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St. Ann in Bethany Beach parishioners step up to help Catholics in African country of Burkina Faso

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Father Francois Palm looks over donations made by parishioners of St. Ann's of Bethany Beach.

BETHANY BEACH — Parishioners at St  Ann’s are helping to build a Catholic church in the small African nation of Burkina Faso.

Father Francois Palm has been a visiting priest at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bethany Beach this summer. It’s his second summer here and his help has been welcome as the busy parish rushed to meet the demands of throngs of summer visitors.

At home in Burkina Faso, Father Palm is trying to build a church in the landlocked nation formally known as The Republic of Upper Volta. Pictures from his home show a large cross marking the site of the future Catholic church. Walls have now slowly risen at the site, but there is little else except brown earth. There is no roof, no pews, no windows.

When Father Palm made a request for a chalice for his parish, church members soon learned that many basic elements of the Mass, like altar cloths, vestments and candles, were in short supply in his country. Plastic water bottles are used for water and wine at Mass. So, parishioners rose to the occasion and helped.

The Sunday second collection Aug. 29 was to help build the church. The Knights of Columbus, the Sodality, the Men’s Club and individual parishioners all donated and helped to provide money and supplies for the new church.

Burkina Faso.

A news release from the parish said that Father Palm was surprised with a new chalice/paten and matching ciboria as well as refurbished chalices and patens. Director of Maintenance Ed Brown and parishioner Bill Evans refurbished the chalices and patens so they can have an extended life in Africa.

Other supplies, like vestments, altar cloths, linens and battery operated devotional candles to use as altar candles have also been donated.

When Father Palm leaves Bethany Beach on Sept. 7, he will carry a bit of Sussex County with him to help build his church. “We have a connection there … It is a good thing,” said Saint Ann pastor Father John Klevence. “It reminds me of the old saying that there are no strangers, just friends we have not yet met.”

“The people (here) are very generous, very kind and very giving,” Father Klevence said. “He is a very nice man, very low key. We’re lucky he was able to come this year.”

Burkina Faso is near Niger, Benin and Mali. It is poor with an average income of about $775 per year. The nation, which has been through a number of coups and faces terrorism threats in the northern part of the country, is about 62 percent Muslim and about 19 percent Christian. It has a population of nearly 21 million.

Terrorism remains a threat in the northern part of the country, he said. “They kill everybody, priests, Catholics, Imams, young and old.”

Although poor in material wealth, Father Palm said African nations like Burkina Faso are rich spiritually. “Generally, Africans are very religious people. If someone says they are an atheist, it may be a joke. Everybody believes in something.”

He said the church in Burkina Faso, considered to be about 121 years old, is very dynamic with young priests who work hard to improve the lives of residents. They try hard to not just preach, but also to build schools, hospitals, improve water supplies and build bridges. “God is word and action,” he said. “We go to the villages. We want to spread the gospel  …  Food and gospel are human needs.”

“We try to be a good witness for Jesus,” he said, stressing that both words and deeds are needed and important. Seeing the charity helps people see that being a Christian is a good thing, he said.

He attributes his calling to a dream he had in high school when he was sitting in the very back of church and he heard the priest say that he needed help. “Through this dream, I discovered a calling of God.”

The people in Burkina Faso are generous, but cannot do as much as they would like, he said. He said the first collection he took raised $1. The second raised $2.

The money and donations he has received are not enough to do everything needed, but he is very grateful for the kindness. “We welcome these donations. They are very, very helpful.”

He said he was not completely surprised because people “know the generosity of Americans.”

Besides finishing the church, he hopes to build a high school and a hospital. “We have to do a lot of things.”

To make a donation to help Father Palm, donations can be mailed to St. Ann’s Catholic Church at 691 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, DE. 19930. Please write Father Palm, Father Francois or new church in the memo line so St. Ann’s knows that is what the money is intended for.