by Deacon Christopher Heanue
Throughout my years in seminary, I have had the great opportunity to travel to the far ends of the earth. Two years ago, I was elected from my seminary, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, to travel to China with the congregation of Maryknoll missionaries. A group of 12 men (seminarians, brothers and priests) from around the country were flown to Hong Kong where we would be “briefed” on what we were to expect when we entered Mainland China.
I spent a month in Asia and had the opportunity to travel within Hong Kong, Mainland China, as well as the Philippines. It was amazing to see the stark contrast between the faith in China and the vibrant faith in the Philippines. Whereas it was not easy and, at times, dangerous to practice one’s faith in Jesus in China, there were lines literally out of the doors of the church for the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Philippines.
While in China, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a bishop who was being persecuted by the Chinese government because he would not consent to their policies. He explained to me that he was not able to keep his own calendar and that a government official would normally supervise his meetings. While the freedom to practice the faith was limited, the faith was still there thanks to the work of the Maryknoll missionaries. Although the Chinese were limited in their freedom to practice their faith, their eyes were still fixed on the person of Jesus Christ.
In June, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate. Shortly after my ordination, I was sent to Madrid, Spain, for language studies. I was able to experience the Church in Spain. I assisted as a deacon at Mass daily, read the Gospel in Castilian Spanish, as well as baptized my first babies entirely in Spanish! On Sundays, even though it was an area outside of the Madrid city-center, the church was filled with families, young and old. The pastor was a remarkable man – innovative, proactive and very pastoral. Confession is offered all day on Sunday – especially during Mass. One Sunday, I remember looking down from the altar and seeing a line of at least 10 people waiting for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Shockingly, eight of the 10 were under the age of 15.
These experiences are more than just homily material. They are more than just photo albums on Facebook. They are experiences that will remain with me forever. They are insights that will change the way I look at other cultures, people and cuisine – and, most importantly, they will assist me in dealing pastorally with those I am called to serve. In our great Diocese of Brooklyn, we have such a diversity of cultures. Mass is offered in 22 languages, and some parishes offer Mass in at least four different languages! It is the beauty of our faith that unites all our cultures together.
Faith has no language of its own. Whether we speak English, Spanish, Creole or countless more, we are still united in our faith. Each and every Sunday, we gather in our respective parishes to celebrate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord. Regardless of our cultural diversities we remain focused on the person of Jesus Christ.