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Summer assignment immerses seminarians in Spanish language, culture

By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
(Email Katie)

Three diocesan seminarians spent part of the summer immersed in Spanish language and culture in Guatemala.
William Beldt-Kalin, Tim Pick and Andrew Galles went on this trip as their summer assignment.

“With the increasing need for pastoral care to the Hispanic population in our diocese, it has become a defacto necessity for seminarians to learn Spanish and be familiar with the culture,” said Galles, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Remsen who is in second theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo. “I was excited as well as nervous to hear that we were going to be sent to Guatemala, because I wasn't too sure that I would succeed in learning the language.”

Beldt-Kalin is a seminarian from Our Lady of Good Counsel in Holstein and is in his first year of theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. Pick, a parishioner at St. James in Le Mars, is in his second year of pre-theology at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind.

Language immersion

The seminarians went to the Probigua Spanish Academy in Antigua, Guatemala, for nine weeks, spanning from May 24 to July 26.

The academy is run by a former seminarian, Rigoberto Zamora Charuc, who uses the proceeds of tuition to run a mobile library. The mobile library is a large collection of books on an old school bus that makes a circuit to surrounding towns, enabling children to have access to books, Galles commented.

“The main purpose of our trip was Spanish language immersion and cultural immersion, but we also did some traveling around the country,” said Beldt-Kalin. “Bishop Walker Nickless assigned the three of us to go last spring, and I was quite excited and grateful for the opportunity.”

While the three seminarians were in Guatemala, there were 25-30 other seminarians studying there.  

“The realization that we, as future priests, share in the same vocation to serve God's people in the universal church is humbling,” said Pick.
Monday thru Friday they attended school from 8 a.m. to noon learning Spanish with a private tutor or "la maestro,” explained Pick. 

They returned to their homes in the afternoon to complete homework, and before supper the seminarians attended one of many churches in the city for daily Mass. On the weekends they attended Mass at various churches in the city. 

“The school would sponsor frequent activities that we could participate in,” said Pick. “One activity was a hike up an active volcano in the area, Volcan de Pagaya.  It last erupted in March of this year.”

During the nine weeks, Beldt-Kalin and Galles stayed with Felipe and Argentina Jimenez and Pick stayed with their daughter, Flory, and her family in the colonial city of Antigua.

“We were fed three times a day by our family, and we were very warmly received and welcomed into the Jimenez family,” said Galles. “They made us one of their own and were intent on helping us learn Spanish.

After two weeks, absolutely no English was allowed in the house.”

Culture and history

Beldt-Kalin said aside from gaining a good foundation in the Spanish language for future Hispanic ministry, they also learned about the culture and history of Central America in general and Guatemala in particular.

“In our free time, we would tour the city of Antigua and nearby pueblos visiting many church and convent ruins in the well-preserved Spanish Baroque influenced architecture,” said Pick. “A devastating earthquake in 1773 destroyed many of these beautiful buildings however, some parts of some of the churches are still used as a place of worship for parish families.”

The seminarians explored Antigua and occasionally took weekend trips to different parts of Guatemala.

“Antigua is a beautiful town with a plethora of Spanish colonial architecture,” said Galles. “As a former student of architecture, I especially enjoyed exploring and photographing the magnificent old churches.”

Outside of Antigua, they visited the black sand beaches at Monterrico on the Pacific Ocean, Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, they climbed Volcano Pacaya one Saturday and visited the Mayan ruins in the jungles of northern Guatemala.

“The rigors of studying Spanish were well balanced by exploring the culture, peoples and places of Guatemala,” said Galles. “I loved experiencing the deeply Catholic culture and the traditions of the people that we met while we were there.”

Living and studying in another country for this length of time, Pick said, opened his eyes “that the church is alive and well in the world.”  

“For me, the physical reality of the universal church became very evident to me,” said Pick. “We read about and pray for the universal church, but for many of the faithful of our local church, this petition is an enigma as many do not get the opportunity to personally experience the practice of their faith in other countries.”  
Galles said having his fellow seminarians with him made the time in Guatemala easier “because it can be rather difficult to discover a new country by oneself.”

“As three Iowa men, two of us farm kids, we had our fair amount of humorous foibles at times trying to figure out what exactly we were doing or where we were going,” he said. “Our time together in these kinds of situations helped us to grow closer as diocesan brothers who will one day, God-willing, serve together as priests for the people of our diocese.”


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