10/21/2011 11:23:00 AM In pastoral assignments, seminarians experience real parish life
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Rev. Mr. Santiago Iriarte’s pastoral formation included serving at this year’s Rosary Bowl in Salem. Here, he walks in a procession with Archbishop John Vlazny.
Mount Angel Seminary photo
Rev. Mr. Rodel de Mesa
Clarice Keating Of the Catholic Sentinel
While the skills seminarians develop at seminary are invaluable, there are just some things that can’t be taught in the classroom.
For Rev. Mr. Santiago Iriarte one of those moments came as he stood before a congregation during his pastoral assignment at a church in California. He spoke about forgiveness and could see and feel the impact of his words on the parishioners’ faces as he spoke.
“It’s amazing how powerful that message can be for people,” he said. “People are hurting. They don’t want to let go.”
At Mount Angel Seminary, the pastoral formation program prepares men to be priests who are servant-leaders. The young seminarians work in food banks, nursing homes, correctional centers, mentoring at-risk youth, teaching religion classes, youth ministry, and Right of Christian Initiation for Adults classes to gain experience. The program aims to blend spiritual, human and intellectual formation, helping each seminarian grow in skills and values that are essential to being a mature Christian who is able to respond pastorally to all kinds of life situations,” according to the seminary.
Rev. Mr. Rodel de Mesa spent last year in an assignment at the Madeleine Parish in Northeast Portland. De Mesa moved here from the Philippines three years ago, and in a year, God willing, he says, he will be serving the Archdiocese of Portland as a priest.
Surprises abound during the pastoral assignment experience, he said.
“Everything seemed to be a surprise,” he said. “This was very different from the parish life I’ve known in the Philippines.” And though the experiences and ministries weren’t as familiar, the welcoming congregation felt like home, De Mesa said.
In fact, the people are the highlight.
“I enjoy talking to them, and getting to know them with regard to their faith,” De Mesa said. “It’s a big inspiration for me, talking to them about how strong their faith is, to nourish and develop in faith as well. It was inspiration for me to really step up in my journey to priesthood.”
Iriarte is a seminarian from the Diocese of Fresno, Calif. Before he came to Mount Angel in 2005, he served as a chaplain’s assistant in the military, carrying the Eucharist with him in his cargo pants pockets as he negotiated wartime Kuwait and Iraq.
These days, his training ground is in day-to-day parish ministries. He enjoys working with the young altar servers, where he gives guidance on the order of the Mass, helping them understand the various parts of the liturgy. The teaching helps him learn, too.
A recent highlight was helping at the baptism of dozens of children at St. Joseph Parish in Salem, the largest he’s served. The assignments help the young seminarians get prepared for the priestly life, but even in his last year of seminary, Iriarte said he feels like he’s still gaining new experiences every day.
“I’m not done yet, but I’m looking forward to getting my hands wet more before my ordination,” he said. “I look forward to preaching more, seeing the different kinds of culture in the parish, and learning more from the pastor.”