My Day with the Backpack Bishop

Backpack Bishop talking with parishoners

I was recently in the Dominican Republic, meeting with Bishop José Grullón Estrella, who is the founder of FUNDASEP, the social outreach of the Catholic Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana. We were there to help build six clean water systems and construct 24 new homes. As I arrived I noticed a poor woman scooping dirty water from a hole in a dry riverbed. Later, while sharing breakfast with Bishop Grullón Estrella, he recounted how, as a boy, he had gathered water for his family in the exact same way.

Woman scoops dirty water out of a hole

The more the bishop talked, the more I understood why everyone in the diocese saw him as a hero to the poor and considered it a privilege to serve with him.

In his early years as a priest, he often traveled by mule to remote communities just to spend time with the village families.  They began to call him “el obsipo de mochila” — the backpack bishop.  On these visits, he would share their simple meals, sleep on their floors, listen to their needs and earn their trust.

Today, at age 76, Bishop Grullón Estrella travels by truck instead of a beast of burden — but he still makes it a priority to go out to these communities and serve them face-to-face. Bishop Grullón Estrella makes it clear these visits aren’t merely acts of charity. His mission to the poor is an expression of faith. As Christ is our advocate, we must advocate for those less fortunate than ourselves, he explains. Living the Gospel means loving our neighbor.

Backpack Bishop talking with parishoners
As a native Dominican, Bishop Grullón Estrella is naturally adept at connecting with the neediest corners of his diocese. He values the power of listening and the importance of preserving a community’s dignity. His staff love and trust him, and the poor are not just ready but actually eager to do their part to realize their dream of clean, abundant water. What’s even more exciting is that you can play a part in moving this effort forward. Learn more about our plan to help FUNDASEP provide housing, quench thirst and empower Christ’s poor the Dominican Republic.