By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Dominic Vargas was 11 years old, a fifth grader at Our Lady of Angels School. Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 5, the ensuing years were a struggle with the disease and the treatments for him and his family. A bone marrow transplant last year was unsuccessful but, through it all, he was a “little warrior,” never losing his smile or his determination to help others. Dominic lost his battle Feb. 1 at Children’s Mercy hospital.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Church was full of family members, friends and those who wanted to show support and love for Dominic. A large heart made of red and white flowers stood near the ambo, and numerous photographs of Dominic showed him smiling, always smiling. There were few empty pews in the huge church.
The Mass of Christian Burial was concelebrated by Redemptorist Fathers Denis Ryan and Brian Johnson, pastor, and Jesuit Father Bob Hagan of Guardian Angels Church. Bishop Robert Finn led the Final Commendation. Family members and classmates served as readers, prayer leaders and gift bearers.
The first reading was from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
The second reading from Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
John’s Gospel (14:1-3) spoke to Dominic’s family and friends, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
Father Ryan incorporated parts of all three readings into his homily, reflecting on “why do things like this happen? How could God be so cruel? He was a child. It’s difficult to understand and there just doesn’t seem to be an answer.”
He mentioned that both he and Father Johnson serve as chaplains at Children’s Mercy and, in that capacity as well as pastor and priest at Dominic’s parish, got to know the boy during his 6 year struggle with leukemia.
“A priest brings the presence of Jesus into a hospital situation; he’s there for the patient and for the family so they don’t feel abandoned by God.
“In the simplicity of love, we find Dominic, an 11 year old wise beyond his maturity.
“A time to give; he was always giving.
“Jesus is the image and likeness of God the Father. When Dominic enters God’s house, he will have his first real look of what God is like. Jesus said he goes to prepare a place for us and will come back to take us to the Father. I could see that Jesus came for Dominic. I can just see the two of them, walking out of that hospital, hand in hand, talking. Dominic says, ‘You know, Jesus, there are a few things I’d like to show you in my home town.’
“He shows Jesus his family home, where he lived with his mother and brothers, Children’s Mercy Hospital, where he spent so much time, Kauffman Stadium, where Chiefs safety Eric Berry, whom Dominic admired for his struggle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, played and hopes to return to play, and finally, Redemptorist Church, where he and his family attended Mass. Yes, there is a time to love and a time to be at peace.“
Three children, school friends Adrianna Mendez and Katherine Garcia, and his cousin Jaeden Vargas, brought the gifts up to the sanctuary at the Offertory.
The students at Our Lady of Angles School had, over the last six years, played with and prayed for Dominic, raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and sent their love to him often.
Dominic had a devotion to Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a 19th century German Redemptorist priest whose availability and kindness in responding and understanding the needs of the men, women and most of all the children he served, made him beloved as a confessor and spiritual director. He was assigned to a parish in New Orleans in 1866. In 1867, there was a major outbreak of yellow fever in the city. In caring for fever victims, Father Seelos contracted the disease and died in 1867 at the age of 48. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
In the last weeks before his death, Dominic was visited by Bishop Robert Finn, who also has a devotion to Blessed Seelos, and owned a relic of the beatified priest. Bishop Finn confirmed Dominic in the chapel at Children’s Mercy, and gave the boy the relic.
Mary Delac told The Key that the relic rested on Dominic’s pillow.
Just before he recited the final commendation and blessing over Dominic’s casket, Bishop Finn spoke to the congregation, thanking the Strong City Schools, especially the teachers and classmates at Our Lady of Angels, for their love and caring for Dominic and his family.
He reminded the congregation that family and friends are a blessing in tough times “like this.”
“Eleven years old is not a time when we think to experience death. A young child like Dominic can teach us about life and dying. He did teach us that life is short, whatever time we have is only the tiniest expression from God; we must live in God. Material things, accomplishments, status and fame are not as important as family. Family sustains us, as does love and faith.
“When I confirmed Dominic he renewed his Baptismal promises loud and clear. His faith was important to him. I asked him what name he chose for his confirmation name and he answered, ‘St. Michael.’ He wanted to be strong in his battle against leukemia.
“Even a young child can help us to see Christ on the cross, innocent suffering. So many people have been touched by his story, his hurt and his joy.”
Mary Delac said a Memorial Mass dedicated to Dominic was celebrated Feb. 12 at Guardian Angels Church and attended by the whole school. Teachers and students read memories of their student and classmate during the Mass.
To everything there is an appointed time. A time to be born and a time to love, a time to give and a time to learn; a time to die and a time to be at peace. Dominic rests in Resurrection Cemetery.