This is the third in a series of profiles of friars commemorating the 25th and 50th anniversaries of their profession in 2021. Steven Patti, OFM, was profiled in the April issue of HNP Today. The Provincial Administration is working to plan a jubilee celebration for friars who marked anniversaries of their professions in 2020 and 2021, but no date has been set.
LIMA, Peru – Long before thoughts of becoming a friar with Holy Name Province entered his consciousness, Carlos Sarmiento Diaz, OFM, had a front-row seat to the Franciscan ideals of outreach to the needy and service among the people – witnessing as a child his mother’s participation in their parish’s Neocatechumenal Way, a Christian formation program that brings the presence of the Church to impoverished communities.
With his family upbringing, it is neither surprising nor coincidental that Carlos not only found his way to the Franciscans and HNP, but has also spent his 25 years as a professed friar in his native Peru by nurturing the faith formation of young people and serving communities of extreme poverty. It has required him to travel at times through the barren foothills of the Andes on Lima’s periphery to desolate mission outposts in order to provide catechesis, as well as meals for the undernourished, medical supplies for clinics, and schoolbooks for students.
“We are friars of the world. Our Province, like our faith, is not local; it is global. We are needed all over the world – and with great willingness, friars go from one place to another,” said Carlos, who is among four Province friars marking their 50th and 25th anniversaries of their profession in 2021.
“For me, parish and faith formation ministry among young people has been rewarding in many ways, but what stands out is the hunger for God in all the places where I have served. There is a lot of clinging to God and the desire to grow in spiritual life. It is gratifying because some of the young people advance their faith by joining the Poor Clares, or the Secular Franciscan Order and other groups,” he said.
Carlos found the same close-knit family experience in which he was raised when he visited the Franciscan Parish of Santísimo Nombre de Jesús, not far from his boyhood home.
“What caught my attention was their fraternity – not only being a member of a community but being brothers living in community. It was a way of life that I imagined for myself. Fraternity is what makes being a Franciscan special,” said Carlos, who has been serving since 2002 as parochial vicar and assistant formator at Parroquia Santa Ana in the Villa Maria del Triunfo district of Lima.
“Through fraternity, the Franciscan Order – and Holy Name Province, in particular – enables us to develop our talents as a family. What I do not have, another brother has. We all complement each other while living in love, unity, brotherhood, and charity,” Carlos said. “We have to make sure that our talents and works are manifested in fraternity. This fraternal spirit helps me to be responsible for my brothers. Our fraternity and Franciscan values serve as an example that all of us must complement each other and not think about ourselves as individuals.”
Born and raised in the port city of Chimbote, Peru – once a major fishing hub bordering the Pacific Ocean just north of Lima – Carlos was the second-oldest of five children whose father, like most Chimbotanos, worked for a fishing company, while his mother was a nurse at the local hospital. It was considered a cosmopolitan city, a population consisting of a collection of cultures that included German, Chinese, Croatian, Jewish, Japanese, Italian, and Peruvian. His own background is as diverse as the city, rooted in Italian, Chinese, Spanish and Peruvian descent.
Carlos said that thoughts of religious vocation and the priesthood were evident at an early age, influenced by his strong faith upbringing. His family was often in charge of coordinating the religious festivities of the local community and their parish church of San Carlos Borromeo, which was located in the shadow of his house.
“I always felt inclined to the priesthood,” said Carlos. “As a child, I received manifestations of God that I obviously didn’t understand at the time. One of those manifestations happened randomly through a priest in Chimbote who we didn’t know. He approached my mother, looked at me, and proclaimed, ‘Your son will be a priest.’”
Like any mischievous and curious child, he liked to venture through the streets of Chimbote but never got very far. “Mostly everyone knew me, so someone would always bring me back home. If I was gone too long on one of my ‘escapes,’ my parents would look for me at the local police station,” said Carlos, who attended Mundo Mejor High School, a Catholic institution run by the Christian Brothers.
By the end of high school, young Peruvians are expected to decide what to do with their lives, so he decided to pursue a college degree and attended the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería. Although thoughts of discernment had followed him through high school, it wasn’t until he attended spiritual retreats as a college student that the call to religious life became crystal clear.
“One day, I decided, ‘I either do this now, or I never do it,’” Carlos said in recalling his leap-of-faith moment.
