SILVER SPRING, Md. — From Sept. 5 to 7, the Province’s second Hispanic Franciscan Vocation Retreat was held at Holy Name College. Sponsored by the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee, this discernment weekend welcomed 17 candidates — many from parishes staffed by Holy Name Province. The men hailed from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, from as far away as Texas.
Tony LoGalbo, OFM, guardian, and the community of Holy Name College were most welcoming and gracious hosts. From rooms to transportation, from accompaniment to meals, the friars made all feel welcome and accepted. One participant spoke of the “special charism” of the Franciscans that he experienced at Holy Name College, saying this created “unity and fraternity, and the friars treated all of us as equals.”
Listening to the Call
The weekend began with a bilingual liturgy at which I presided and preached. Recalling the conversion experiences of St. Augustine and St. Francis, I encouraged those living the retreat to listen carefully and courageously to the voice of the Lord, who names us and calls us to a specific vocation suited to our unique personalities. A delicious dinner, evening prayer led by Christopher Posch, OFM, an ice-breaker activity masterfully orchestrated by George Camacho, OFM, and an informal ‘rec’ rounded out the first evening.
On Saturday, Juan de la Cruz Turcios, OFM, led morning prayer outdoors in the courtyard. I gave a welcome on behalf of our Provincial, Kevin Mullen, OFM, and spoke briefly about our Province and the differences between religious life and diocesan priesthood. The retreatants then had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences on a number of issues. After presenting the Holy Name Province Spanish vocation video created about a year ago by Octavio Durán, OFM, staff member of The Anthonian magazine, Gonzalo Torres-Acosta, OFM, HNP’s assistant vocation director, offered an insightful, lapidary and witty sketch of the origins of the Franciscan family.
The personal vocation testimony of Dennis Bennett, OFM, followed. After only a few weeks of Spanish study this past summer in Guatemala, Dennis shared in Spanish his vocational story and quickly captured the hearts and imaginations of all present. His honesty, idealism and transparency deeply touched all present — including the friars!—and led to not a few tears and a standing ovation.
“One day,” Dennis remembered, “a seminarian at Mass shared his vocation story. Suddenly, I felt in my heart that familiar old voice, suddenly stronger than ever. The voice asked me: ‘Why aren’t you up there? Why do you continue to ignore me? Do you want to help others? With me, you can.’And in that moment, I understood. I had avoided the call for so long. The emptiness inside me could only be filled by responding, ‘Here I am’ to God.”
Individual interviews of all the candidates were conducted after lunch. Some are thinking of applying to provinces in their home countries, due to their immigration status. Others expressed interest in our Province. Some are still in the process of discerning more clearly what their vocational call might be. But all of these young men were honestly engaged and sincerely searching for the “next step” in their vocational journey.
Some comments shared by them included: “This is my first vocation retreat. I am touched by the brotherhood I feel here. I definitely want to explore what it means to be a Franciscan.” “I feel great here. The personal testimonies, the unity and the fraternity are so attractive to me.” “All of this is very new and very enjoyable. I resonate completely with the struggle of St. Augustine. After seven years of going back and forth about a possible vocation, this time has definitely helped me to come to a decision.”
The retreat continued with a powerful theatrical performance by Utopía Franciscana. The members of this evangelizing group of St. Camillus Parish, many of whom are Secular Franciscans, touched the hearts of all. Their dramatic message of the power of Francis’ evangelical vision communicated the importance of taking personal responsibility for choosing one’s vocation.
Afterward, Carlos Velázquez, director of Utopía and a member of the Hispanic Ministry Committee, shared how a vocational retreat with the Franciscans in El Salvador changed his life when he was a teenager: “I’ll always remember the friar telling us that God’s plan for each of us, first of all, is that we be happy. That is our vocation. The key is to discover and choose that vocation for oneself. Don’t let anyone else decide what your vocation should be. Listen to your heart, and decide for yourself what vocation God is calling you to… and you will be happy and fulfilled in life.”
Erick López, OFM, then led a panel discussion with all the friars of the retreat team—those friars already mentioned as well as Xavier de la Huerta, OFM, and Christopher VanHaight, OFM — in which the retreatants were free to ask any question they desired of the friars. “No question off limits,” announced Erick. A lively discussion ensued.
Since some of the retreatants, who have very strong vocational interest and possibility, cannot apply to our province due to their immigration status, there followed a teleconference with the vocation director of the Central American OFM province. He explained the process and possibilities of the men applying there. Dinner and a night of bowling brought Saturday to a happy conclusion.
On Sunday morning, the retreat concluded with an outdoor Eucharist with the community of the Province’s nearby Langley Park mission. Erick presided and preached at this lively celebration of more than 500 participants.
“We are guardians, teachers and watchmen,” Erick noted, “and as such, we are called to protect, correct and watch out for one another.” He shared a story of St. Francis who, suffering from a panic attack, ran into the woods. Brother Masseo, thinking Francis was being playful, ran after him and wrestled with him after causing him to stumble. But when Masseo saw that Francis was crying, he knew that he had misinterpreted what was going on with Francis. So he picked Francis up, set him on a rock, sat down next to him and sang a song to calm him, at which point the demon of fear left Francis’ heart. “This is what we must do for each other,” concluded Erick, “help to eliminate the demon of fear.” At the conclusion of the liturgy, each of the retreatants received a special blessing and a cross prepared by the Langley Park community.
Many seeds were planted on this vocation retreat weekend. How they will grow and what fruit they will ultimately bear… well, we leave that in the hands of the Lord!
— Lawrence Hayes, OFM, is the provincial vicar of Holy Name Province, as well as the secretary of formation and studies.