Anne-Marie Welsh

One of the more moving moments Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico and other
diocesan representatives experienced during their 2016
visit to the Mission
of Friendship was an encounter with a family who has been
through the mission's Amigos program.   Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

ERIE — Its beginnings were at once humble and dramatic. Back in the 1950s, the late Msgr. James Peterson and a handful of students from Gannon’s St. Thomas More Club spent a few summers working among the poor of Mérida on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The goal was to put their faith into action. Their mode of transportation across two countries? A station wagon, no doubt without air conditioning.   
          The relationship with the people in the area set the foundation for what would become the Mission of Friendship between the Archdiocese of Yucatán and the Diocese of Erie in 1971. The outreach efforts of the mission have evolved over time, and currently include an array of essential services under the direction of Tricia Pipkin but mostly staffed by people native to the region.
          “Today, we still oversee a day-care center, an after-school enrichment program for elementary girls, a medical dispensary, a sister-parish program, a family sponsorship program and more,” Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico wrote in Faith magazine after his 2016 visit to the mission. “The people of the Diocese of Erie should really celebrate the fact that their generous donations have brought food, education, medicine — and even peace of mind — to thousands of people with significant need.”

Indira Suarez, left, and Tricia Pipkin
in Mexico.        Photo/AMWelsh

          Although plans for a joint celebration in Mérida have been cancelled due to COVID-19, events will be held in both Mexico and the United States this fall. Livestreamed Masses will be offered by Yucatán’s Archbishop Gustavo Rodriguez Vega at the Cathedral of St. Ildefonso in Mérida on October 23 and by Bishop Persico at Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) Parish in Harborcreek on Nov. 12. OLM is one of 15 parishes in the diocese paired with a sister parish in Mexico.
         “It’s very important to mark the 50th anniversary,” says Indira Suarez, director of the Office of Diocesan and International Missions for the Diocese of Erie. “We’ve established many meaningful connections and friendships with people in the Yucatán.” She said some individuals and parishes have visited people in Mérida on several occasions.
          “They really feel they are family,” Suarez observes. “The original purpose of the effort was to connect people, to be a bridge for our two communities, to have a strong friendship in Christ that would enrich all our lives. I’m grateful to look back and see we have accomplished that goal.”
          Suarez says the anniversary celebrations are designed not only to look back, but also to look to the future of the mission and the collaboration between the two dioceses. To that end, her office plans to publish a commemorative book and produce a video highlighting the work of the mission and experiences of people who have been involved. Suarez hopes they will inspire new generations to support and participate in the transformative efforts of the outreach.

Many families at the daycare program overseen
by the Mission of Friendship asked Bishop Persico
for his blessing at an afternoon gathering during
which they shared stories of what the outreach has
meant in their lives.  Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

         “Everything we do through the Mission of Friendship is by virtue of our baptism,” Suarez notes. “This is not a social program. It’s what Christ calls us to do. We invite people to join us in supporting our brothers and sisters in need.”
          Those wishing to support the anniversary celebration — and ultimately, the mission — can take part in an online auction to be held May 17 to 22. The approximately 20 baskets and items that have been donated already can be viewed through a link at www.eriercd.org/missions. The auction also will include an option to make a donation without bidding on an item.
          “It’s important to be open, to reach out to others,” Bishop Persico wrote in a message to young people after his visit to the Mission of Friendship. “Remember, the Gospel message is not just about ‘me and Jesus,’ it’s also about Jesus in my neighbor. I can assure you, from my own experience, you will be deeply blessed if you are willing to be inconvenienced, to step out of your security and to make even small sacrifices.”

Read the full personal account of Bishop Persico’s trip to visit the Mission of Friendship in 2016 in Faith magazine.