For the duration of the months of June and July this summer, I am in Pittsburg, Kansas studying Spanish, by attending Spanish Summer courses, attending Spanish liturgies, and recently, taking part in a Spanish Immersion weekend. This summer assignment, though it can be difficult, is something that I know is heavily needed for future ministry in my home diocese. Within the diocese, we have many Hispanic immigrants, and a majority of them are Catholic. This is both a difficulty and a privilege for the clergy and those of us aspiring to be a part of the clergy in the future, because it creates, not only a larger group that needs ministry, but a group that needs ministry in a new language, at least for most seminarians, including myself. This means that, since my curriculum is very busy during the school year, it is advantageous for me to take time during the summer to learn both language and culture in an environment that puts me in the midst of those who will need me to have a good foundation in Spanish to tend to their sacramental and spiritual needs in the future.
During my Immersion weekend, it impacted me in a profound way just how important it is that I work diligently in learning and practicing Spanish into the future. In my immersion weekend, I was placed with a Hispanic family in Carthage, Missouri, which spoke almost exclusively Spanish. I don’t have a very large vocabulary in Spanish just yet, so it became a struggle to communicate at times. However, even in the midst of this confusion, there were three things that particularly struck me.
First, these people are very diligent about their faith. In each home I visited, there was some sort of devotional altar which was prominently displayed in the entry of each home. Some are ornate, and some are a bit more simple- but each one was special to that family. Many practice prayer at multiple points throughout the day, and are most certainly regular participants at Mass.
Second, life is difficult for them in the U.S., but it is more difficult for them where they came from. Even though many Hispanics find themselves in a place where they have to point at photos to order at McDonalds, because no one else understands them, they still feel that they are in a much more privileged place than where they were before. They have more than what they had, and even in the midst of a culture and language that may not understand their own very well, they are very happy and overjoyed to be here.
Finally, they are excited that their future priests are working hard to learn the Spanish language. Even though I felt the family I stayed with for a weekend had every right to be frustrated with my finite amount of Spanish education, they were not frustrated, and were actually excited that I was there, both trying to piece together what I could in the Spanish language and also learning about their culture.
This summer is a little over halfway over, and I feel that I have learned a tremendous amount- both in what I will need to focus on in the future, and in the tools that I will need to have to be a Father to all of God’s children. To that end, my studies continue!