December 7, 2018 — Our companion, Father Mario Serrano, SJ, from the Dominican Republic, coordinator of the social apostolate of the Jesuit Province of the Antilles, has been in Canada for a few months primarily to learn French, while collaborating with the team of the Centre justice et foi and of the Province. He will soon be flying to Brazil, as the final step before taking up the position of delegate for the social apostolate for the Conference of Provincials of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Last Monday, Mario Serrano gave a talk to the team of the Centre justice et foi to inform them about the work of the Fr. Juan Montalvo, SJ Centre for Reflection and Social Action, the Jesuit centre for social analysis in the Dominican Republic, which he has directed for several years. After presenting the centre and its four regional bureaux (Santo Domingo, Santiago, Dajabón, Jimaní), Fr. Mario spent a good deal of time on the precarious situation of the Dominicans of Haitian origin, and of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic – a concern that has been at the heart of the mission and the apostolate of the Montalvo Centre for decades. However, it must be remembered that the whole island of Hispanola (Saint Domingue) is in crisis: both countries are grappling with a high mortality rate, with a school participation rate that is among the lowest in the Caribbean, and with inadequate social and sanitation infrastructures (access to safe water and health care remains immensely problematic on both sides of the border, he said). Without minimizing the tragic experience of the Haitian people, nor of the many forms of discrimination faced by Dominicans of Haitian origin, he wanted to point out that the Dominican Republic also faces an exodus of its population: 2 million Dominicans have taken the road of exile during these last few years, settling in Puerto Rico, the United States, or elsewhere on the American continent.
The issues of migration and the defense of human rights have been central to the work of the Montalvo Centre these past few years, he said. Their apostolate often takes the form of accompanying groups and marginalized and vulnerable people – Haitian migrants, women and children, for example. This accompaniment also involves popular education and the empowerment of vulnerable people in order that they might find dignity and pride, and the strength to get involved in the fight against racism, sexism, and those social inequities that afflict Dominican society, he said.
The defense of human rights also takes the form of appeals to the Dominican political authorities, as well as support for social movements of the citizenry, also with the intention of fighting racism and social injustice. The fight to regularize the status of Dominicans of Haitian origin has been one of the primary points of contention for the Montalvo Centre in these past few years, he noted. In spite of making a few gains, the situation of migrant Haitians remains uncertain in the Dominican Republic, because of the growing influence of ultra-right, ultra-nationalist movements, fiercely opposed to granting recognition. The centre offers direct services equally to migrants and to Dominicans of Haitian origin, which consist of legal advice or temporary lodging on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The Montalvo Centre is also, and above all, a centre for social analysis. Under this heading, it scrutinizes the budgets, as well as the social and fiscal policies adopted by the Dominican government. These analyses feed into and flesh out the appeals of the centre to the political and economic decision-makers of the country and of the region. The centre publishes a review of social analysis (Social Studies), and a popular information sheet about various social or political questions. The Montalvo Centre also runs workshops, round tables, and debates related to various socio-political issues, such as migration, racism, public health or access to drinking water. The centre’s team also networks with various social movements, both Dominican and Haitian, as well as closely collaborating with about 40 other Jesuit centres of social analysis in Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America.
To learn more about Fr. Mario Serrano, his personal and spiritual journey, and his social involvements, we invite you to read the two interviews which he gave to our companion, Pierre Belanger, SJ in the pages of Le Brigand, in 2014 and 2015.