By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
On a March day earlier this year, 200 residents of a remote Nicaraguan village filled their newly built John Paul II Church to overflowing.
Wesley Martin and his wife Joy, members of All Saints Church in Taylorsville, Ky., were among the worshippers that day in the village, called Cana Brava. They said during an interview last week that congregants stood along the walls and groups of men stood outside at open windows to take part in the church’s first Mass.
John Paul II Church was made possible by donations from five churches and two Knights of Columbus councils. The Martin family led the fundraising campaign.
The couple believes the Holy Spirit had a hand in the series of events which led them to this project.
Before John Paul II Church was built, residents of the agricultural village — where the primary mode of transportation is on horseback — celebrated Mass inside its only school building. The priest heard confessions under a tree in the school yard, said the couple.
In the spring of 2013 the Martins first traveled to the Nicaraguan village to attend the blessing of a water well they’d sponsored in memory of their son, who died a few years before.
Following a Mass and the blessing of the well, the priest led the couple to a plot of land next door to the school where the foundation of a church building lay.
The priest, whose named happened to be Martin, told the Martins that the residents of Cana Brava intended to finish building
the church as soon as they collected enough money, the couple said.
“Traveling to Nicaragua and meeting a priest with the name Martin who was working with the community to build a church was no
coincidence,” said Wesley Martin. “That was the Holy Spirit.
“We were really meant to go there,” agreed his wife, Joy Martin. She explained that the well was supposed to be built in another community, but, after a year of digging, workers failed to find water and the project moved to Cana Brava.
The couple said they knew almost immediately that they would help build the church. As they travelled through Nicaragua, they said, they came to realize how important the Catholic faith is to the people there.
“People will climb over a mile up a rocky hill to pray the Stations of the Cross,” said Joy Martin. They realized, she said, that religion was not a “Sunday obligation” in Nicaragua, but a way of life.
The Martins thought it was an “injustice” for the people of Cana Brava not to have a church. They felt that giving the gift of a church was their “calling,” they said.
When the couple returned to the United States, they set about making the church a reality. They first sought guidance from their pastor at All Saints Church, Father Dale Cieslik.
“I was in awe that they’d be willing to undertake such a huge thing,” said Father Cieslik.
Father Cieslik advised them to speak to Mark Bouchard, coordinator for advocacy, education and national programs at Catholic Charities of
Louisville, who helped them devise a plan to reach out to their own parish and other parishes for help. The Martins travelled to the parishes, sharing their story and asking for support.
Within a few months, all the money necessary to build the church — about $18,000 — had been donated.
The parishes that contributed were: All Saints, St. Patrick, Ascension and St. Albert the Great churches in Louisville and Christ the King Church in Walnut Creek, Calif., where Joy Martin’s aunt is a parishioner. The Knights of Columbus All Saints Council in Taylorsville and the Bishop Flaget Council in Louisville also donated money.
Bouchard said this effort — coming together to help others — is part of the “baptismal calling.”
“It’s always important for parishes, if they have the capacity to do so, to work together,” he said. “It’s one of the things that can sew us together as a church. … It sends the message as a church that we’re all over the world — our brothers and sisters are all over the world.”
The people of Cana Brava pitched in, too, giving their time and skills to construct the church. When the Martins arrived there earlier this year for the dedication, they were overwhelmed by how grateful the people were.
“When someone says thank you and they really mean it, you know,” said Wesley Martin.
Joy Martin noted that upon returning to Cana Brava for the church dedication, she saw a big difference in the people. Having a source of potable water nearby seemed to have improved their overall well-being, she said.
“It’s like a burden had been lifted,” she said. “The water project was health for their bodies. The church is health for their spirit, and it’ll be abeacon bringing people together.”
She noted that John Paul II Church is the only one in the area, so she hopes it will serve surrounding communities as well.
The Martins are not stopping with John Paul II Church. The couple will launch a fundraising effort this month to finish construction of a church in another Nicaraguan community called Barrio Concepción.