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Immersed in the universal Church

First slide

As I sit here thinking and writing, I am looking at three awe-inspiring volcanos on a beautiful 75-degree summer day, in a place called “The Land of the Eternal Spring.” Where am I? Why am I, as an Arlington seminarian, in this picturesque locale? I am in Antigua, Guatemala, beginning my last week of a two month Spanish immersion, so I can better serve a growing population in our diocese.

Each year, seminarians entering their third year of theology are sent to Antigua to learn Spanish and be immersed in Central American culture. I have felt very motivated to learn Spanish, so that as a priest I can better serve our diocesan population that is approximately 46 percent Hispanic. I recommend reading the Catholic Herald’s recent article, “Diocese Faces Demand for Spanish-Speaking Priests” to better understand this need. Not only has this experience broadened my language skills, it has broadened my heart as well, as I have witnessed the passionate Catholic culture of the Guatemalan people.

Let me take you through a little bit of my experience. 

I was sent here with my fellow seminarians Jonathan Smith and John Paul Heisler. We live at a retreat center called “La Posada Belen” run by an order of religious sisters of the “Instituto de Hermanas Bethlemitas,” colloquially referred to as the “Bethlemitas.” These wonderful sisters quasi-adopted us, sharing many meals with us, and scolding us if we weren’t speaking in Spanish all the time — “Solomente pueden hablar en espanol.” Last week, they took us on a community outing to an amusement park — joy could easily be defined as three religious sisters on a rollercoaster.

Each day we walk about one mile to our Spanish school, where we are truly immersed with five hours of one-on-one tutoring in Spanish. I remember telling my mom before leaving, “I don’t even talk in English to a person for five hours a day.” Learning a new language is a humbling experience, and a rollercoaster ride in itself. A fellow student told me when I arrived, “There is no room for pride when learning a new language.”  One week you feel as if you’re able to converse well. The next week you learn a new grammatical structure and feel completely incompetent again. Fortunately, my teacher, who I affectionately call “Mama Mercy,” has been just as patient with me as I have had to be humble. After seven weeks, I do see progress in my ability to communicate in Spanish.

Perhaps the greatest gift I have received here in Guatemala has been the exposure to the thriving Catholic culture. The devotion of the people here is truly moving: people coming up church aisles on their knees to make their petition known to God; three-hour Eucharistic processions through the streets of Antigua, as Jesus in the flesh visits houses of the faithful; hundreds of people attending daily Mass throughout the many churches in the city.

As a seminarian, I was immersed in so much more than a temperate climate and a foreign language. I was immersed in a part of our universal church, that I am now more prepared to serve, God-willing, as a priest of Jesus Christ.

Fioramonti, who is from All Saints Church in Manassas, is entering his third year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019