GREENVILLE, S.C. — Raymond Selker, OFM, may be far from the Bronx, ministering at a hospital system here, but familiar pieces of his former New York parish surround him.
The tabernacle and monstrance he now uses at a mission church sponsored by St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, came from Holy Cross in the Bronx, which the Province left last year after turning the parish over to theArchdiocese of New York.
The familiar furnishings and paraments from Holy Cross were a much-needed addition to St. Anthony of Padua, which started a new mission to the Guatemalan community, Mision de San Sebastian, and had very few supplies.
Having spent time in the mission fields in Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala, Ray seemed well suited for the challenges of San Sebastian’s startup ministry.
Mass in an 800-Square-Foot Mission
In addition to his main ministry as interim director of spiritual care at St. Francis Health System, Ray found himself faced with a Guatemalan mission in 800 square feet of space.
For starters, the building was very modest. The sanctuary was set on a platform that blocked an entrance, and the makeshift altar was propped up so high that the very tall Ray almost hit his head on the ceiling.
“When I finally arrived at the locale that displayed a sign, Siguidores de Cristo. Casa de Orancion Catolica, I began to wonder what I had opened myself up to,” Ray laughed.
But while the mission’s accommodations left something to be desired, the faithful churchgoers were encouraging.
Ray was initially taken to see the mission community by Pascual, one of the Guatemalans who attended both the Mision de san Sebastian and St. Anthony of Padua.
“When I arrived, there were a couple of guys in the building. Pascual must have notified the guys who were there, and as this initial meeting unfolded, little by little the place began to fill up. By the time I was ready to leave, there were nearly 100 people who had come to see me.”
An Answer to Their Prayers
Parishioners told Ray that he was the answer to their prayers.
If he were to say Mass here, some things needed to change. His first order of business was to move the altar to the center of the room, take it down off the platform, and free up an exit so the building wasn’t a firetrap.
Ray said some of the challenges have been eye-opening, especially celebrating Latino traditions. He has gotten to know the Advent season’s Midnight Rosary on Dec. 23, and participated in a novenario in honor of a 10-month-old Mexican child who died on his birthday. He has also prayed in a family’s home for nine straight nights, mourning a loved one.
“I invited about a dozen from the community to join me at a mall parking lot where a rodeo scene had been set up,” Ray recalled. “I can honestly say I have never celebrated Mass at an open-air venue such as this parking lot rodeo, nor had a liturgical procession that included a dance of five horses leading us off. I celebrated Mass from a flatbed trailer in the middle of a very hot South Carolina Sunday.”
After celebrating Mass in Spanish for months, Ray learned that many of the parishioners spoke one of Guatemala’s 26 dialects. So he suggested that a parishioner give the readings in the native dialect, while another bilingual member summarized the homily.
Last fall, parishioners asked Ray to baptize their children. “I prepared a talk, and by the second month, parishioners had decided to add a second talk,” said Ray. Now, he baptizes once a month, and estimates doing about 50 to date.
“The one thing I have tried to encourage this little community of about 150 to 175 Central Americans is to always think about reaching out to the greater Hispanic community in the area,” said Ray, who was based at St. Joseph’s Church in East Rutherferd, N.J., earlier in his life as a friar.
“I am sure that there will be more to share as we continue to grow. The ministry has grown so much that it is asking the diocese to recognize it as an official mission.
Said Ray: “With all that they have gone through in these first few months, I find the Guatemalans a source of inspiration and faith. I can only hope that we continue to do that for one another.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.