As I have already stated, we are residing at the Salesian House on the property of a large School educating over 400 children from Pre-school all the way up to 11th grade (the last grade of the secondary system here). The Salesians, founded by St. John Bosco, have had a consistent charism to the education of young children rooted in a system of faith and made unique by the Salesian spirituality of love for the whole person. There are Salesian schools all over the world. Here in Colombia, there are two large Provinces, here in Medellin and one in Bogota (which had originally been the spiritual home of our own dear Father Fabio until he came to the United States to begin ministry as a diocesan priest, first in Rockford, and then, thankfully, in the Diocese of Kalamazoo).
Here at this school, Father Oscar is the Rector/Principal, as well as our host. He, and two other Salesian priests and one brother, along with about 25 members of the faculty, provide the educational and formational components to this school. The school day begins at 7:00 a.m. and concludes at 4:30 p.m. (with 1 1/2 hours for lunch so that some children can go home if they live close by).
One of the practices in every Salesian school is that the day begins with the entire student body gathered as a community for what is called (here) "Buenos Dias", which simply means "Good morning/good day", but represents a time of welcoming the day with a brief prayer and meditation before all students goto their individual classes.
So our Day 3 began with Fr. Fabio and I being the special guests at this morning's "Buenos Dias" at 7:00 a.m. All 400 + students gathered together and welcomed us. I was asked to give them a brief greeting and reflection (which Fr. Fabio translated for those who didn't understand English), and that was followed by a kind of "pep rally" to launch their new motto/theme for this next quarter of the school year: "Train with Jesus in the Field of Life". It is rooted in an athletic theme, but instead of focusing on the physical aspect of athletic training, the emphasis is on spiritual training so that all the young people can be successful in the "race" of life. It was very inspiring.
Father Fabio and I then celebrated Mass, followed by breakfast. After breakfast, Father Oscar walked us through the vast grounds of this property about 1/2 mile away to the gorgeous setting of the Salesian Novitiate where about 30 young men are going through their novitiate year. They represent the two Provinces in Colombia, as well as several provinces of countries around the region. The Novice Director reminded me that the formation process for Salesians is quite rigorous. A young man can enter the community after high school and goes through a time of aspirancy, followed by two years as postulants. If that goes well, they enter the one-year novitiate. After Novitiate, there are three years of philosophy, two pastoral years, and four years of theology before ordination. Once again I was asked to greet this group of novices and offer them some thoughts. The Salesian community is doing very well as these young men appear to be wonderful candidates to enter into this community.
When we returned to the School, the children were outside for recess time, and as we walked around the school grounds, the children and the teachers were very friendly and outgoing in coming up to say hello, ask a question or to ask for a blessing. It was quite impressive.
After some quiet time, it was time for lunch. I'm learning that here in Colombia, lunch is the main meal, or what we might call dinner. It was a delicious meal with the members of the community. After lunch/dinner, we traveled to make a courtesy visit with the Bishop of this Diocese of Sonson-Rionegro, Bishop (or as they refer to Bishops here, Monsignor) Fidel Leon Cadavid. We visited at his residence which was very nice on a large plot of land, which also houses a seminary and a residence for priests who are experiencing some problems of various sorts. Bishop Fidel greeted us and we had a very nice 30 minute meeting. I was able to personally make the request that he consider our Diocese for some priests to assist us some time in the future. He was more than open to the proposal, and we will need to make sure that we pursue that in the future. The Chrism Mass for this Diocese is being celebrated tomorrow, when Bishop Fidel says that more than 200 priests will be in attendance from around the Diocese. Of course, our Chrism Mass, which I am very much looking forward to, is not until Tuesday of Holy Week (less than one week away).
Father Hernan Dario Soto, one of the priests from Colombia who have helped us during the summer months with our Migrant Ministry in past years and who is one of the priests who will be coming sometime later this year to spend several years with us (thanks to his Bishop's generosity), came to meet us there. We had a very nice visit with him and discussed the final details about his coming to our Diocese.
Sister Yamile and Sister Maria Teresa (of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Divine Spirit) also met us there to take Father Fabio and I to visit "Christ the Priest" Seminary where about 100 young men are studying Theology for the local diocese and several neighboring dioceses. This is the seminary which our newest seminarian, Roberto Guerrero, was attending and had completed his second year of theology when he decided that God was calling him to do missionary work in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. Roberto is now attending St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida (near Miami) studying English. It was a good opportunity to talk to the Rector and Vice Rector there about Roberto, and to plant seeds about other young men who might decide to follow Roberto's lead to the Diocese of Kalamazoo.
After the visit to the seminary, the Sisters, Father Fabio and I made a special visit to our own Father Evelio Ramirez' parents, Luis and Celia Ramiriez who live right here in La Ceja. Father Evelio is a well-known and highly respected figure here in La Ceja, and evidence of his artistic skills can be found in many places around this area, including at the School of St. Dominic Savio where we are residing. We had an enjoyable, though brief, visit with these good, holy people and many of their family who had come to visit us as well. We even got to visit briefly with Father Evelio via Skype.
We also stopped to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel where the body of Bishop Alfonso Uribe Jaramillo, is buried so we could pray to/through him for continued blessings on our Diocese. He is the bishop who was the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Divine Spirit and so many different seminaries and other religious communities over 50 years ago. He is described by everyone who knew him as a truly saintly person.
The weather today was another gorgeous example of the paradise-like climate the people here enjoy year round. If you can think of a perfect Michigan spring day, that would give you a perfect idea of the weather here these last two days.
Finally as this Day 3 comes to an end, I rejoice because two of my main objectives have been realized. The first was to finalize the agreement with Mother Blanca to know that 3 of the Missionary Sisters of the Divine Spirit will be coming to establish a home (foundation) in our Diocese for the next five years; the second was to meet with the local Bishop with the hope that this kind of collaboration might continue and grow in years to come involving priests and seminarians, along with additional Sisters. At the end of the day, Father Fabio and I had a very enjoyable evening with the Salesian men living here in this holy house.
The key impressions for this Day 3: hope for the future because of the children and youth we have observed here in this school, encouragement about our seminarian Roberto, and hopefully additional seminarians and priests in the future; inspiration because of the strength of the Church here in general and the inspiring lives of good, holy people like Luis and Celia Ramirez and their family, and many families like them. Buenas Noches!