Learning Spanish, Experiencing Fraternity in Bolivia

Daniel Horan, OFM Features

A report by a friar in formation was submitted to the Communications Office. Here, Daniel Horan, OFM, describes the education and community of the Franciscans in Bolivia.

COCHABAMA, Bolivia — This summer was filled with study, cultural adjustment, travel and international experiences of Franciscan fraternity for Steve DeWitt, OFM, and me. We spent much of the summer in Cochabamba, Bolivia, studying Spanish at the Instituto de Idiomas de Maryknoll. 

The six-week program provided an intensive course of study that included one-on-one professor/student instruction for four hours a day.  The Institute has a 40-year history of educating religious and lay women and men in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara for missionary work in Central and South America. Among our classmates were Franciscans of all three Orders (OFMs, Conventuals and Capuchins), a Dominican friar, Jesuit novices, diocesan priests and lay students from all over the United States and Canada.

One of the highlights of the program was a field trip to the Jesuit Missions in Southeastern Bolivia. These missions were established by the Jesuits between 1691 and the 1750s. The popular movie The Mission, staring Jeremy Irons and Robert DiNiro, is based on the true story of missions like these just a little further south. In the 1750s, the Jesuits were expelled from South America. For nearly 100 years, the people of the area were left without direct sacramental ministry or any formal presence of the Church.  

In the 1800s, the Franciscans arrived and served the indigenous Guarani people who still lived in the missions, taking over where the Jesuits left off.  To this day, the Franciscans have a strong presence in the missions, as they do all over Bolivia. One contemporary example is the bishop of Mission Conception who is a Franciscan friar.  What was most inspiring about this particular trip to the Missions was the shared experience of ecclesiastical and world history with eight Jesuit novices. What the ancestors of the Jesuits had begun, our Franciscan ancestors and living brothers continue today.

The Franciscan World in Bolivia and Peru

We stayed at the Convento San Francisco in the heart of downtown Cochabamba. This friary is the home of young friars in formation for the Bolivian Province, the Bolivian equivalent of Holy Name College. The Convento San Francisco serves as a hub for traveling Franciscans from all over Bolivia who stay a night enroute to their destinations, allowing us to meet a wide variety of brothers from around the country during their stay.  However, the most famous guest of the Convento San Francisco remains Pope John Paul II who stayed there during his 1988 pastoral visit to Bolivia.

This friary is also the residence of Holy Name Province’s Jim McIntosh, OFM, and HNP alum Tom Kornacki, OFM. Both Jim and Tom provided a significant amount of mentorship, cultural education and fraternal companionship during the summer experience. Next door, at the curial offices of the Bolivian province, resided HNP alum Ignatius Harding, OFM, who was also gracious and welcoming to both us while in Bolivia.

While the weather was at times cold — it was winter in South America — the welcome was incredibly warm. The Bolivian friars invited us into the life of the community, making prayer, meals and recreation together a real experience of transnational fraternity.

There were many powerful experiences of fraternitas. About a week after arriving in Cochabamba, one of the Poor Clare sisters in the nearby convent passed away and we attended the vigil service for her at the Poor Clare monastery. There, at 9 o’clock at night, in a dark church in the center of Cochabamba, two U.S. friars, two Italian friars, and a handful of Bolivian friars and Poor Clares stood around the coffin of our sister and prayed.  There, a connection that transcended national origin, cultural background and even familiarity was felt.

As a way to both return the favor of a gracious welcome, while also remaining connected to our home culture, we prepared a barbeque dinner for the entire Franciscan community on the Fourth of July. It turned out to be an enjoyable experience for all, with a veritable feast of hot dogs, hamburgers and other Independence Day staples. Steve, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., prepared some of his hometown Buffalo chicken wings for the brothers and sisters. They were a hit.

stevedan_dph_02Visiting Coroico and Sarata

One of the highlights of the summer experience was a weekend-long, 30-hour road trip with Jim, Tom and Iggy to the towns of Coroico and Sarata to celebrate the Diocese of Coroico’s 25th anniversary and the birthday of HNP alum Bill Keenan, OFM.  For more information on this experience, see the article, “Bolivian Road Trip Commemorates Diocese and Friar,” in the Aug. 6 issue of HNP Today.  We recently presented a commemorative plaque to Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, on behalf of the bishop of Coroico.

After completing language studies in Cochabamba, we visited with Bolivian friars in La Paz for a few days. Before returning to United States to begin the new academic year, we traveled to Lima, Peru, and spent time visiting with HNP friars there. We stayed at the friary with Paul Breslin, OFM and were given a tour of Christopher Dunn, OFM’s, parish next door. We also visited the Parish of Santa Ana, where we were welcomed by Tony Wilson, OFM, and Carlos Sarmiento-Diaz, OFM, who showed us around the many ministries there. Carlos then took us for a tour of several of his many chapels located in the very poor neighboring areas.

We are now at Holy Name College in Maryland preparing to begin the new academic year.  We are both in our second year of study at the Washington Theological Union.

 Br.  Dan is a formation student residing at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md.  He is shown at right in the photo above.