(SNR) – With the growing challenge of a changing population, many priests and seminarians find it difficult to rise to it in the face of a new language. That is precisely why Father Christopher Stoley and Deacon Douglas Daro were sent to Guatemala last summer to work on their Spanish.
“I got a call in January of 2016 from Father Rafael Rodríguez,” said Father Stoley, ordained two years ago and now serving as assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Crete, “telling me that Bishop Conley was sending me to Guatemala to study Spanish along with Doug Daro, (now a deacon). In March we purchased our tickets and in June we arrived in Antigua.”
They began an intensive six-week course. Classes began at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.
“In reality, it’s not bad,” Father Stoley said, “but when the classes are exclusively in a language that you can’t understand that well, you are exhausted at the end of the day.”
Deacon Daro found the one-on-one nature of the program helpful: “the conversation and grammar lessons are catered to the specific needs of the students,” he said.
They also had plenty of chances to practice during meals in the town, as well as in pastoral settings.
“We found moments to evangelize everywhere,” Father Stoley said. “Nearby was a convent for the Hermanitas Belencitas (the Little Sisters of Bethlehem), where there is a boarding school for indigenous girls. These people were incredible, and we had the opportunity to say Mass for them for several weeks. They were sad to see us leave and gave us gifts when it was time for us to return home. It was just one of many wonderful opportunities I had in Guatemala to see God’s beauty shine out.”
While visiting local families they experienced a different way of living Catholicism.
“They truly are a people of God,” Father Stoley said. “The country is around 90% Catholic, and they are very faithful. This faithfulness and reliance on God likely stems from the poverty that one can find throughout the country. Yet the people are rich in their poverty because they all firmly believe that God will take care of them.”
Father Stoley and Deacon Daro also found time to explore, hiking up volcanoes and in jungles, visiting the ocean and the town of Santiago Atitlán, where Oklahoma priest and missionary Father Stanley Rother was martyred.
“I had the opportunity to say Mass twice in his personal chapel where he was assassinated,” Father Stoley said.
They said they found the program to be helpful and they look forward to using it in their ministry within the diocese.
“It is really an incredible place and the staff are incredible,” Father Stoley said. “Having gone to Guatemala improved my Spanish and made me a better priest. I will keep the lessons I learned from that journey happily in my mind and heart until the day I die.”
“If our goal is to integrate Hispanics more into the ministry of the diocese, said new Hispanic Ministry director Ricardo Izquierdo, “then it is key to have pastors that speak Spanish in as many parishes as possible, because the need for them is everywhere.
“So many Hispanics that live in the boundaries of our territorial parishes,” he pointed out. “Priests that know both languages and have a missionary heart will be better able to serve the needs of all their parishioners, Hispanic or not.”