Summers are a busy time of year for everybody, and that also includes seminarians. Whether we are working a job for the summer, helping out with Totus Tuus and Vocations Camps, or serving patients in hospital ministry, we definitely keep busy. This summer in particular, Patrick Hoeft, Brady Keller, David Trout, and I (Tom Skaja) were in Mexico. We spent eight weeks in Queretaro, a city two hours north of Mexico City. My hope is that this blog post will give you a taste of what our summer was like, especially in looking at our experiences and travels.
We landed in Queretaro on Sunday, June 3rd, and moved into our host family’s home. It was a simple home, but we had everything we needed. There were two seminarians per home, and my “familia” spoke little to no English. I am very grateful that my abuelita (grandmother) was such a phenomenal cook, for she would make all sorts of excellent Mexican food, from tasty guacamole to scrumptious quesadillas. Speaking of food, the meal times took me a while to get used to. Breakfast was usually from 6-7am, lunch (the main meal of the day) was from 2-3pm, and there was a light supper around 9pm. It took a few weeks to adjust to these times when we arrived, and a few weeks to adjust back to the Minnesota eating schedule when we returned.
The first day after we arrived, we began our classes in a small language learning school located in the historic section of town. We began classes at 8am, and had one-on-one tutoring sessions with our teachers until about 2pm, Monday through Friday. Needless to say, I now know what Spanish immersion is all about, because we went from speaking English to total Spanish literally overnight! If there was ever a question about a certain vocabulary word or concept, for example, the teacher would respond to us only Spanish. In class, we focused on grammar, conversation, and practice, which included meeting strangers on the street or in reading the Lectionary and parts of the Mass in Spanish. We all improved over the two months in Mexico, and now the challenge is to keep studying so it doesn’t slip from our minds.
In our time in Mexico, there were many opportunities for travel. We traveled to the town of Bernal one weekend, and at the center of this small town is the monolith “La Peña.” Fun fact: a monolith is basically a giant rock that comes straight out of the ground, almost forming a column. This particular monolith is said to be the third largest in the world. We only made it about half the way up or so because of the steepness… we thought it would be wise to turn around at the small shrine to St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes. We also visited the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, where the ancient Pyramid of the Sun remains to this day. In our travels, we learned a lot about the culture of the Mexican people, and in learning about the culture, it makes it easier to learn the language.
Of all our travels, the journey to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was my favorite trip. It is located in Mexico City, a city with the population of almost nine million people (more people than the entire state of Minnesota). We stayed with the Missionary of Charity Fathers for a weekend, and it was a great weekend to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the summer in order to rest at this wonderful place. The original “tilma” of St. Juan Diego looks remarkable… especially considering that it is almost 500 years old. One thing that struck me about this visit was a short sentence that the Virgin Mary told to St. Juan Diego: “No estoy aqui yo, que soy tu madre?” In English, this translates to, “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” In all of our struggles, it is easy to forget about our Mother, how she is always present and ready to come to our aid. On a larger level, especially in regard to the current scandals in the Church, Mary is telling each one of us, the laity and the clergy, “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” It might be helpful to write this expression on a Post-It note, and to stick it some place seen often. She is always here to intercede for us as our Mother, to lead us closer to the heart of her Son, Jesus.
Our trip to Mexico was a fruitful one, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to study down there for two months. With that said, we were all happy to arrive back to central Minnesota. I missed the lakes, woods, peace and quiet, and the family farm, and not to mention Mom’s home cooking. As I conclude, I would humbly ask for your prayers as we seminarians begin another year of formation, that we might become men on fire with the love of Jesus and His people. Thank you for all of your prayers and support.