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North American
La Salette Mission Center
By Fr. Thomas
Vellappallil, MS
By Fr. Thomas
Vellappallil, MS
A Report on my first visit to Argentina
by Fr. Thomas Vellappallili, M.S.
Argentina is the second largest country in South America in size and population (Brazil is larger) and is the eighth largest country in the world. It has a population of 42 million. Ethnic groups consist of mostly Spanish and Italian (97%) immigrants. Argentina became an independent nation in 1816. There are 23 Provinces (what we call States in the USA). 80% of the population resides in cities and towns of more than 2000. Over one third of the people live in the greater Buenos Aires area.

Argentina is bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay on the north and by Uruguay and Brazil on the east and on the south is Chile and the Atlantic Ocean. Major cities are Buenos Aires, Cordova, Rosario, Mendoza, Santa Fe, etc. The most important factors in the wealth and prosperity of the Argentinean Republic are agriculture, agricultural industries, cattle-raising and commerce. The chief agricultural pursuits are wheat, maize, sugarcane, tobacco and grapes. The agricultural industries are chiefly the manufacture of flour, sugar, cigar, wines and spirits. Natural resources include Zinc, copper, iron, oil and uranium.
Many Argentineans are nominal Catholics who attend Church only on specific social occasions like weddings and baptisms. Only 20% practices the faith regularly. Roman Catholicism remains the official religion of the State. There are 72 dioceses. The society, culture and politics are deeply imbued with Roman Catholicism. There are many Catholic universities in Argentina and religious orders run and sponsor hundreds of primary and secondary schools throughout the country. Freedom of religion is also guaranteed by the Constitution
I left Bolivia on the morning of December 5th and flew to Santa Cruz to catch a plane to Argentina and arrived at the Martin Miguel De Guemes airport in Salta, Argentina around noon. Salta sits in the northwest of the country. Fr. Joseph who is on a loan to the region for 5 years from India, travelled 6 hours on a bus to meet me. His friend Nancy who is local and familiar with the area, accompanied him to the airport. We took a taxi to get to the bus terminal and had my first meal at the bus terminal. Although I was warned of the heat of the summer, I was lucky to have very pleasant weather due to a heavy downpour on the previous day. After a 6 hour bus ride, we arrived in Las Termas. It is a winter tourism center. If you are looking for a place for retirement, I recommend Las Termas, because of the natural hot springs that can keep you happy and healthy all year along. Its season goes from April to October. Most shops and business places were closed since I arrived here during “out of season.”

Fr. Joseph and I arrived in Las Termas about 10 pm. I was surprised, very surprised, to see that the whole La Salette community stayed up to receive me and welcome me with a great late dinner. Fr. Alfredo Velarde is the pastor and Fr. Fernando Altimaranda is his associate pastor. Fr. Jack Harvey and Fr. Jim Weeks, two American La Salettes who have given most of their lives as missionaries to Argentina, live with this community.
They speak with great passion about the missions. Even though they are retired, they remain active in ministry. After a good night’s rest, Frs. Alfredo and Fernando took me on a tour around the parish. It’s a vibrant parish, divided into four sectors with 138 missions spread out far and wide. This is the only parish in this beautiful city of Las Termas. With financial assistance from Fr. Jim Henault and his parishioners, they have built a primary school, which grows in enrollment each year. Education for these children has brought many families closer to Church. “Bienvenido Padre Tomas” was the greeting of welcome I received from the students. It is so impressive to see their joy and the smiles in their faces. Thanks to the La Salettes for the great works they do to help shape the future of these children. People continue to speak very highly of Steve Krisanda, Dennis Columber, J.P. Sullivan and others. After the tour of the parish, it was easy to conclude that there are so many unfinished projects. They need lots of help expanding the school, assisting in many comedors (Soup Kitchens), in completing mission chapels and places of worship. Alfredo expressed his gratitude to me for taking time to visit and for the sincere interest I have shown for the missions.

