Iglesia Jesucristo Resucitado, June 17, 2011
San Felix, Venezuela
Reflections from Deacon Evan Koop
Hello from the parish of Jesucristo Resucitado (‘Risen Christ’) in San Felix,Venezuela! It’s hard to believe its only been two weeks since I got here to the mission. The days have been packed with so many pastoral encounters and such a variety of different ministry opportunities that it feels like I’ve been down here for much longer than that. But I know the time will fly and before I know it I’ll be on a plane back home, so I thought it would be good to send you all a few updates while I’m here. This is the first of what will hopefully be several updates during my time in Venezuela (though I make no promises!). I also hope that each one will include a few photos as well. Though I cannot possibly share the whole variety of beautiful encounters and incredible blessings the Lord grants me each day here, that certainly will not stop me from trying!
My Time at the Mission
As to my own time here, I can only say that it has been a great blessing, an experience at once beautiful and challenging. Last year, I was able to visit the mission with my classmates as part of a seminary course, after which, through prayer and discernment, I asked the seminary if I could be sent here for my summer deacon assignment this year. The previous two years, in fact, two other deacons (now priests, Fr. Erik Lundgren and Fr. Jon Kelly) had done the same.
I had several reasons for wanting to serve here for the summer. First, I had a desire to serve the poor here, where there is such need for the presence of Christ and His Church in the midst of so much suffering and despair. There is a level and type of poverty here that, realistically speaking, does not exist to any great extent in the States. Second, I wanted to offer some aid to the priests who serve here, who are incredibly dedicated and self-giving, but also burdened with many pastoral responsibilities. In fact, though the Diocese of Ciudad Guayana has just about as many Catholics as the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, it has only 46 priests—most of them foreign missionaries—compared to over 300 in the Twin Cities. Finally, in view of my future priestly ministry in Minnesota, I also wanted to continue improving my Spanish, so that at least I might offer Mass and hear confessions back home for Latino Catholics.
And while it has taken some time to get used to my new surroundings, God, in his goodness, has certainly allowed each of those desires to be fulfilled already in some way. One thing is for sure—I have not yet been bored! Each day is a kind of adventure, as new and unforeseen pastoral needs and opportunities arise. At the end of the day I find myself thanking God for the experiences He has given me, and for the awesome privilege of being His representative at times of both spiritual crisis and human joy. All in all, it has been very confirming for me in the call He has given me to be his priest one day soon.
In many ways, Jesucristo Resucitado is just like any other Catholic parish around the world—which is what makes our Church so beautiful! Its life is centered around the celebration of the sacraments, which in turn are centered around the most important moments in human life: birth, maturity, marriage, sickness, death, and the ever-present need for conversion and Daily Bread.
As a Deacon, I serve at the daily Mass each day and I preach on occasion: four times thus far, and more often in the future, perhaps. Obviously, since the homilies are in Spanish, it takes me more time to prepare than it normally would—about two hours for a daily mass homily, and four for Sundays. That preparation alone has served my ongoing learning in Spanish well, as I search the dictionaries and grammar books to be able to say what I want, and then seek the corrections of others. This has been one of the unexpected joys of my time here. Of course, other than the difference in language, the Mass is the same here as it is throughout the world—though I must admit I don’t know that I’ve ever sensed its power so much as here, as Jesus makes Himself present amid such squalor and want, entering hearts with such simple and profound faith.
In addition to the Masses at the main parish church, the priests here are also responsible for bringing the sacraments to the many surrounding barrios (‘neighborhoods’), since most of the people do not have cars and cannot walk the long distance to church. In order to prevent the faithful in the barrios from falling away from the Eucharist entirely, Fr. Schaffer, the parish pastor, has begun building small chapels in each of the barrios to provide a center for the community’s practice of the faith. And so, as I get in the truck with either Fr. Schaffer or Fr. McCabe to travel from barrio to barrio to say Mass on Sundays, I sometimes feel like one of those circuit-riding priests of the last century—bringing the grace of the sacraments where they are most needed. And the need really cannot be overestimated: though the parish has a population of anywhere from 30,000-50,000 people, about 90% of whom are officially Catholic, only about 5-10% practice their faith to any degree. Even among those who do practice the faith, the level of catechesis is generally lower than that found among Catholics in the States. The lack of priests here and the inability of the people to frequent the sacraments must have a great deal to do with this growing problem.
Next Blog : read about how sacraments are delivered and some of the many mission activities in the barrios.
Deacon Evan Koop
Next Week: Reflection # 2