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Internship at St. Camillus Prepares Student Friar for Profession

Two members of the Province are scheduled to profess their solemn vows on Aug. 24 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.   Over the last year,  they prepared for final profession through internship assignments – Javier del Angel de los Santos, OFM, at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., and Roberto Serrano, OFM, at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C. Javier is featured in this article, while Tito will be featured in a future HNP Today issue. 

Javier with members of the Coffee, Faith, and Friends group at St. Camillus Parish. (Photo courtesy of Javier)

SILVER SPRING, Md. – His internship at St. Camillus Parish, in preparation for his solemn profession, has been an exhilarating experience for Javier Del Angel de los Santos, OFM – who, since last October, has been assigned to one of the busiest and most culturally diverse parishes in the country.

Although he feels at home at St. Camillus, where he had previously worked in ministry while living at nearby Holy Name College, he admits that past familiarity did little to acclimate him to what awaited in this whirlwind of an internship year.

“St. Camillus is a place of unparalleled ethnic diversity. I knew it would offer challenges and prepare me well for final vows,” said Javier, who taught 4th-grade religion at the adjacent St. Francis International School as a postulant, and who started a Bible study program for Spanish language parishioners during his first year of profession.

“Parish life, meetings, and activities often go very late into the night. You have to be there, available when the people need you,” said Javier, who has also served at St. Gall, a Chicago parish in a Mexican neighborhood, and spent summer ministry assignments at St. Francis of Assisi parishes in Triangle, Va., and 31st Street in New York City.

To give perspective to the size and multicultural aspect of the parish, Javier preached at multilingual services in English, Spanish and sometimes even in French. Retreats draw 1,000 attendees, and as many as 1,800 parishioners attend the Spanish language Mass. The Masses in the nearby Langley Park community each draw around 1,000 worshippers.

Javier says the test for any parish, large or small, is connecting with people on a deep level and helping them experience religion beyond the sacraments.

“It’s about creating a supportive community and an environment where people can grow spiritually and live a socially committed faith,” Javier said during a phone interview. It is important to be attentive to one person at a time, one problem at a time, with patience and love, or it could be overwhelming.” 

Franciscan Advantage
Focusing singularly on issues and individually on people has been the foundation of Javier’s internship ministries – whether bringing comfort to a homebound elderly person, consoling someone who is grieving a loss, preaching on a Bible passage, or directing a Salvadoran migrant mother to the parish’s social outreach office for nutritional and other services for her infant son.

Javier speaking at the Lent retreat at St. Camillus. (Photo courtesy of Javier)

“As friars, we embrace and receive others. We don’t condemn or judge. We talk, but we mostly listen – attentively and compassionately. That’s a very real distinction of the Franciscans. This is what the Franciscan charism is all about,” he said.

“This internship year reinvigorated what I have learned about being a friar – that Franciscan ministry is a ministry of attentive, compassionate and proactive presence. We encounter people wherever they are; we bring them together to build a strong and united community, and we make them feel welcome and comfortable coming to us for help – and all of that is just as important as celebrating the sacraments and worshipping God,” he added.

From September through May, Javier preached and taught at Bible studies, retreats, workshops and liturgical services, some specific to parish ministries such as youth, catechists and Third Order Secular Franciscans. Most of the events and activities are intercultural, while others involve the parish’s Latino population – which includes a large contingent of immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala. He has visited the sick, provided spiritual companionship, and helped migrant families obtain a multitude of social services.

“Our intercultural parish events help people understand their differences and appreciate what others have to offer. One of the ways we bring people together is through Scripture,” said Javier, who led a group of deeply committed students in a year-long Bible study program that applied Scriptures to daily life, especially in caring for creation and issues of social and economic justice.

Javier with his Spanish Bible Study Group “Evangelio y Vida, on Dec. 5, 2018, announcing the beginning of the initiative “Walking with St. Oscar Romero.” (Photo courtesy of Javier)

“When it comes to religious formation, we not only need to be serious and responsible for the correct study and interpretation of the Bible but also bring Scripture into peoples’ lives and problems. Only then the Word of God becomes active and fruitful,” said Javier, who has a passion for biblical studies. 

Walking with Romero
Javier organized and preached at the parish’s 2019 Lenten retreat. He personally trained some 60 moderators that collaborated during the retreat, which drew around 1,000 participants. Christopher Posch, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus, also asked him to help coordinate this year’s “Night of Martyrs,” an annual event organized by Esperanza Latina, a parish youth group. He used the opportunity to talk about the values of the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus, and also shared excerpts of the homilies of St. Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop who was assassinated while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980.

“St. Romero’s pastoral letters and messages from his homilies and radio broadcasts are alive at St. Camillus. His advocacy of social justice and peace hits home, especially among the Salvadoran population,” said Javier, who brought together all cultures of the parish with a series of workshops and activities titled “Walking with Romero.” https://hnp.org/time-of-grace-walking-with-st-oscar-romero-tiempo-de-gracia-caminando-con-san-oscar-romero/

“We can learn a lot from St. Romero’s realities in dealing with the issues of our time – socio-economic oppression, racism, and intolerance.  His teachings are of an incredible actuality for us today.”

During his internship, Javier participated in the coordination and education of “Coffee, Faith and Friends,” a multicultural group of adults that meets every Sunday morning for one hour while their children or grandchildren are at catechism class. “It’s a spontaneous sharing and discussion about the Gospel of that day, as well as other ecclesial and social issues. People have to translate for others, but that’s part of the intercultural experience – to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, which helps us to understand someone else’s differences,” Javier said.

The ethnic diversity that drew Javier to St. Camillus also presented one of the greatest challenges of his internship experience. “It was a big adjustment, learning to share my attention equally with the parish’s populations – Latinos, Anglos, French-speaking Africans, and African-Americans/Caucasians,” Javier said.

