LA GRANGE PARK – As a missionary in Uganda for 33 years, the Rev. David Paul Baltz of the Comboni Missionary Congregation helped build Catholic churches, schools and health centers to help residents of the poverty-stricken African country.
Now, Baltz no longer serves overseas, but he continues to serve Catholics all over the Chicago area as a priest at the Comboni Mission Center in La Grange Park, which is a part of the worldwide Comboni congregation. The center is hosting its annual Comboni Fest on Aug. 25 to raise money to support the important missionary work that Comboni priests, nuns and laypeople continue to do in impoverished countries.
“Our fundraising helps us with different projects, most recently assisting refugees from South Sudan who fled to Uganda,” Baltz said. “We worked in a United Nations camp with more than 1 million refugees. They’re mostly Christians or Catholics, and we’re concerned with their spiritual well-being. We care for people in the reality they find themselves in.”
The free, family friendly festival, which begins with Mass at 3 p.m., will feature live music, Mexican folkloric dance performances, bounce houses, a silent auction and plenty of food and drink, including a tiki bar and pig roast.
Office manager Rosina LaPietra said the center is run solely on donations, and all the money raised from food sales will fund the center’s operations and global missions.
“It’s a lot of fun and great for everyone in the family,” she said. “If you’re Catholic, it’s great because you can go to Mass first. We’d love for people to come to our events to hear [our priests’] stories of what they do. They go to these areas where there are gangs and violence, but there are people there who still need help.”
The Comboni Mission Congregation was founded in 1867, and it is based on the work of St. Daniel Comboni, an Italian priest who dedicated his life to helping better the lives of people in Africa.
While most Comboni missions focus on African countries, the missionaries do serve in other countries around the globe.
Baltz, 78, returned from Uganda in 2017, where he worked in a parish and oversaw 27 Catholic schools. While there, he also trained future priests and bishops.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Africa. It was a very rewarding life, but it meant sacrifices,” he said. “We also help their physical needs, like providing food if they’re hungry. We try to better lives physically and help people become aware of their dignity as human beings. We let people know that others care for them and that they’re not abandoned.”
The La Grange Park center also has a missionary training program for laypeople. Paul Wheeler, director of the Lay Mission Program, prepares families and individuals for three-year missions.
He said he feels a long commitment is necessary for the missionaries to become entrenched within the communities they’re serving.
“They’re sharing their faith, but the Combonis have a focus on peace and justice issues, education and the development of poor neighborhoods on the margins of society to help people reach their full potential,” Wheeler said. “[Becoming a missionary] is a solid way to touch a community and effect positive change.”
If you go
WHAT: Comboni Fest
WHEN: Aug. 25 (Mass at 3 p.m., festival to follow)
WHERE: Comboni Mission Center, 1615 E. 31st St., La Grange Park
INFO: combonimissioncenterlgp.wordpress.com, 708-354-1999
For information about the Comboni Mission Center or Comboni Fest, visit combonimissioncenterlgp.wordpress.com.