As we prepare to celebrate 100 years of service in Panama (2014), we give thanks for the many blessings we have received in service the people of Panama and look to our future service here full of hope in all that is possible when we follow Christ in Vincent´s way.
A Look Back: A Brief History of the Panama Mission
The finishing of the Panama Canal construction in 1914 marked the beginning of the Eastern Province Vincentian’s permanent presence in the country. For more than half a century before that time, Vincentians from several provinces did mission work in collaboration with the Daughters of Charity and in service of the French and English speaking populations who constructed the canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
In anticipation of a permanent English speaking population, in what would be known for many as the “Canal Zone”, the Eastern Province Vincentians, who had been doing “dry season” missions for a couple of years, where asked to accept permanent pastoral care of communities along the canal. A mission house was set up Balboa in 1914, and our rich history in the country began. The following year, we responded to the invitation to accepted pastoral care of a parish community in Colon, on the Pacific side of the Canal.
In 1917 our movement into what is often called “the interior” began when confreres began work in the Bocas del Toro Province, bordering Costa Rica on the Pacific side of the country, where we served until 1964.
The middle part of the century saw an expansion of the mission to Puerto Armuelles and Concepcion in the Chiriquí Province, bordering Costa Rica on the Atlantic Side. This expansion increased the need for more confreres as well as made fluent Spanish a pastoral necessity. It is also when efforts began for native Panamanian vocations.
A focus on Christian Base Communities, lay formation and social justice – as well as expansion into indigenous ministry in the Ngäbe Reservation and the Province of Darien – marked the presence of the Congregation in Panama during the later part of the 20th Century. As the Panama Canal was formally placed in the hands of the Panamanians at the turn of the Century, we too could celebrate that most Vincentians announcing the “Good News to the Poor” in Panama were themselves native Panamanians.
A Hope-filled Future: Our Mission Today
Our missionary presence in Panama continues today in vibrant service in urban and rural parishes where, in addition to sacramental ministry, we are involved in lay formation, prison ministry, indigenous ministry, poverty eradication and human promotion projects, and social justice work.
The 17 Panamanians and 3 North Americans that comprise the Panama mission today serve in 5 principle geographic areas:
- Balboa (Panama City) – St Mary´s Parish
- Colon, Province of Colon – St Joseph and Miraculous Medal Parishes
- Puerto Armuelles, Province of Chiriquí – St Anthony Parish
- Concepcion, Province of Chiriquí – Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Charity Parishes
- Soloy, Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle – St Vincent de Paul Parish
We ask for your prayers as we prepare for our 100 year anniversary in Panama. May we continue to humbly serve by the example of so many Vincentians who have inspired us with their zeal for mission.
Father Nico Van Kleef, a Vincentian who served in Panama for many years using a wheelchair after becoming disabled in a car accident, was killed in Santa Marta in May 1989, a very turbulent time in Panamanian history. His story has inspired many and continues to be an example for us of what it means to give one’s life for others. He is famous for his phrase, “I want to be Good News!”