Seminarian welcomed in Ecuador

Frater Henry Nguyen, SCJ, arrived in Quito, Ecuador, on December 28, to begin the second half of his pastoral year. He was originally scheduled to spend his entire pastoral year in South America, taking part in a Spanish-language immersion experience and get a taste of ministry in a culture outside of the US Province. However, as with much during the past year, the pandemic forced Frater Henry to make a few adjustments. The first six months of his pastoral year were spent ministering with Sacred Heart Southern Missions in Mississippi. He will be in Ecuador through the end of the spring semester.

Frater Henry writes about his first week in Ecuador:

Henry at 9,325 feet. Quito, Ecuador, is the second highest capital city in the world

Today I am traveling to Bahia de Caraquez, where I will spend time with the community, learn Spanish, and simply be with the people. I have been blessed during my initial days in Ecuador, welcomed with the SCJ hospitality that I have been accustomed to, first at the airport by Fr. Bruno Santos, district superior, Fr. Juancho Castaneda Rojas, and Fr. Pablo Martinez. During my first days, I stayed at the “interim novitiate.” Dehonian novices from Ecuador generally go to Spain for their novitiate year, but borders were closed at the start of their year due to the pandemic.

Getting by, getting frustrated, getting motivated have been the different emotions that I have been feeling since I have gotten to Ecuador. I had been able to get by with the Spanish that I knew during my chaplain internship as well as my work in social services with Sacred Heart Southern Missions. I was getting by here too at first, but then got frustrated when I wasn’t able to fully communicate with my confreres, the people around me. However, they have generously helped me here and there, correcting my pronunciation and phrasing.

I have been watching a lot of TV with the community as another way to better my Spanish. I am motivated to learn the language to truly be present with the people. A few differences that I have already noticed in the Spanish here from what I know is how they say bag – “funda” – instead of “bolsa.” Bolsa resonates a lot with me as I attended Bolsa Grande High School. At meal, I had “chancho,” a term I hadn’t heard before. Spanish speakers in the United States would more commonly use “cerdo” or “puerco,” for pig. And last, there is “mande,” asking someone to repeat or to say something.

Donated food waiting to be sorted

The novitiate community and I spent New Year Eve’s at Quito 1, which is the community attached to the Parroquia Santa Maria de la Arelia. I was able to experience Mass with a lively community despite the pandemic. It was a truly international experience, where I was welcomed as a seminarian of Vietnamese descent from the US Province who will spend the next several months in Ecuador.

Fr. Bruno prepares food for distribution.

The SCJ community here is in a barrio where we live right next to the people, they are our vecinos (neighbors). It is a busy neighborhood, near bakeries, pharmacies and markets. Something that caught my eye from the start was the lack of cars; people walk to church. Our parish is among the few that remains open for people to come and worship; Mass is also available on livestream.

Fr. Bruno asked me if I wanted to help with a food project. I said “yes,” and joined several others assisting at a parish food pantry. We divided the donated food into packages for 100 families. While sorting fruits, vegetables, dairy, juices, eggs, etc., I noticed a long line waiting for us to finish. This reminded me of my time with SHSM. Even during a pandemic, we Dehonians find ways to be with the people and help however we can.

Here, precautions against the pandemic are easily seen. In the streets, it seems as if everyone is wearing a mask, even in the cars. As I enter into a store my temperature is taken, my shoes are sprayed and disinfected, and I am asked to apply hand sanitizer.

At over 9,000 feet, Quito is the second highest capital in the world, but I was lucky and didn’t suffer with altitude sickness. Bahia de Caraquez will be different; it is in a coastal region.

I want to express my thanks to the many SCJs who have contacted me with their warm wishes and support. It means a lot to me as I settle in on the other side of the equator. This is truly a moment for me to say Ecce Venio.