WASHINGTON — The relationship of twins is unique. They certainly know a lot about each other and ideally can support one another.
The same is true for twin parishes, where U.S. parishes, currently from more than 70 dioceses, are linked with parishes in Haiti or Latin America through the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas.
The group is a Catholic nonprofit organization that started in 1978 and has connected about 300 parishes. Currently, there is a waiting list nearly that long of at least 200 Haitian and Latin American parishes that want to be linked up with a U.S. parish.
David Siler, the program’s executive director, said about 250 of the twinned parishes are in Haiti, where the ministry first twinned parishes, and there are about 40 twinned parishes in Latin America.
Almost always there is a “financial solidarity,” he told The Tablet, noting that the program links U.S. parishes with some of the poorest parishes in the world. The U.S. parishes provide financial help with school support, medical missions and medicine donations, construction and clean water projects, and shipping goods or supplies.
There is also, of course, a spiritual connection.
“The spiritual benefit to U.S. parishes is just profound,” he said. His own experience, helping to start up a parish twinning project 11 years ago with his parish, St. Matthew the Apostle in Indianapolis, and an impoverished Catholic parish in Bois de Lance, Haiti, “has easily been the most spiritual enriching experience of my entire life.”
For participating U.S. parishes, “it expands our notion of what church is,” he added.
Members of the two parishes communicate with one another, and before COVID-19 and unrest in some of the countries, they did more visits. They also pray for each other.
Currently his parish is sponsoring a woman going to nursing school for four years. The parish has also helped with the construction of a rectory and expansion of two schools, helped support the teachers and administrators of these schools, and fund a food program for students.
Transfiguration Parish in Tarrytown, New York, has been involved in parish twinning for 20 years, and is currently twinned with Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Soyapango, El Salvador.
Ted Sohn and his wife, who helped to start the program with the pastor at the time, said its emphasis has been on sending scholarships each year for students living in the city’s slums through an annual parish appeal.
When they first started this partnership, he said many of the children in the area were not going to school because their parents couldn’t afford the $3 a month tuition. Now, some of the young students they helped have since graduated from college and say they want to stay in the country and now have the chance to get jobs there.
Transfiguration parishioners have made eight visits to the twin parish and a group from El Salvador also visited them — with trips arranged by parishioners’ air-travel miles.
Sohn said a few years ago the parish brought a group of eighth graders to the Central American parish in what many described as a life-changing trip where they learned, among other things, some dances and how to weave kites from next to nothing.
He sometimes gets asked how the parish can contribute to a town parish when there are so many local needs the parish is helping. In response, he tells of the unique relationship between the two parishes and how they keep each other in their prayers.
Siler said he answers this common question by saying it is not about doing one service or another, but doing both to “serve those in our midst.
“We have a social safety net in the U.S,” he said, adding that nothing like that exists right now in Haiti and some of the Latin American countries.
He also reminds people of the parable of the good Samaritan, noting that when Jesus was asked “who is my neighbor?” he made the responder answer: “Anyone in need.”