Carlos, who has degrees in philosophy and theology from the Facultad de Teología Pontificia y Civil de Lima, joined Holy Name Province in March 1994 and was assigned to Santísimo Nombre de Jesús for his postulant year – the same parish where he had discovered the Franciscans. He was received into the Province the following year and after professing his first vows in February 1996, he was stationed at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in the district of Surco, where he helped to establish a Secular Franciscan youth group. He remained there until March 1999, when he came to the United States for a retreat at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Massachusetts, in preparation for his solemn vows.
After making his final profession that same month at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, he returned to Santísimo Nombre de Jesús to serve in pastoral ministry while also taking academic biblical courses. Eight months later, in November 1999, Carlos was ordained to the priesthood at the Lima parish, where he continued to serve until August 2002 – at which time he moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at Parroquia Santa Ana. He has served there for the past 19 years in sacramental and formation ministry, and has helped to establish and provide pastoral support to the Franciscan Youth Group, Third Order Secular Franciscans, Legion of Mary, and other ministry groups.
In 2007, the bishop of Lima’s Diocese of Lurín asked Carlos to serve as administrator of nine mission chapels in the Manchay River Valley region of the district of Pachacamac, an area nestled between mountain and desert where residents live in extreme poverty in wood, tin and cardboard homes with no electricity, running water or sewage facilities. He split his time, on weekdays ministering to the congregation at Santa Ana, and on weekends in Manchay – where in addition to pastoral and sacramental ministry, he helped establish food programs for the hungry and poor – a ministry supported by the Franciscan Youth Group of the parishes of Santa Ana and Santísimo Nombre de Jesús.
Carlos says several friars – and a priest from another congregation – have had a lasting influence on his religious life, but none more than Anthony Wilson, OFM, mission superior and pastor of Santa Ana Parish. He met Tony 25 years ago at Santísimo Nombre de Jesús – where they collaborated on the formation of the Franciscan youth group that helped prepare children for the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation, and which set Carlos on his ministerial course of working with and teaching young people.
Young people have always been the focus of ministry for Carlos – whether through parish programs, presentations to students at local schools, or long-distance support to postulants discerning a Franciscan vocation.
“Since I entered religious life, I have worked with young people. Reaching out to youth has been like an accompaniment of teachings in their journey,” said Carlos, who prior to joining the Province served as a chaplain for the Peruvian Army and Navy under the local bishopric, during which he provided spiritual and pastoral care for members of the armed forces and their families – a population with which he was familiar because many of his own family members served in various branches of the military.
The most challenging part of ministry for Carlos has been the “individualism” that often entraps people.
“Some seek to stand out by trampling on others without thinking about the consequences and impact these acts have on their neighbor. The lack of decision to follow God can be a challenge in faith formation,” Carlos said. “It’s important to help young people – and adults – understand that we are co-responsible for our actions, that we must always think of the brother and sister, and that we complement and have a responsibility to care for one another.”
For the past 15 months, parishioners of Santa Ana and other impoverished populations across the country have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic – most left with little choice but to travel on overcrowded public transportation and the majority living in crowded, multi-generational households. Carlos, along with the other friars at Santa Ana, appealed to sister parish St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle, Virginia, for financial support to help feed the hungry, assist families in crisis, and keep the parish schools functioning.
“Here in Peru, the pandemic has generated very strong problems at a social, economic, moral, and health level. Hundreds of people die every day because hospitals don’t have enough oxygen or ICU beds. The government has tried to enforce a quarantine, but [it’s ignored out of necessity because] people have to continue working to put food on the table. There are restrictions – no Masses are celebrated and no meetings are held. But we as friars have continued to be there, alongside the people who are suffering,” said Carlos.
“We must take the time to reflect and internalize on why these things are happening. Perhaps it’s because we are distancing ourselves from God, because we feel less and less like brothers, or because we want to play God. We have to regain faith and hope by reflecting on and sharing what we have,” said Carlos, who enjoys meditating, traveling, and taking long drives.
Carlos is hopeful for the future – that Peruvians and all people will continue to place their trust in God, and that their faith will be manifested through works that bear fruit. “For those who lack God in their lives, it is my hope that they will turn their eyes to Him,” he said.
Looking back on his 25 years of profession, Carlos offered this reflection: “I was the evangelizer, but I ended up being evangelized. Being close to the people has brought me closer to God – feeling their shortcomings and needs, and the desire to help and work with them in fulfilling their ideals. I have always kept in my heart and mind, especially during difficult moments, the words of our Lord Jesus in [the Old Testament Book of] Ecclesiastes – I who have started this in you, I will bring it to fruition.”
— Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.
Editor’s note: Tony Wilson played a significant role in this article, translating to English the responses provided by Carlos.