she has gotten to know, Hilda now visits and helps missions in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Columbia, Santo Domingo and her native country, Peru. She brings donations to very poor Catholic communities and gives comfort to the sick and needy.
Hilda raises some funds through her paintings. She collects all sorts of religious articles and brings them to communities, parishes and missions that need them. This is where the Propagation office and her ministry have met and will continue to meet.
Many people love to donate to the missions because that is one of the principal works of our church. Donors usually help with monetary sacrifices through our appeals, membership in the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, mite boxes during Lent, World Mission Sunday’s collection every October or by giving to the Mission Appeal collection when missionaries visit each parish in the summer. Others donate vestments, vessels, rosaries, crucifixes, statues and many other religious articles.
Hilda calls our office to let us know when she is going to make contributions and asks if we have any materials for her. It is with great love and joy that we pack cartons of donated supplies that she will distribute in her ministry. In her missionary travels, Hilda visits people who meet her with great joy. They call her “Madre Paloma.” Not only does she bring religious articles, but she cheers up the down- trodden with her dancing.
Earlier in her life, she danced at Alice Tulley Hall in Lincoln Center with the Clarita Rocha Dance Co. Now she performs to promote our faith. The people she visits are inspired by the love, compassion, joy and generosity of this lay missionary who seeks no glory for herself. She once told a friend that she does what she does because God has given her a gift.
The friend asked, “What gift did God give you?” Hilda replied, “The gift of giving to my neighbor!”
We can all share in Hilda’s gift, because we have been given the ability to help our neighbors. Please consider how you are able to help your neighbors through our office by your donations. Please call (718) 965-7326 if you wish to donate religious articles that can be used by our missions throughout the world. Perhaps your donation may be in the next shipment we pack for “Madre Paloma.”
Father Keeney is the diocesan director for the Propagation of the Faith.