Later in the afternoon, Joseph and I continued our journey to La Banda, an hour by bus. La Banda is a city in the Province of Santiago del Estero. It is located only 5 miles away from the city of Santiago. Joseph took me down town and we strolled for half a day. Joseph has been assigned pastor in La Banda for a year. Bro. Moises lives with him. I missed him for he was visiting his folks in Tarija, Bolivia. There are 10 mission centers under his parish. This is one of the most remote and poor places. You see lots of unpaved roads even the one that runs in front of the parish church and the rectory. The Sunday collection usually amounts to 80 to 100 pesos, which is equal to $20. Joseph loves his people and the people love him as one of their own. Within a year, Joseph was able to get outside of the Church painted and he hopes to have the inside painted in the near future. He speaks Spanish fairly well.
Two men apparently drunk climbed at the back of the truck only to find out one of them was the brother of the patient. As we entered the small shabby house, we saw the patient in her 70s lying in bed close to dying. Some of the neighbors came and joined as Fr. Joseph prayed over her and gave the Last Rites. I was impressed by the comment Joseph made. “To which we are going is the poorest of the barrios. It is quite a distance to travel. But to the poor I must go. They have no one to care for them.” I found the spirit of a true missionary in action through this event.
Fr. Joseph had arranged for us to have lunch and dinner with two families while we were in La Banda. No one can beat their hospitality. Fr. Joseph plays tennis with some of them. They greet you and welcome you to their homes with a hug on your both cheeks and treat you like like family. I enjoyed the company and friendship of the two beautiful families. They specially prepared dishes typical to their region as they wanted me to taste everything.
Fr. Joseph took me to the bus terminal and sent me off by myself to Cordoba. I arrived in Cordoba around 9pm after a 7 hour trip. Cordoba is the second largest city located near the geographical center of Argentina about 435 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Fr. Jacob, who was my classmate came to the terminal and we went to his place, which is known as the” Casa de Formacion”, in a taxi. Jacob had his friends prepare a meal that they brought to his house for our dinner. After sharing stories, mostly about his experience in Argentina, we called it a day. On the next day Jacob and I went to Cordoba City in a public bus to see the city and then proceed to the Regional House, which is also the house of formation. Fr. Norman Butler was in Rome attending a General Council meeting, but Pedro Battistini, Cruz Tejerina together with the 3 seminarians welcomed me warmly. Javier Pereira and Marcelo Palacios, who are in charge of the parish near by “Nuestra Senora de La Salette in Barrio Yofre Norte”, came over to have lunch with us. It was a special meal prepared to welcome me. After lunch and a long siesta, Ariel, one of the seminarians offered to take me to one of the barrio chapels and we visited the homes of 6 parishioners. Ariel said “these are very poor and simple people but they are people of great faith.” It is a great experience and exposure for Ariel and the other two seminarians to be entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the spiritual needs of people of two barrio chapels.
In the parish of La Salette in Cordoba, surrounded by eucalyptuses trees is situated the Regional House. It also serves as a formation house, house of hospitality, relaxation and recreation for visitors. Currently there are three seminarians that live here. I would like to introduce them to you.

Alfredo Ariel Bucci is twenty four years old. He is from Tucuman, a province located north of Argentina. He became a perpetually professed member in 2006. He is inspired by the Marian spirituality and the charism of reconciliation. He takes care of two mission communities in the parish as part of his exposure to ministry and he loves to serve them. He wants to spread the message of love, mercy and reconciliation to God’s people.
Leonardo Ariel Muratore is from Cordoba, Argentina. He has been part of the La Salette Community for the past 5 years. He took temporary vows this year. Ariel says, “I always felt God calling me and inviting me to give my life in service to the poor and the marginalized”. He is entrusted with the responsibility of leading two rural communities in the neighborhood. He wants to work towards building a more just and fraternal society, where love and brotherhood matter most.
