By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 21, 2019 | En Español
ATLANTA—A handful of Atlanta seminarians traveled for three weeks to Puerto Rico to get a taste of missionary life, in addition to doing works of mercy.
The men visited the sick and homebound, worked in a food pantry and repaired homes of the poor in the communities of Mayaguez and San Juan in July. During the recent political turmoil, the seminarians joined in a 24-hour eucharistic prayer service in which the bishop of San Juan invited Catholics to pray for justice in the island’s local government. Top leaders in the commonwealth had recently resigned after sustained political protests.
The Atlanta Archdiocese is increasingly diverse, and the men learned how people in another culture experience faith.
The seminarians lived with the community of the Fraternal Society of Mercy. The three- week stay gave the men a taste of what it’s like to be a brother and to serve the people around the neighborhood and share in their lives.
Arturo Merriman, who studies at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida, said the exposure to the community of the brothers was revealing. Among the group there was a natural camaraderie, he said, and a spirit of “giving their lives to God by loving him through those in need.”
“I was surprised by how well the brothers lived community; they joked, laughed, prayed and argued as friends, not co-workers,” he said in an email.
A young woman, Quynh-Vu Dinh, a parishioner and youth minister at Our Lady of Vietnam Church, Riverdale, also went on the trip to serve.
The group was helped in its trip by Rebuilding Hope Missions, a nonprofit under the umbrella of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Its mission is to connect Catholic ministries in Atlanta with places in need and to serve communities in Puerto Rico.
Father Tri John-Bosco Nguyen, the archdiocesan vocations director, said the small group went to both serve but also to get a flavor of the daily lives of missionaries. He said well-intentioned groups travel to a place in need and follow a checklist of tasks with an organized itinerary. Father Tri said he likes to see the life of a missionary beyond the planned activities with unscheduled time where events unfold.
Deacon Randy Ortiz, one of the founders of Rebuilding Hope, said it’s the goal of the Atlanta nonprofit to broaden seminarians’ experience as part of their training and formation. It helps them to experience cultures outside of their own, he said.
“Our seminarians and future priests should be prepared to experience people from all walks of life and regardless of race, nationality or opinion they are to see the face of Christ in everyone they encounter,” he said in an email.
The Fraternal Society of Mercy was founded in Puerto Rico and is expanding its support of Hispanic communities. The members live in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with a plan to eventually open a community in Atlanta.
Rebuilding Hope began about a year ago. Deacon Ortiz said the past months have been a learning experience, with the goal in 2020 being to support the poor and the church.
The work of rebuilding continues after the damage done by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Volunteers repaired an orphanage chapel along with providing financial support for the orphanage and financial contributions for local contractors to repair roofs. According to Deacon Ortiz, some of the churches were unsafe to use following the 2017 natural disaster. In addition, the group’s donations supported local businesses and the poor. The Fraternal Society of Mercy, Rebuilding Hope’s partner in Puerto Rico, administered the contributions.
Future missions, Deacon Ortiz said, will be guided by a theme along with a spiritual director to ensure participants focus on the spiritual experience, in addition to the physical work.