Here comes the collection basket. But instead of being expected to add your envelope, or reach into your own pocket, you are asked to take an envelope.
The next day, Father Otieno emerged from the guest room of the rectory with an itinerary for Father Wiesner.
Father Wiesner bought a ticket to Nairobi, and for 18 days, from late August into early September, he spent 15 days visiting Passionist missions and schools and three days on safari. The Sunday before Labor Day found the Oakland priest at the Tonga Parish Mission, near Lake Victoria.
He and his hosts passed two dormitories that house 32 children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Father Wiesner saw a slab of concrete and asked his hosts: What's that?
It was, he learned, the foundation for a much-needed third dormitory, which would house an additional 50 children.
He asked how much it would cost to complete.
"Standing there, on that field, under the African sky, I thought, 'we can do this,'" he said.
There were other missions and schools to visit during his time there, but as he was leaving for the airport, he asked his host: Of all the things they had seen in the last 2½ weeks, what was the greatest need?
His answer: the dormitory at Tonga.
Father Wiesner returned to his parish knowing what he had to do. "I just didn't know how to do this," he said. He had received the architect's drawings and a $65,000 bid for the construction.
"We're not a large parish," he said. "We have less than 400 families."
"People have been asked to increase their giving, and the Bishop's Appeal was also on the horizon." he said. "How do I find the resources to help these children who have lost their parents, mostly to HIV/AIDS?"
While listening to KLOVE radio in his car, he heard news of a Baptist church in Texas that had given members money, which they returned five fold.
It seemed like a fine idea to Father Wiesner. "I'm going to give money to the people and let them multiply it," he said.
He talked with others in the diocese who had done reverse collections, including the Revs. Dan Danielson and Robert McCann.
Father Wiesner needed $12,000 to fill 400 envelopes. Two generous families had given him $10,000 in unrestricted funds; $2,000 came from savings. "I fully anticipate it will come back to us," he said.
Within 24 hours of his Sunday homily, the parish email and phones lighted up.
Margaret Calonge, a third-year law student, whose envelope contained $20, joined forces with others in her RCIA class to put on a yard sale.
In three hours, they raised $864.
Jay Mitchell, a graduate of the St. Francis de Sales School of Pastoral Ministry who volunteers at the parish, bought a bike computer with the $20 in his envelope. He is seeking pledges for using only his bike for the seven weeks, and for participating in two bicycling events near Monterey, including a 100-mile ride.
Parishioner Carol Maes has arranged for a performance by the Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble at 7:30 p.m. May 18 at the church. Tickets are $15.
Parishioners who are turning the content of their envelopes into the raw materials for their crafts are planning an artisans fair at the church.
The parishioners have been invited to bring back the fruits of their labors on Pentecost, May 27, to fund the dormitory Father Wiesner sees a legacy project. "It will be there long after we are gone," he said.
As for Father Wiesner's own legacy, it often ends with a question mark, as biblical scholar Gina Hens-Piazza, who spoke at his church recently asked him: Are you the guy who handed out the money?
ST. AUGUSTINE PARISH PHOTO
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