Javier with Alex Garcia and Yaridis Adrian at Vida en Abundunacia — Life in Abundance — radio station. Javier was frequently invited to comment about biblical themes. (Photo courtesy of Javier)

“There are always many challenges with immigrant populations. Families are living under constant socio-economic pressures and dangers. There are unemployment and inequitable wages, a high rate of suicide and attempted suicide, social instability, domestic violence, and undocumented status,” he said.

Javier is grateful for the challenges because they gave him the opportunity to engage people in real life situations, and he has come to appreciate the talents and time commitment of volunteer parishioners. “We had five friars, including me, but we could have 10 friars and would still be unable to do all of these things without the leadership and support of parishioners,” he said.

Greeting people joyfully requires a lot of energy because of the never-ending demands, according to Javier. “Someone may approach you after Mass and ask to talk for a few minutes – which Javier says inevitably becomes two or three hours. “That’s not something you can prepare for. It’s spontaneous,” he said.

From Corporate Career to Religious Vocation
Javier was born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, in 1972, to Jose Del Angel, a photographer and journalist, and Ana Maria De los Santos. He has a younger sister, Ana Elizabeth. Before joining the friars, Javier obtained a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and a master’s degree in communication and sociocultural studies with a specialization in human resources development. His ability to adapt to fast-paced environments comes from 15 years in the corporate world, working in organizational and leadership development and change management for global companies in his native Mexico, South Korea, the United States, and Canada. Javier helped people and organizations make good decisions, something he has carried into a religious vocation.

“When I am doing spiritual companionship, I never tell people how to think or what to do. I listen carefully and then I ask the questions that hopefully could help them reflect deeper about their situations. But they have to make their own decisions, draw their own conclusions,” he said. “Our ministry is not about making people dependent, but rather to help them to be truly free – free to love the more and the best they can.”

Javier, kneeling at right, and Tito Serrano, standing at left, at the Sacro Convento in Assisi with other participants of last month’s solemn vows retreat-pilgrimage. (Photo courtesy of Javier)

In his other career, Javier was climbing the corporate ladder and achieving social and financial success until one day, as he describes it, “God happened.” While attending the conference of a well-known biblical scholar in Mexico City, it became more apparent that he wanted to pursue his lifelong passion for the Bible and the desire to help others. A meeting with the biblical scholar after the conference was so inspiring that Javier left his job and was on a plane to study with three biblical scholars in Italy and Israel.

“Everything started to make sense. I realized that the more I could help people understand the Bible in its own literary and social contexts, the better people could grasp the true spirit of the Word and the more faithful their relationship would be with God and one another. This was my source of inspiration and fulfillment,” he said.

Upon returning from his work with the biblical scholars, Javier established the Center for Biblical Studies, known as Xaire, in Mexico City and spent the next three years traveling throughout Mexico and the U.S., teaching workshops, retreats, and conferences, as well as online study courses. Javier, who has a master’s degree in theology, also partnered with a friend at around the same time to open a consulting business that coached public and private sector executives on how to achieve personal and organizational success.

Javier then had a life-changing event. Edgardo Jara, OFM, who Javier had met in Mexico in 1997, noticed the good work he was doing and suggested that he consider joining the Franciscans. A call from the States came shortly thereafter from vocation director Brian Smail, OFM. 

Postulancy Delayed
Although word traveled fast about his interest, Javier wasn’t moving at the same speed toward religious life. Three years elapsed from the time he received the Province’s application and actually decided to explore the possibility of a vocation. “One of the most difficult moments in my vocational process was when I had to talk to my girlfriend about my desire to discern a religious vocation,” he said.

As he was preparing to enter the Order as a postulant in 2012, the unexpected death of his father altered his plans when he decided to stay in Mexico with his mother, who was very supportive when he informed her a year later that he was joining the Franciscans.

In 2013, at the age of 40, Javier began his postulancy at Holy Name College. He was accepted at the Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wis., the following year, and in 2015, he made his first profession of vows.

During the first year of his simple vows, Javier returned to Holy Name College for one year to initiate his theological formation at the Catholic University of America. He was assigned in 2016 to St. Joseph’s Friary Interprovincial Post-Novitiate in Chicago, where he studied at the Catholic Theological Union and earned a master’s degree in theology with a concentration in biblical studies.

Javier working in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, as part of the St. Francis Builds program. (Photo courtesy of Javier)

While his internship experience has enabled him to grow as a friar, Javier notes that there is no cookie-cutter approach. “Just as those who followed St. Francis, we are inspired by God to be truly who we are: a universal fraternity of God’s creation. This is why the Franciscan charism is expressed in so many diverse ways,” he said.

“The core of Franciscan profession is to live the Gospel. At my solemn profession, I expect to do what every Franciscan does – express solemnly and publicly that I want to live the Gospel in obedience, chastity and sine propio (Latin for, ‘without anything on my own’) – which is not that much different than what every other Christian is called to live,” he said.

Javier would like to establish a biblical institute that would offer on-site and online biblical, theological and social justice programs and training, mostly for lay people, in multiple languages to those involved in religious education, faith formation, catechesis, and permanent diaconate.

Javier recently completed the traditional pilgrimage retreat that friars take before professing their solemn vows. The June 5 to 29 pilgrimage took him to sites in Rome and Assisi that were significant to St. Francis and his followers. It culminated in a week of silent retreat and reflection at the Franciscan convent in Rivotorto, near Assisi.

This traditional pilgrimage “is an experience that helps us connect spiritually, historically and existentially with the very roots and origins of our Franciscan tradition and life,” said Javier, who returned to St. Camillus after the retreat and was planning to visit family in Mexico before his profession of solemn vows on Aug. 24.

Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.

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