When the Missionary Servants decided to open a mission in Costa Rica, we visited the larger dioceses in the country. At each meeting, we told the bishops, “We want to serve the most abandoned people in the country.” Everyone assured us that Catholics living in the Osa Peninsula fit the bill.
Situated in the country’s far southwestern corner, the peninsula boasts some of Central America’s most beautiful and wild areas. Lush mountain rain forests tumble into the clear blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. In the treetops, scarlet macaws sing a raucous serenade. On the other hand, there is also sweltering heat and humidity – and isolation. Many parts of the peninsula can only be reached by plane or boat – and in some cases, by horseback! Even where there are roads, a four-wheel drive vehicle is a necessity.
It is in this setting that Trinity Missions began serving the poor and abandoned people of the area in 1994. The mission’s “base” is Puerto Jiménez, located on the scenic Golfo Dulce (“Sweet Gulf”) on the east side of the peninsula.
While the town of Puerto Jiménez has been modernized, many families in other parts of the peninsula live in small wooden houses without plumbing or electricity, eking out a living by growing rice or raising cattle.
The main church of the parish – Saint Dominic of Guzman – is in Puerto Jiménez, although there are 29 other mission chapels in the 1400-square-kilometers that fall within the parish boundaries. Estimates place the population of the parish at about ten thousand.
The extreme isolation and rigors of the peninsula make it a demanding assignment. One of the challenges our missionaries faced when they arrived in Puerto Jiménez was to find a better way to evangelize. While Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Costa Rica, only three-fourths of the people claim it as their religion. The reality, however, is that many of these men and women are Catholic in name only. A recent study showed that just 45% of those who claim to be Catholic are practicing their faith.
Our missionaries looked to Father Judge, our founder, for an answer. “Father Judge believed that every Catholic is a missionary,” reflects one of the first Missionary Servant priests to serve on the mission. “This has great implications in a place like this, where it is impossible for the clergy to be present to all the people on a regular basis. All of us – clergy and laity – must be committed to spreading the Good News!”
Today, almost 30 years after our missionaries first arrived in Puerto Jiménez, the main church and the local chapels are alive with faith-filled, zealous men and women who are dedicated to serving their communities in many different capacities.
As our missionaries have discovered, life on the Osa Peninsula can be hard. Amid the devastating poverty, though, there is still plenty of reason for hope. The Catholics on the peninsula have risen to the challenges before them – learning more about their faith, becoming religious leaders in their communities, spreading the gospel by their very lives. We are very grateful for the many friends and benefactors who support this important missionary work.