Obrigado Brazil!

Frater Juancho (center with beard) with friends at Instituto Meninos de São Judas Tadeu

SCJ seminarian reflects on pastoral year in Brazil

“I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…”


This is part of a song named “for Good” from one of my favorite musicals ever: “Wicked!!” I could not find better words than those to describe my entire experience during my pastoral year in Brazil. I have been blessed by the many people I met on this journey, the many places I visited, and the experiences that made me a better person and a better Dehonian.  But honestly, those lyrics really apply to my entire life.

When I first decided to ask permission to travel to Brazil for my pastoral year, I knew the experience would be more challenging and different than any I had ever had. It would, again, require me to adapt to a new culture, a new language, and a new way of formation. That knowledge helped me to create many expectations for my pastoral year and to develop a clear idea about why I wanted to have this experience in Brazil. My deepest desire was to learn from the Brazilian perspective about working with youth, vocations, community life and Dehonian spirituality. Those expectations were definitely satisfied and I found even more than I even expected to! This absolutely was a great experience to learn a lot about ministry, mission, and how to be a Dehonian.

Most importantly, I learned and discovered many new things about myself including what is for me one of the hardest parts of religious life: going to a place and getting to know people, working with them, sharing time with them, creating a connection with them, and then, suddenly, having to go someplace else –another mission, or even another country. It is sad to leave behind people who, for some time, become an important part of our lives. However, in a beautiful way I was reminded that it is not just hard or sad for the one who is leaving but also for those whom we leave. As I said my good-byes to members of the group of men who had gathered to pray the Rosary in the Institute Saint Jude, they told how sad it was for them to see me leave since they also had time to get attached to me and feel that I was a part of their community.

So once again those lyrics take on a special meaning in my life. In this never-ending journey when people come and go, the most important thing is to keep them always in our hearts as well as all the experiences that helped us to grow and become better people.

As I was thinking about this journey, I could not stop thinking about a reflection from the actor Jim Carrey. In his reflection “I needed color,” Jim Carrey tells about his need for color in his life and about his experience exploring painting and how paintings can tell us a lot about ourselves, how the colors that we use, and all the different shapes can tell us something about what is going on with us.

Dinner with the community

Well, I relate a lot to Jim Carry’s experience.  During the past three years in formation, and thanks to the motivation of my formator and director of the house in that time (Br. Duane Lemke) I had the opportunity to explore painting as another form of art that was incredible for relieving for the stress of school and other situations. I can also say that “I needed color.” Besides that I discovered that I was good at painting and that creating and mixing colors helped me reach a place of tranquility.

Jim Carrey says: “What you do in life chooses you, you can choose not to do it. You can choose to try and do something safer. Your vocation chooses you.” And as I continue reflecting on my vocation and my response to God’s call, I could not stop thinking about my time here in Brazil. I could have chosen another place to do my pastoral year, maybe someplace safer – not in regards to security but less challenging. I am happy today because I had this incredible experience. Of course there is some sadness of leaving this beautiful place, but I will be glad to get back to see so many people waiting for me at home. I have many expectations about my return to the United States. I will be going back for my last year of theology at Catholic Theological Union, the last year of the formation house in Chicago; I will meet new members of the congregation and feel sadness for those who have died and those who decided to leave the community.

The expectation and greatest desire of a painter is to find that particular color, that ultimate color that will make of his or her painting an incredible one. Painters mix colors until finding that one color, that perfect color that should be added to the painting. In a very real way I think that just happened to me in Brazil. I found that ultimate color in the many people, the beautiful culture, and the delicious food of Brazil. I found a new palette of colors that have inspired me to be a better person, a better artist. My motivation, my desire and vocation to give my life completely to my congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has been renewed and become stronger. I have also experienced our call to get out of the sacristy to be among the people we serve. I have experienced in a completely different way the meaning of Ecce Venio.

I experienced a sense of the internationality of the congregation. I learned that it does not matter what language we communicate with, the people we serve, the places we go, and the missions in which we are involved. We are all Dehonians, living that dream of Father Dehon by being among the poor, by serving those who most need us, by serving the marginalized, and by being a positive presence for young people. Today I see that Father Dehon’s dream is alive in all the countries we serve. It is painted with many beautiful colors and each one of us puts our own colors in this beautiful mission, in this beautiful call from God that we call our vocation. We are many hands working together, but just one heart which has united us as one congregation, the heart of that man who wanted to dedicate his life to God as a servant of love and reconciliation. Thus, we are united in the heart of Father Dehon to find our vocation in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

With SCJs in Brazil

There are not enough words to express my gratitude to the United States Province for all these years of formation and brotherhood, gratitude for allowing me to have this experience, and trusting in me to do good work here in Brazil. Obrigado [thanks] to the Brazilian Province of São Paulo for its welcome, support, and for making this an incredible experience for me. Obrigado to all the incredible people I met in this journey! I thank my Dehonian brothers for all their support because I have become a better person for having met all of you. And yes, I completely believe that people come into our lives to help us to grow and help us to be better people; we just have to let them and also help them because even without noticing we can make a huge impact on their lives.

My last words are to those in formation, those who are falling in love with this incredible congregation. My brothers, do not take the safe way, take the path that will challenge you in many different ways to help you learn of things that you never thought that you were capable of doing. You will never be alone because you have so many people who are also walking Father Dehon’s dream accompanying and supporting you. And I am not talking only about the members of our religious congregation but of all the amazing lay Dehonians you may encounter and who can also help you to grow.

Do not be afraid of putting different colors in your painting. And if some day you find yourself in a place where you may need a helping hand or new color, I will be always be there for you.

Obrigado Brazil, ate mais… Thank you Brazil, until we meet again…