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Good News Article: Reflections on Padre Julio’s Visit

This article was written by Peter Chase for the September 30, 2008 Good News. Click here to view the complete article.

Padre Julio Rivera arrived on September 1 from our sister parish in El Salvador with a big smile and a bear hug. At first our conversational skills relied heavily on body language, and we communicated like two mimes. Then it occurred to me that my favorite Mexican restaurant in Newton Centre could provide us with the perfect communication venue. The menu was in Spanish, and the waiter could translate our conversation between courses. The waiter graciously translated that Padre Julio was to spend the next 17 days learning, teaching, resting and sharing.

It is said that the best way to learn a language is to relax and have fun with it. The next two weeks with Padre Julio felt like an intense Spanish immersion class as I began to learn a new vocabulary…

The next morning we went to San Lucas in Chelsea to learn about Hispanic ministry in the diocese and attended Morning Prayer at 8:00 a.m. with Padre Edgardo from Columbia. During the service a young woman in tears walked in and sat towards the back of the sanctuary. She was penniless and lost, alone without friends in a country she couldn’t understand. It turned out she was from El Salvador, and her eyes lit up as Padre Julio helped her and prayed with her for comfort, guidance, and courage to meet the days ahead. She left the church much stronger than when she had arrived. I thought my frustration over not being able to communicate in Spanish was insignificant in comparison to her problems. I was also reminded of the powerful voice of prayer for those who have faith.

The following day we went to the Salvation Army’s Miracle Kitchen in Framingham, where Julio met a lady from Central America who had come to be fed a meal prepared by members of our parish. While there we were interviewed by Jorge Quiroga for the 11:00 p.m. news. Jorge’s father was an Episcopal priest from Columbia who served parishes in New York City. His questions and our answers where short and to the point. Question: “Why are these people here?” Answer: “They are here because they need food.” Question: “What would happen if this place was closed?” Answer: “They would go to bed hungry.” Question: “So you think it is important to keep this place open?” Answer: “Yeah!”

The next morning, The Reverend Mark McKone-Sweat, assistant rector at St. Paul’s in Natick, invited Julio for two days on the Cape before being their guest preacher. On Monday we went to Santa Anna in Lowell and met with Padre Ramon from Cuba, who told us about immigration ministries in Lowell, Lawrence and Lynn.

A highlight of Padre Julio’s trip came during three refreshing days spent in Vermont dining on blueberry pancakes and maple syrup, fresh corn on the cob and other New England treats. During mealtime I discovered that Julio’s sister lives and works in Maryland. They were both orphaned during the civil war when their village was bombed. Julio was seven years old at the time and ended up in a Catholic orphanage sponsored by Cardinal Oscar Romero (who later became an Archbishop and was assassinated during a mass because he had become an advocate for the oppressed.) At the age of eight, Julio dedicated himself to God and a future ministry of peace and reconciliation. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and quickly rose to the top of the diocesan hierarchy, becoming the Archbishop’s chancellor.

A young and charismatic figure in the Roman Catholic diocese, Padre Julio’s unexpected conversion to Anglicanism was a shock. He studied at an Anglican seminary in Mexico and returned to a labor of love in some of the poorest parishes in El Salvador. He makes $300 a month as a vicar of Santa Maria Virgen, which has become the largest parish in the diocese since his arrival. There are only five priests in the entire diocese, but the good news is that five members of Santa Maria Virgen are university students who have expressed an interest in attending seminary and following in Padre Julio’s footsteps. Santa Maria Virgen has just completed building a new church. I have been invited to attend the consecration of their new sanctuary this December at which time they will also dedicate a new altar given through the generosity of one of our members. Padre Julio said he “wouldn’t trade Christ’s ministry in El Salvador for the world.”

On the way back to Saint Mary’s, we met with clergy from Vermont who had been to El Salvador on earlier mission trips. That evening we had a reunion of our own mission team including those members from St. Paul’s in Natick to El Salvador at a dinner hosted by Tim and Mary Green. The following day, Padre Julio preached and taught an Adult Forum at St. Mary’s and that evening nearly 50 people enjoyed Salvadorean cuisine in the Parish Hall.

On Monday, Padre Julio met with the faculty and students at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, where he celebrated the Eucharist for the entire student body. Finally, before leaving he met with diocesan clergy and toured a Spanish immersion preschool in Weston and Epiphany School in Dorchester.

This was a rewarding experience for him and one that I will never forget. I not only learned some new words in Spanish but also was reminded of the importance of prayer. Padre Julio joined me during three pastoral visits to members of our congregation and prayed for their recovery. And I know he continues to be a man of prayer, keeping us in his daily petitions to God for health and strength.

– Peter Chase

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