Mission in reverse

Priest is transformed by Latino culture

Going to South America as a missionary is what I wanted when I discovered that I had a religious vocation. But after becoming a priest in 1984, I spent the first seven years of ministry in parishes in this country. Still, I felt a tug within me to pursue ministry in another culture.

I was then given the opportunity to live and work in a growing Latino community in my native Chicago. I decided at the age of 35 to study Spanish and get acquainted with the culture. I spent my summers in Mexico with the Augustinian friars, who helped me to become more comfortable with the new culture that had adopted me. I invested myself in Hispanic ministry on the Southwest Side of Chicago. My original goal in pursuing religious life was fulfilled: I found myself in “mission territory.”

Little did I realize that this “mission” would take a reverse turn. My experience within the Latino community has been a transforming one. Hispanic ministry has grounded me in a reality that is changing the church in the United States. Both being the grandson of immigrants myself and my pastoral experience have sensitized me to the plight of the immigrant. I listen more carefully and respond more generously, especially to so many who feel out of place and marginalized.

I found my passion in living the social gospel, and not simply reflecting on it. Community organizing and leadership is an essential part of social ministry. I have discovered that the Latino community, generally speaking, not only respects the individual but also values the communal dimension of relationships. This has widened my perspective on what it means to be catholic, namely, universal. Service takes on a whole new dimension when one is involved in the life of the local community.

My participation in the life of the community reaffirms my belief that by being relational and interdependent we live out the truth that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.

For me this speaks of the essence of the church, the people of God. This socio-centric attitude continues to be challenging in the face of the current cultural value of individualism. I have learned through my experience of being an Augustinian priest living and working in the Latino community that to be “church” means to be other-oriented.

Incredible things happen, lives change, transformation takes place, and the reign of God manifests itself when faith and culture meet.

Loving the whole world

He wanted to be a university professor but a friend convinced him to become a missionary. Francis Xavier dedicated his life to the people of India, China, and Japan. He did not mind traveling thousands of miles, by foot or boat, to preach and help the poor and the sick.

Are you willing to help those who are different from you?

All active news articles