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St. Ann's Pastor Has Place in Heart For Venezuela

OSSINING, N.Y. - Most of the time Rev. Edward Byrne, a pastor at St. Ann's Catholic Church, enjoys the warm and friendly people of Ossining, but sometimes things get overbearing. When they do, he dreams of his shack with a light bulb in Venezuela.

The reverend spent 10 years in Venezuela and Bolivia before coming to work at St. Ann's. In Ojo de Agua, Venezuela, he lived with no running water, occasional electricity and no telephones.

"It was wonderful," he said with a sigh. "At first the people didn't understand why we would want to be with them."

Byrne, 73, said he loved the simple way of life there. He loved collecting spring water from the side of a mountain, heating it up a bit and taking a sponge bath with it. He loved that communications came via a guy on a motorbike, who would deliver the message, take a signature, and then turn around to ride back to the capital city of Caracas.

Byrne learned Spanish during a one year training period at the University of Santa Maria in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He then spent more than two decades in the Lower East Side of Manhattan as the associate pastor of St. Mary's Church on Grand Street. Though he said he was sad to go, Byrne left the Lower East Side in the 1980s to do missionary work overseas organized by the Maryknoll Catholic mission headquartered in Ossining.

In 1995, Byrne settled down in Ossining as one of St. Ann's Church's three priests. He said he enjoys the diversity of the church's parish, which includes many immigrants from Ecuador, Italy, Portugal and the Philippines. He said he enjoys the challenge of integrating the 1,500 multilingual and multicultural families in his parish.

St. Ann's offers services in five languages: English, Spanish, Italian, Portugal and Tagalog.

"I think my experience overseas gives me a greater compassion or understanding for the plight of immigrants here, knowing how hard it is, how impossible it is sometimes just to survive," Byrne said.

St. Ann's offers services for immigrants including ESL lessons, religious education for kids and the Hispanic Employee Labor Project that helps day laborers and other workers to claim unpaid wages.

"I think Ossining makes a terrific effort to integrate its community," Byrne said. "There's a great deal of acceptance on the part of young people. Adults still find it hard to adjust, but in general, it's a very warm and friendly community."

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