Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Perfect Day in Portland: Everything from Zen to Zeno (and a few things in between)

Portland, Oregon, that is. Home to our House of Welcome and Discernment/ Casa de Bienvenida y Discernimiento and of our postulancy program as well. This past week, we welcomed two students to our House of Welcome, and four member of our nine-month postulancy program. Both programs, which operate independently and in different sites, are intended to assist men in their discernment and preparation for Franciscan life.

First stop (photos above and immediately below), our postulancy house, the House of the Transfiguration. For more than 25 years, the friars of the St. Barbara Province have welcomed men to the beautiful city of Portland as their initial point of entry in Franciscan life. The program has operated in various locations over time. After nearly two decades in northeast Portland, the postulancy has moved across town to the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows to take up residence in the former convent.

Postulants (above, l to r ) Mike Minton (Oakland, California), Ryan Thornton (Monrovia, California), Jose-Antonio Merida (Oakland, California), and Phillip Polk (San Carlos, Arizona) have been in Portland for a week now and seem to be settling in well in their new digs. They are embarking on a nine-month period of residential discernment which will finish in June, 2009. At that point, should they decide to continue with their formation in Franciscan life, they will move on to the next stage-- novitiate-- at Old Mission San Miguel, California.

But wait a minute; I'm getting ahead of myself! This year, under the leadership of their director, Brother Robert Rodrigues, as well as assistant director, Fr. John de Paemelaere (better known as John D.), our new postulant brothers will be experiencing the daily horarium (routine) of Franciscan living: morning prayer and Eucharist, breakfast, work assignments out of the home, meal preparation and dinner, prayer, and evening classes. The work assignments take the form of part-time employment (up to 20 hours per week). Also, the men pay a nominal rent each month to help support the community. The classes take the form of various subject areas: Franciscan life and spirituality, Catholicism 101, human sexuality, communications, Catholic social teaching, the meaning of the vows, and the like. Weekends and discretionary free time are devoted to volunteer ministry.

Brother Robert and Father John De serve as guides and mentors during the year. In addition to the 'core curriculum' of the postulancy program, each man has his own program of personal development to pursue during the year. We recognize that each man is a unique individual, and our task is to assist him in his growth as a human being, as a Catholic Christian, and as one who is actively and seriously discerning a call to Franciscan life. To that end, each postulant will have his own personal spiritual director, with whom he will meet on a monthly basis. In addition, he may have a variety of personal activities to explore, including one on one counseling opportunities, 12-step recovery work (e.g., Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics), etc. Also, every man has a companion friar-- an older friar outside of his formation program who can assist and accompany him through his year.

Oh yeah, don't let me forget that being a Franciscan means you're allowed (and encouraged!) to have fun, too! Hence, the crowd on the steps of the House of Welcome, just a 15-minute drive from the postulancy community. The HOWD is a special program established to assist men of immigrant backgrounds who are in discernment with the community. The House of Welcome is especially geared to assist men in the acquisition of English language skills and in their acculturation to life in the United States.

Brother Balbino (Freddy) Rodriguez, himself a native of El Salvador, is director of the program, and is assisted by Fr. Larry Gosselin, in residence. Under Brother Freddy's direction, men are invited to live at the House of Welcome while studying English on a full-time basis. Depending upon their preparation and ability, men may study at a local community college and/ or nearby Mount Angel Seminary, operated by the Benedictine Order. Room and board, tuition costs, and transportation are underwritten by scholarships from the Province of St. Barbara. In accordance with United States immigration law, we can accept only candidates with appropriate documentation to this program. Residence can vary from 1-3 years, depending upon the needs of the candidate. Upon successful completion of the program, men may advance to postulancy. To date, we have had a number of successful candidates who have passed through the House of Welcome. This year we welcome Juan-Jose Juarequi of Zacatecas, Mexico, and Oakland, Calfornia. We also welcome Sung Wook (Zeno) Im from Seoul, Korea, and Glendale, California.

Back to the 'fun' part. On the day these photos were taken (Thursday, September 6), both the postulants and the students from the House of Welcome gathered for an an afternoon outing. After demolishing three extra-large pizzas at Portland's celebrated Flying Pie Pizza Company, we headed on across town to the hillside Japanese Garden.

So, here is the Zen garden-- as viewed by our House of Welcome brother, Zeno (Sung Wook) Im. Hence, Zen and Zeno meet.

... along with Zeno's classmate, Juan-Jose Juaregui...

... AND Father Larry...

... AND Brother Freddy, with Tito the sweet and gentle, shoe and sandal eating monster mascot of the House of Welcome!

