Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lent in the Valley (Rio Grande, that is!) -- from Bro. Jason Welle, OFM

My first Lent in the Rio Grande Valley has been quite the experience so far! After two years of seminary studies in Chicago, I’m doing a one-year internship at Sacred Heart Church, a poor downtown parish 8 miles from the Mexican border, in preparation for my solemn vows.

Bro. Jason Welle, OFM (on the far left) in Chicago, IL

While my Spanish is far from perfect, our wonderful parishioners have been very accepting of me, as they were to the three Franciscan friars I live with, when they first came to McAllen, Texas, a year and a half ago. Ash Wednesday was one of the busiest days of the year, with three packed services in the church, plus a special service in the parish hall for our CCD program.

Most of our parishioners are Hispanic and the ashes are a very important symbol to them, so Br. Paul and Galen, a postulant for our Franciscan community, made the rounds to area hospitals and nursing homes, distributing ashes and bringing holy communion to those who couldn’t make it to church. Now, our various Lenten programs are in full swing, including “Disciples in Mission,” a weekly Bible study program utilized by parishes throughout the diocese.

Before Lent, our parishioners organized themselves into small groups according to language and what time they could meet; now, they gather weekly to read the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday and share their faith. This program, as well as penance services, the Stations of the Cross, and next week’s parish mission, are some of the ways Catholics here have chosen to draw closer to the Lord this season.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived here in September, other than heat, humidity, and breakfast tacos. But Fr. Tom, our pastor, and all of our parishioners have helped me grow in my Franciscan vocation, helping me see the ways I might be called to serve Catholics in the Valley during this year. I have become very involved in our religious education program, leading a bible study for adults, a bible study for teens, and CCD classes for fourth graders and fifth grades. I also play guitar and sing with all four of our parish choirs, two in English and two in Spanish.

The support and encouragement of the friars I live with has been a great blessing—we’re often out and about doing different things, but gather every morning and evening for prayer and meals, swapping stories about ministry in a culture so different from the Midwest. The last six months in parish ministry have definitely strengthened my desire to make my permanent commitment to the Order of Friars Minor. I don’t know if I’ll ever be living in the Valley again, but I’ll bring the memories, the blessings, and hopefully some of the Tejano music, to wherever I’m called to serve.

1 comment:

Andrew Gill said...

The Valley is it's on world it seems. I am glad to see the presence of the OFM friars in Texas. May your ministry be fruitful.

Andrew Gill