"And the king will answer them,
'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the
The Chepo/Bayano Mission in Panama is approximately 1/3 the geographical area of the Archdiocese of Panama. It is approximately 7,500 square miles in size and the terrain is a mixture of mountains, jungle and flat lands.*
Upon arrival the Capuchins established their main resident mission post in Chepo. Chepo is a small city of about 3,000 people that has paved streets, electricity, running water and telephone communications with the outside world.
The climate is generally hot and humid during the five month rainy season which runs from August to December. From mid-December to May it is very dry with little or no rainfall. During June and July the winter rains gradually begin to fall.
A majority of the 75,000 - 80,000 people in the Chepo/Bayano Mission are Spanish- speaking subsistence farmers who live off the land, cultivating rice and corn. They normally live in huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs. Their meager existence is often plagued with disease and sickness. Proper medical help is often not available unless they carry their sick and infirm in a hammock for miles and sometimes days to the nearest hospital in Chepo.
There are two major Indian tribes which also live mainly in the Bayano Mission area. They are the Kunas and the Chocoe-Embera. Each speaks their own dialect, however, a number of them also speak Spanish. The Kunas are the largest group of Indians in Panama and very protective of their traditional ways. The Chocoe-Embera blend quite easily into the Panamanian society.
A small number of the communities which the Capuchins serve in the Chepo/Bayano Mission are accessible via the Pan-American Highway. However, a majority are only accessible by horseback, walking, or by river.
In 1989, the Capuchin community decided to open another mission post in Wacuco, Alto Bayano. Alto Bayano is rapidly growing especially due to migration of people from other parts of Panama. It was agreed that Fr. Wally would live and work in the Bayano Mission.
The rapidly growing population of Alto Bayano is accompanied by an ever growing demand to meet basic human needs. At present their are about 40 different communities which Fr. Wally serves. Most the these communities have already built chapels and have delegates of the Word who gather the local people every Sunday for worship services. Fr. Wally tries to visit each community two or three times a year for baptisms, mass and the other sacraments.
In any pastoral approach to evangelization, one has to take into consideration the whole person - both the spiritual and physical needs. The ideal situation is when local governments care for the physical needs of the people and the church devote most of its energy and resources to the spiritual care of the people. However, a majority of the population in most third- and fourth-world countries remain trapped in poverty because of corrupt politicians and an ever increasing foreign debt. Panama is no exception the the general rule.
Although the per capita income of Panama may be higher than some other third- or fourth-world countries, a vast majority of the people in the Bayano Mission are far below any real socio-economic means which can help them rise out of their destitution and poverty. As in other countries, politicians gravitate toward large population areas and forget about the rural areas where people do not have the numbers or the means to make their power felt.
Fr. Wally has been working hard to improve the conditions of the people in this area. When people come to him and ask that he builds a bridge or put in a water system, he replies, "No, I am not going to do it, but I'll teach you how to do it". He always insists that they provide a major part of the labor, free of cost. He works with the local committee's on all projects and if there is no committee formed, he tells them to get organized and come back to him when this has been accomplished. This is very important because then they take ownership of and responsibility for the project today and in the future after Fr. Wally leaves.