The medieval Christian emperor Charlemagne once said, “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” For most of July I had the privilege of experiencing the soul of the people of Mexico while studying Spanish at the Archdiocese of Puebla’s seminary.
My days involved four hours of one-on-one intensive Spanish instruction, and celebrating Mass in various parishes and convents, as well as with Archbishop Víctor Sánchez of Puebla. Part of the time I was in Puebla, I was also joined by seven of our seminarians, who are in a two-month program there that combines a three-week stint in rural parishes with language instruction.
The Pontifical Palafoxiano Seminary is located on the northeastern side of Puebla, Mexico – a city of about 2 million people, located about two hours away from Mexico City. The climate is similar to northern Colorado’s but with rain almost every day. On the grounds of the seminary, I was surrounded by beauty and the constant presence of lay people coming to its perpetual adoration chapel to specifically pray for bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and vocations.
I was deeply touched when I would go to adoration and see the number of people who came to pray before our Lord. Each hour was covered by two or more people praying, and often I would see families come for a Holy Hour. It was wonderful to see a mother and father come in with their three, four or five children, fall on their knees, and pray before our Eucharistic Lord.
I was also edified by the faith of the people who attended the closing Mass of Archbishop Sánchez’s three-week pastoral visit to the rural parishes in the sierras. He invited me to concelebrate the visit’s closing Mass, which included a solemn procession from one church to another, followed by an impressive fiesta. During that Mass, I saw and felt the simple faith of the people who gave of themselves generously, despite their material poverty.
These experiences helped me appreciate the presence and faith of the more than 300,000 Latino Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver in a deeper way. The fact is, 52 percent of the Catholics in the archdiocese are Hispanic and about 80 percent of them come from Mexico. But too often language and cultural differences prevent our Church from experiencing the gifts of all our brothers and sisters. That is why the ability to speak Spanish and understand Latino devotions has become more and more important for all priests and deacons who serve in our archdiocese to acquire and why I set aside a month to improve my Spanish.
My time in Puebla was also a good reminder to me about the importance of growing professionally and spiritually. I hear from some priests and lay people who tell me that they just can’t find the time for continuing education. But our parishes, families and children suffer if we don’t make personal and professional growth a priority. We owe them and our Lord the best we can give.
The schedule of classes and the difficulty of learning another language in such a short period of time was demanding, but I was inspired by the dedication and faith of the priests who minister in the Puebla archdiocese. One priest shared with me that there are priests who say nine Masses each Sunday because the need is so great. I was stunned to hear another priest say that he presided over 17 Masses on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe so that all the people could attend Mass.
Their heroic examples, combined with my love for the Latino faithful of our archdiocese, were present with me as I studied.
It is my hope that Our Lady of Guadalupe will guide me, the Latino Catholics of the archdiocese, and all the faithful in growing closer to her son and that he will increase our unity as a Church.