"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)

March 19, 2008

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This is the first in a series of stories highlighting Ripon’s sister city — Wacuco, Panama — and the work being done there by Father Wally Kasuboski.

This week’s article offers an overview of Father Wally’s work in remote Panama. Next week will focus on a group of citizens and students who recently returned from a 10-day mission trip to Panama.

by Ian Stepleton

Opportunity: it’s as valuable as any coin minted.
And in rural Panama, it’s in short supply.
Yet in one region of this poor country, a sense of optimism is building.
Where children once drank from murky creeks, clean water now flows through pipes to thousands of homes and dozens of communities.

Enrollment is skyrocketing at the local high school — a school that didn’t even exist a few years ago.
And roadways are being built, connecting communities once considered so remote, they never could have engaged in trade with the rest of the world, or even their neighbors.

Why is east-central Panama taking such steps forward? Ask its residents, and one name will come to their lips:
“Padre Pablo” — a man so revered in the region that he’s met numerous sitting presidents of Panama in the last 20 years.
But among Riponites, he’s better known as Father Wally Kasuboski, a one-time farm kid made good.

Living in Wacuco, Panama, Father Wally today seems as much a construction foreman as a spiritual leader.
But he didn’t come to Wacuco with the intention of creating a construction company. That became a necessity as he discovered that lifting the people’s spirits would take equal parts Gospel and good, hard labor.
“They were drinking out of the swamps where the cows live, the horses bathe, where their clothes are washed — and that’s the water they drink,” he said. “They would get skin rashes and were sick all the time with dysentery.”
Father Wally knew this had to change. To help their souls, he needed to save their bodies.
Over the years, at times it’s meant creating a water system where none existed, building several churches, numerous homes, miles of roadway, and countless other projects.

“He’s been single-handed in getting [these projects done],” one of his parishioners said. “No one has ever done that for us.” “He’s a good pastor, and we love him very much,” said Elvis, another of Padre Pablo’s parishioners. “... “He’s never abandoned the people of Wacuco.”

He hasn’t done it alone. Key in Father Wally’s mind is the tenant of teaching those around him to help themselves, not just depend on others.

That’s how he’s created his construction company, in which he’s personally trained all the workers by giving them the tools — both figuratively and literally — to further their lives. “From my perspective, I’m blessed with talents and gifts to help other people — not just with a hand-out, but to help them get in touch with their abilities,” Father Wally said.
Each worker starts by learning how to maintain small equipment, moving up the scale to large pieces such as farm combines.

Advancement only comes to those willing and able to learn. Even with such an able crew, for every job Father Wally completes, he thinks of two more that could be done to improve the lives of Panamanians.

He’d like to see a home for the elderly built. There are more miles of roads to pave. And he desperately, desperately hopes to construct a dam that would enable another seven communities — and thousands more people — a chance to sip safe drinking water.

Back home, Riponites see his dreams as rallying cries for help. With so much to do, and just a five-month dry season in which to complete any outdoor work, dozens of local residents have trekked to the wilds of Panama to help create more opportunity for the people of the Wacuco area.

Over the course of many trips spanning 14 years, Riponites have buckled down in 10-day increments to build churches, construct block houses, and complete numerous other projects to improve the lives of people they’ve never met. “It lifts my spirits,” Father Wally said of so many Riponites travelling so far to help. “It makes me grateful there are people like me willing to sacrifice to [help].”

Most recently, probably the most unique such group from Ripon returned Sunday evening. Composed of 11 college students, two advisors and 10 community members, the group ranged in age from 19 to 72. Over the course of about seven working days, the diverse group completed multiple projects, the most significant of which was on the future home of local nuns.

When the group began, the home was a shell, but by the end it was nearly inhabitable. Father Wally is key. For as much as volunteers’ work is appreciated, remaining at the heart of progress in Wacuco is Father Wally. He provides the people of Wacuco and its neighbors opportunity — not to simply follow the Ripon native, but to learn from him so the people of the city can become self-sufficient.

The water system built is not managed by Father Wally — it’s run by a Water Commission he helped set up. He built the high school, but now it’s owned and run by the people of Torti.

But, as it’s always been, both building the faith of the locals and ensuring clean water for the region are his passions.
In Wacuco, one cannot be accomplished without the other. The people of east-central Panama need to be served in both capacities.

“He’s a good and notable, important priest,” said Wilamina, one of Father Wally’s parishioners, of their Padre Pablo. “He’s very understanding and he does so much for the people of Wacuco. “He’s a working priest.”


 


Last modified: June 18, 2013