WASHINGTON — On Labor Day weekend, 21 young Latino men came to the nation’s capital to learn about Franciscan life and to consider whether they are being called to become friars. They were a part of a vocation retreat offered by the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee.
The participants were born in nine different countries and came from 14 United States parishes, including Provincial ministries in Durham, N.C., Silver Spring, Md., Butler, Pompton Lakes, and Camden, N.J., Triangle, Va., and Wilmington, Del. Several learned about the event from the HNP website.
The retreat, guided by several members of the committee, began Friday evening with a bilingual Mass at Holy Name College, the Provincial house of studies. Then it was time for dinner with the friars of the house as well as the newly arrived postulants, who were able to share some of their experiences coming to the Province. A “getting to know you” session and final prayer finished the evening before the group headed to St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, where they were lodged for the two-night retreat.
A Busy and Blessed Weekend
Saturday was a full day that began with breakfast at Holy Name College followed by a bilingual morning prayer. The retreatants were blessed to have with them Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, who spoke to the men about the Province, specifically about the importance that ministry to, and ministry by, Latinos has to the Province. There were also presentations on Franciscan history and the spirituality of St. Francis, as well as a moving personal reflection by Xavier de la Huerta, OFM, of St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia, on what makes him a happy friar.
Because of the difficulties in accepting into the Province someone who is undocumented, an important event of the retreat was a Skype videoconference with Fr. José Chepito Gonzales, OFM, vocation director of the Central American province, for those men who might consider it easier to join the province of their country of origin.
Several retreat participants expressed their delight at the dramatic presentation offered by an evangelizing theater group, Utopia Franciscana, from St. Camillus Parish next door. The afternoon session concluded with a panel discussion in which the men had the opportunity to ask the friars whatever questions they wished. Topics ranged from the formation process in Holy Name Province to the issue of how friars were able to embrace the call to chastity. The evening concluded with prayer, dinner, and bowling.
On Sunday, the group went to offices of the Catholic Community of Langley Park, Md., a mission of St. Camillus Parish, where breakfast was once again followed by prayer and then a video presentation from the HNP Vocation Office. A general conversation followed, where the men shared their impressions of the weekend. The group then went to Mass at Langley Park, where they saw the work of the friars in action amongst the Latino residents of the area, most of whom are poor in material possessions but rich in spiritual ones. Michael Johnson, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus, gave a powerful homily that wove his personal vocation story with the readings and the experiences of St. Francis himself.
The group then went to the nearby home of Selvin Lopez, a member of the Langley Park faith community and a member of the group on retreat as well. Selvin lives in an intentional community with several others who work and share expenses, but who also share their prayer lives and their dedication to spread the Gospel by serving others. Because of immigration issues, this truly holy man has not yet been able to join Holy Name Province. But by sharing his experience of working with the friars and living in an intentional community, he gave the other men another possible option for exploring their call to Franciscan life. A closing prayer ended the retreat, and it was then time for each member of the group — the retreatants as well as the friars — to return home, blessed and changed.
Listening for God’s Call
The chair of the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee, Christopher Posch, OFM, said: “Our Franciscan Vocation Retreat was an explosion of faith, fraternity, and great joy. Faithful candidates who often feel isolated were able to spiritually connect with companions who share similar longings, confusion, and desire to respond to God’s call. Many retreatants commented that they felt at home and didn’t want to leave.”
The Skype conference with Fr. Gonzales was particularly significant, according to Chris. “Some retreatants who have been unable to reach him from the United States saw his beaming and energetic face and received his warm invitation and cell phone number and email address. Some retreatants are considering applying to the Central American Province and others to Holy Name Province. Others need additional discernment time or immigration status clarification, so in the meantime, they may live in an intentional, Franciscan, inserted lay community.”
Xavier’s testimony was priceless, Chris added. “He has been experiencing over a half century of true happiness as a friar through living in the Holy Spirit, being mindful while preparing salads that God’s heart is in the red tomatoes and that God’s hope is in the green lettuce, and cleaning up all of the poop and messes that he encounters. Reflecting on his youth and senior years, Xavier joyfully and confidently stated that ‘there is no woman who can love me more than God has been loving me!'”
“To conclude, it is fitting to share what a retreatant, Pedro from Pennsylvania, said about his impression of the weekend: “When I came, I didn’t really have many expectations at all, and the ones I had were pretty low. But after these few days, I not only feel I understand your [the friars’] lives better, but I also feel like I was a part of your fraternity as well. I guess it is because you do not separate yourselves from us but are with us, one of us. That makes all the difference.”
— Fr. Christopher is pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J., and a member of the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee.