"And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the 
least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' " (Matthew 25:40)

Jan. 20, 1994

St Francis Nat'l Park Foundation
The Mission
Ripon Mission
Christian Medical Missions

Ripon men build roof on Central American church
The Ripon Commonwealth Press, January 20, 1994
by Tim Lyke

(This is the first installment of a three-part series on Ripon native Father Wally Kasuboski and his mission to help people in the interior of Panama live longer, healthier lives).

    Dress in blue jeans, work boots and a holey, white tank-top undershirt, the unshaven man gazes out from his 30-foot high perch and takes a drag on his Marlboro.
    He removes his cap, wipes the sweat from his brow with his work-gloved hand and peers down at the dark-skinned man below.
    "Necessitamos mas agua!" he yells, the cigarette bouncing in his mouth as he tosses down a plastic canteen from his scaffolding. The Panamanian runs the canteen over to a 5-gallon cooler, fills it and tosses it underhand up to the man.
    When Father Wally Kasuboski asks for more water, the Panamanian people jump.     They think he walks on the stuff.
    "Padre Pablo," as the locals call him, moved to the tiny village of Wacuco, Panama, in 1988. He has lived there longer than anywhere else in his 46-year life, besides the city where he grew up, Ripon, WI.
    His parish covers more than 2,500 square miles and serves about 30,000 people in 40 villages, including two Indian communities, the Chocoe and the Kuna.
    Most of the people living in Wally's parish are poor. No electricity. No mail service. A single gravel road so full of potholes that average speed for those few who own vehicles is about 15 mph.  "I feel I've got one less year to be in purgatory every time I drive on this road," Wally says.
    Before Wally's arrival, the people had dirty drinking water, few schools or churches, no hospital and little hope that things would improve. Five years later, they still have no electricity, their clothes remain old and torn, and during the rainy season, alligators have been know to lie in the road's potholes.
    So why is Wally revered?
    He has given many Panamanians the resources, knowledge and inspiration to improve their health, education and spiritual lives. Wally has taught the men how to hold hammers, the women how to sew. He has laughed and cried with them, baptized their babies and buried their dead.
    But he is not wholly beneficent. Wally has little tolerance and no time for those who aren't willing to help themselves. He has been assisted in his work by his diocese, private individuals, grants, churches - locally, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Green Lake has been among his biggest benefactors; Ripon's St. Peter's Episcopal, St. Wenceslaus and St. Patrick churches have also helped - and Americans who visit Panama to share their technical expertise with the local people.  Engineering students from Villanova University in Pennsylvania laid pipe for water projects in early January.
    On Saturday, health professionals from Texas will tend to the communities' medical needs. Between the Pennsylvanians' and Texans' visits came a delegation from Wally's hometown.
    An odd quartet - a home builder, funeral director, semi-retired sod farmer and journalist - returned to Ripon Sunday from Panama.
    In 100-degree heat, Peter Kasuboski, Jerry Marchant, Marty Hammen and Tim Lyke helped Peter's brother Wally build a roof on a 10,000-square-foot Catholic church he has been constructing for the past year in a village four miles east of Wacuco, named Torti.
    The four joined Wally and about 10 residents of nearby communities in adding trusses, chicken wire, insulation and zinc sheeting to the precast-concrete building, set on a hill overlooking Torti to the west and mountains, countryside and jungle in other directions.
    Wally, who grew up on a dairy farm southeast of Ripon and graduated from Ripon High School in 1965, has been a Capuchin priest of the Franciscan order since his ordination June 1, 1974.
    As a Capuchin, Wally has devoted his adult life to "contemplative service to the poor" through social action. That commitment has taken him to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Washington, D.C., eastern Europe and to the Middle East.
    Since moving to Wacuco five years ago, Wally has helped the Panamanian people build schools, bridges, roads, water systems, a hospital and now, the church.
    Geographically, Panama is a horizontal isthmus averaging 60 miles wide, with the Atlantic Ocean to the north, the Pacific to the south. Panama City, the capital, sits on the Pacific coast a little more than halfway between the country's eastern border with Costa Rica and western border with Colombia, South America.
    Wacuco is about 70 miles east of Panama City (a four-hour drive during the dry season) and about 110 miles west of Colombia.
    Wally says he is the community's largest employer. His work crew of about a dozen, in fact, makes him the largest employer in the whole eastern third of Panama. Most of his employees are construction workers, trained by Wally to be stone masons, mechanics, welders, drivers and, as of two weeks ago, roofers.
    Materials to build the church largely were home grown. Concrete was brought in from Panama City, mixed with sand from local river beds and formed into blocks using a machine Wally built. The four trusses that framed the roof were hand-constructed as well, enabling Wally to save thousands of dollars he otherwise would have had to pay to order them from Panama City.
    The Ripon men worked beside the Panamanians, neither nationality knowing much of the other's language but easily able to communicate through gesture or simple words such as agua (water), pequito mas (a little more) and at the end of a 10-hour day working in triple-digit temperatures, cervesa (beer). 
    Many months will pass before the church in Torti is completed. But Wally hopes that in 1995 the building will host its first Mass. A ground-breaking Mass held last year in the building's foundation overflowed with worshippers. When completed, the church will hold 500.
    When their work was finished, the Ripon men took a bus up to San Jose, Costa Rica, to relax for a day before returning home. But all agreed that the trip's highlight was the time they spent in Panama, building a roof on a church that will stand as testament to international cooperation for many years to come.

    Next week: How Father Wally Kasuboski is helping Panamanians to live longer by living healthier.

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