Diego Armando Diaz is 30 years old. He was born in La Banda in the province of Santiago del Estero. He began to experience the call of the Lord to lead a religious life right where the parish of Our Lady of La Salette is located in the city of La Banda. He feels so fulfilled with God’s call to
In the evening I was invited to our parish to concelebrate with Fr. Marcelo at the fiesta Mass on the 8th of December. The Church was full. I was asked to light the candles of the Advent wreath. What a great participation by the people! They sang and danced. They clap their hands in praising God. It makes you feel that it is a celebration of our faith together. People applauded when I spoke to them and expressed my gratitude in Spanish after Communion. After Mass, most people came to the priests for a special blessing. They bowed down in prayer as I placed my hands on their heads and blessed them and prayed for their various needs – for a child with throat problems, a woman with her husband’s drinking problems, a young girl who has been diagnosed with cancer, a woman pregnant with twins, a teenage-girl who is a drug addict and so on.
On the next day we took a tour with some other tourists to see Cordoba. It started at the main plaza, where the cathedral is situated. Next door to the Cathedral is a place unforgettable for Argentineans where the military, presumably hand in hand with the Church believed to have killed thousands of innocent and poor people. Between 1976-1983, Argentina was wracked by a war in which successive military regimes hunted down, tortured and removed about 30,000 citizens. The Church was then on the side of the military against the people. I believe that this has impacted immensely the faith and life of Argentineans in relationship to the Catholic Church. The city bus stopped in front of a beautiful Church with two gigantic towers. The tour guide explained to us why the two towers are different. One is much larger and more complete than the other. He said that it reminds you of how perfect God is and the smaller tower reminds you of how imperfect we are as human beings. After the city tour, Fr. Jacob brought me to a restaurant for lunch (buffet), a place he said is frequented only when they have visitors. Jacob had asked me to celebrate Mass in the evening in his mission chapel where a small group came to mass. Of course Fr. Jacob preached.
Argentina Tango is a musical and a social dance originated at the end of the 19th century in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. Tango dance is essentially walking with a partner and the music. A good dancer is one who transmits a feeling of the music to the partner. What a great evening to relax with music and dance when Frs. Marcelo, Jacob, Bro. Ariel and myself went to a down town restaurant that is popular for Tango. Dinner started at 10pm and after 2 hours of long dining, Tango started at around 12midnight. Splendid indeed it was! It lasted for more than one and a half hour. The place must have accommodated about a 100 people on the first floor and probably another 100 on the second floor. The dancers went back and forth from one floor to the other. Everyone in the room by nationality was introduced and welcomed during the tango dance. Fr. Norman was right, “You must see tango while you are in Argentina.” Thanks for the treat Norman. It was really great!
After the tango, around 2pm we headed home passing by down town. There were hundreds of young people (college and university kids) out in the street. Marcelo told me that they don’t normally sleep but party almost all night and it could be 5 or 6 in the morning when they go home. They could sleep all morning or even take a long siesta in the afternoon. You would be very surprised if something happens on time as scheduled. If you make an appointment to meet someone at a certain time, you will be lucky if he or she shows up even an hour late. Even masses in the Church never start on time. People have very poor sense of time and no one seems to be bothered by it.
