The San Junipero Serra Spanish Institute, the FSSP’s Spanish immersion program for priests and seminarians, welcomed six seminarians in Guadalajara, Mexico, this summer. The seminarians spent six weeks learning the Spanish language, history, and culture of Mexico, as well as assisting the choir at Our Lady of the Pillar parish.
Several parish families hosted the seminarians for dinner, allowing them to practice their Spanish while also enjoying the excellent food and hospitality that Mexicans provide. The seminarians took part in different apostolates, including visits to an orphanage, a homeless shelter, a refuge for teenage mothers, and a hospital, as well as a trip to Mexico City to see the Tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They also visited Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake, and Tequila, one of Jalisco’s “Magic Towns.”
One participant, John Falciano, summed up his experience saying, “The Guadalajara apostolate surpassed my expectations. There is nothing in the US that could compare to the vivacity and fullness of the Mexican culture, which, I will admit, took me some time to acclimate myself to. In just six weeks, I witnessed (and experienced) more suffering, cheer, and emotion than I had in six months back at home.” The seminarians were particularly taken aback by the splendor of the churches in Mexico, notably the gold leaf, stone, and exquisite sculptures on display. One seminarian’s reaction was, “If only America had just one of these churches!”
The seminarians particularly loved the warmth of the people on the street, who were “super warm” and always greeted them when they passed by. The remnants of Catholic culture in Guadalajara also intrigued participants in the Spanish program. One seminarian, Toan Cao, recounted, “I was very impressed by the fact that whenever we were with a priest or were by ourselves, people would try to say ‘hi’ and try to talk to us. They would always try to grab our hands and kiss them; they would always ask for blessings and for prayers and would publicly make the sign of the cross. It was very shocking, and I found it impressive; they weren’t ashamed to do it either.”
Another aspect that profoundly touched the seminarians was the liturgical activity of the FSSP parish in Guadalajara, particularly the exquisite polyphony sung by the choir on Sundays, as well as the large number of people receiving the sacraments. The seminarians appreciated how the priests and laity collaborate in the apostolates, such as the street missions in which the laity evangelize while the priests hear confessions. Toan remarked, “The kids encouraged me to evangelize and talk in Spanish. It was cool to see how everyone was brought together. It wasn’t just the priests nor the faithful doing all the work; it was a joint effort.”
Reflecting on his visit to the home for teenage mothers who had been sexually abused, Toan explained, “It was very difficult to see and to walk into that space. The girls were so young, like fourteen and fifteen. Their kids looked like they were their little brother or their little sister. It was a miracle of grace that they were open to us; they talked and played basketball with us. Just seeing how hard their lives are made it hard to go out because you wish you could be there for them because their fathers and uncles aren’t.”
The room where the young mothers slept was like one big, long hallway filled with beds and bunk beds with a crib next to each bed. Toan’s exclamation on seeing it was, “God bless them, because if one baby went off at night, they’re all going off.”
John Falciano recalled that “the little children came and crawled all over us, desiring and receiving the fatherly love that is sadly absent from their lives. The mothers, despite their past and current sufferings, were examples of generosity and fortitude.”
John described a deeply moving experience which was “full of pain, but full of hope as well. I was able to pray at the bedside of a young woman who would die two days after receiving Last Rites. I will never forget her face or her soul, and I carry the sorrow of her parents with me daily, but I also remember that Our Lord’s mercy burns most intensely at the darkest moments.”
When asked how the Spanish program impacted him, Toan said, “It gave me joy and confidence. Whenever I hear someone speaking Spanish, I can understand and speak with them most of the time. I fell in love with Mexico: the food, the beautiful landscapes, the churches, the people, the culture, the cities, and the music; it just totally changed my idea of what Mexico was like. Witnessing Fr. Heenan, Fr. Joel, and the other FSSP priests serving the people deepened my heart’s desire to be a spiritual father.”
The seminarians thank you for your prayers for them and for the mission in Mexico.
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