I am not one for vacations. When I was a kid, we didn't really take them. As first generation Americans, my parents were too busy building their American dream to go to the beach! So we all worked and went to school. However, I do understand the importance of vacation, especially the health benefits. Luckily, my children get to enjoy more time off than I did as a kid, but (yes, there is a but) I believe that a vacation should recharge the mind, not just the body.
That is why Easter break is a perfect vacation for me — not too long or short, and, of course, with a dash of spiritual spice. I like to take my family to the Dominican Republic. I like it because it reminds me of Cuba — tropical beaches, Latin music, and delicious food. The people are great — full hearts, and always willing to share. The kids have a wonderful time playing in the sun and swimming until their fingers look like prunes.
As for me, Easter week allows me not only to rest, but also recharge my spirituality, mostly by reading great books. This year my wife gave me a wonderful little book called "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran. Mr. Gibran was a poet, philosopher and artist born in Lebanon. The book, written in 1923, is a collection of essays in which the reader finds an expression of the deepest impulses of man's heart and mind. It was the perfect book for my vacation.
I know, you're thinking, "Dr. Manny, you must be a real joy on a vacation!" Not so fast, my wild friends. This year I did something really wild. On Easter weekend, I met a very dedicated Catholic priest. Father Javier Alonso is the head of a mission in a very poor section of the Dominican town of La Romana. His parish, with a mid-size church, serves a community of 100,000 very poor but hard-working people. He shared some of his plans for his community. Father Javier wants to build a small chapel and school in the most remote area of his district, since many of those folks want to go to church, but have no way to get there, as it is 15 miles away. It seemed like a simple project to me, so I asked, "What is holding you back?" Well, try everything. Everything they do, they must build on their own. This is not a community where the Sunday services yield any revenue for the church, especially when the median income is less than 100 U.S. dollars a month. But, Father Javier says his parishioners contribute the little that they do have. The church provides Sunday school, and they have built a library where children learn about art and math, and where shelter is always provided for those in need.
So he took me on a great adventure to see his new chapel location. We drove for about 20 minutes on the main road, then off onto a small dirt road. The houses were made of wood, with tin roofs. We stopped to visit a small group of nuns who had a very unique program. They were rescuing young prostitutes off the street and setting them up in small houses so that they could restart their lives. And they're having great success! At least 30 new families have been relocated.
We continued on for another three miles on bumpy dirt roads until we got to Cumayasa (no, I do not know what it means), a community of about 1000 people. It is a primitive place! There are no sidewalks, no running water, limited electricity, and, of course, no schools or chapel. This is the area where Father Javier wants to build his chapel and school. Boy, did it put things in perspective. I immediately made a promise to help.
I got home just in time for lunch. When my wife and children asked what I did all morning, I couldn't help but to think of a passage from "The Prophet:" "There are those who give little of the much which they have — and they give it for recognition, and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life and their coffer is never empty."
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Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.