On Saturday morning, Javier picked me up to show me around his parish. There are 8 mission chapels which they attend to regularly. There is plenty of works to do as the needs of the people are many. I experienced the goodness and good will of the people. I saw the struggles and challenges in their life. Meeting Daniel, a wonderful young man for lunch was quite an experience. He described himself as a Bolivian with an Argentinean heart. He is a humble man who owns and operates a trucking and transporting company. He transports goods of all kinds within the country and abroad. He is not only a
Fr.Marcelo and I left Cordoba at 11:50 at night by bus for Santa Fe. Santa Fe sits in northeastern Argentina. We arrived at 5 am and took a taxi to get to the parish of Frs. Robert Butler and Jose Daniel. It was Sunday morning. I concelebrated with Fr. Robert. I was presented to the parishioners and there was great welcome. This is a parish with no mission chapels and people seem to be a little bit financially better off than other places. They all wished me well and that I have a good time in the country. Fr. Marcelo who is from Santa Fe was eager to show me around with Fr. Robert Butler. After enjoying a great lunch prepared by Fr.Jose Daniel and an hour of siesta we headed for the
The last leg of my first mission journey in South America began with a 5 hour bus-ride (collectivo) with Fr. Marcelo to Buenos Aires. Lunch was served on the bus. Arrangements were made to stay at “Casa del Clero” where priests and religious are welcome to stay for a minimum cost. Fr. Marcelo knew ins and outs of the city. Upon arrival we walked the streets filled with people. By 10pm there were more people on the streets and restaurants. Fr. Marcelo said, people have just started to come out to have dinner and enjoy night life. This is one place in the world one would see people dining even in
Fr. Thomas talking to the students
Fr. Robert Butler
A gathering after Mass
Seminarian Diego Armando Diaz
Seminarian Alfredo Ariel Bucci

Seminarian Leonardo Ariel Muratore

Cathedral Church in Cordava
Joseph received a sick call while I was there from a remote village about 6miles from the parish. I was invited to join him in his old pick-up that he drives around to get to all the barrios. He keeps 3 additional tires (old ones) at the back of the truck for he expects flat tire often. We had no idea of who the patient was and where her house was located. We stopped by a woman’s house who Fr. Joseph knew and she got in to the pick-up and led the way to the patient’s house.
become a La Salette and to spread the message of reconciliation with the people with whom he ministers. He appreciates the opportunity of ministering to the two mission communities with which he is entrusted. He feels great joy being with brothers in the community as he hopes to be a priest someday.
After the Mass, we went back to the Regional House, where for dinner we had “Lomita Sandwich” from a local restaurant called “Como Lomo.” It is a nice and juicy steak sandwich with ham, cheese, egg, lettuce and tomato. Wasn’t it tasty!!!
advise and financial support when needed. He works closely with Fr. Javier in financial matters. He took us on a tour of his company and later we met in his office and talked about the possibility of collaborating in our mission endeavors. We were privileged to be invited to have lunch with him in a local restaurant to enjoy typical Argentinean delicacies and a bottle of wine. He has a heart of gold that reaches out to the poor, marginalized and people less fortunate. On Saturday evening I was invited by Fr. Javier to be the main celebrant for the anticipated Mass in the parish for the third week of Advent. Meeting people after Mass at the door was again a joyful experience. They thanked me for being a priest, for serving God and the
Church and the missions. They promised me prayers and wished for me to walk with God at all times. The evening before I was leaving for Santa Fe the Youth Coordinator asked if I would meet and speak with the youth of the parish who were finishing up a project. They love La Salette and they were at work making hand-crafted La Salette items for the use of the parish and to sell to raise funds for their activities. We had great conversations as they were interested in knowing more about my work, about India and the USA.
city of Santa Fe. Santa Fe like every other city has a main plaza. Here it is surrounded by the Cathedral, Governor’s and municipal office, Archbishop’s palace and other major government buildings. On our way back home, we passed by the house of Fr. Marcelo and visited his mother and sister as we enjoyed drinking mate together.
the early hours of the morning. My last day began with a nice breakfast at 8am -. Then took a city bus to the seashore and had a great despedida lunch of steak and a bottle of wine, which Argentina is known for. Buenos Aires is the largest city and the capital of Argentina with a population of more than 14 million. It is a top tourist attraction and destination. It is known for its European style architecture and rich cultural life. Buenos Aires is beautiful. All streets are loaded with trees. Marcelo took me to the airport which is an hour away from the city and my plane took off for Miami at 11 pm on the 13th of
December and arrived safely home to Saint Louis on the 14th of December. To the Region, thank you very much for having made feel welcomed during my entire visit. Your hospitality, generosity, friendship and love are most commendable! Adios!