Let's keep all of our new brothers in prayer as they embark on this important, grace-filled time in their lives and in the life of our community. Each brings such wonderful gifts to share with us and with God's people. Welcome, Brothers!

Monday, September 1, 2008

From the Apache Nation to the Franciscan Friars: Welcome to Postulancy, Phillip Polk!

Today, September 1, is Labor Day in the United States-- the unofficial end of summer and, in many areas, the official start of the school year. For the Franciscan friars of the St. Barbara Province, it is traditionally the first day of our postulancy program in Portland, Oregon. Every fall, men who have successfully passed through the hurdles of preliminary discernment and application begin their experience in community living. It is a big day and a big step for each of these men. And for the community as well.

This year, four men will enter our postulancy, the House of the Transfiguration, directed by Brother Robert Rodrigues, with assistance provided by Fr. John dePaemalaere. The four—Mike Minton, Jose Antonio Merida, Ryan Thornton, and Phillip Polk—come from a variety of backgrounds and life experience. I made it a point to visit one of our them—Phillip Polk— at his home on the day before he was to leave for Portland.

Phillip, aged 26, is a Native American and member of the San Carlos Apache Nation in southeastern Arizona. The Apache people have lived in this region for more than a millennium. Following incorporation into what is now the United States in the nineteenth century, a number of Apache bands were gathered into a 1.8 million acre reservation about a two-hour drive from either Phoenix or Tucson. The Franciscans have been present in San Carlos since 1918. Fr. Gino Piccoli, ofm, is pastor, and a group of religious sisters representing several different communities staff the parish school. The people have tremendous faith and hope, yet they struggle with all the problems of any urban setting: poverty, crime, drugs, and domestic violence.

I was privileged to be present for Phillip’s sendoff as family and friends gathered for Eucharist at St. Charles Parish on Sunday morning (August 31). Fr. Gino Piccoli, announced to the congregation that 18 young people from San Carlos were leaving the reservation this fall for school and job training programs in other parts of Arizona (Thatcher, Globe, Tucson, Tempe) and the United States (Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Colorado). There are insufficient opportunities for higher education or technical training on the reservation.

The tribe’s medicine man, Hart Preston, was present to impart the community’s blessing with traditional eagle feathers and sage smoke upon each of the young people or their family representatives. It was a moment mixed with hope and pride, as well as some sadness as young people leave both family and tribe—at least temporarily-- to further their career goals.

Phillip Polk was one of the eighteen young people so honored by the community. It was a special moment for his Apache family and for ourselves, his new, additional family of Franciscan friars. Phillip is a poised, thoughtful, and focused young man: “I am attracted to the Franciscans,” he reports, “because of the combination of traditional (American Indian) values I was taught as a kid and the values of the Order. I’ve seen how the Franciscans live with these values and try to live what they preach. I know they have their troubles, too, but they have a support system, a feeling of family that I like.” Phillip knows firsthand about family support: he has been the primary caregivers for his grandparents, Sadie and Clark “Spike” Kniffin, both in their late 80s. Both his grandparents, as well as his mom, Tina, and brother and sister Jeffrey and Cedar, were on hand for the celebration, as were many other family members and friends.

Although the Franciscans have been active among the Native peoples for nearly a century, Phillip is the first Apache man to enter our community’s formation program.

Yes, such occasions are a time of quiet pride for all of us, but we also try to keep the celebration low-key at the same time. Like every entering postulant, Phillip is coming to the Franciscans to try out, to prove his vocation. It is not a celebration of his temporary or solemn profession. That part comes much later. We try to be very careful not to burden our new brothers with unreasonable expectations in the early stages of their adaptation (or “formation”) to religious life. The nine-month postulancy program is a time of continuing discernment, part of an ongoing process. Contrary to some people’s perceptions, leaving during or after postulancy is not a sign of a failed vocation. In many cases, it is the sign of a successful discernment, an indication that both the candidate and the community have decided that continuing would not be a good ‘fit’ for either party.

Taking a cue from the day’s Gospel (Matthew 16), Father Gino talked about the need for each of us to take up our cross and follow Jesus, regardless of the career/ vocational path we have taken. In my comments before blessing Phillip, I tried to stress that the cross we take up is also a sign of love and, eventually, a sign of victory. Phillip then took six small San Damiano (Franciscan) crosses to give to family and friends as a sign of his affection and concern.

We welcome Phillip and all of our new postulant-brothers. And we congratulate as well all of the young people from San Carlos who have had to overcome so many challenges in order to realize their dreams. We keep them all in prayer as we celebrate their faith, passion and courage!//