When I first arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog, a village in North Wales, I was wary for a number of reasons. First of all, it is my Short Experiment, which means that it is the first time that I am doing apostolic work outside of the surrounding community of the novitiate in Birmingham, England. Secondly, I am from New York City, and I felt challenged by stepping into a place with a small-town outlook. I come from a place with millions of people living there, and Blaenau Ffestiniog has a population of roughly five-thousand people. What a difference! Regardless, to my wonderful surprise, it has been a great experience living here thus far. From meeting remarkable people to visiting the beautiful sights, I have been filled with gratitude. My skepticism about there not being much to do here in terms of apostolic work has been diminished. Knocking at people’s doors and trying to rekindle their relationships with Jesus Christ has been tiring for me, but at the same time, fulfilling. At the outset, I was a bit worried because I thought people would be reluctant to entertain the idea that two complete strangers (one novice from Southeast England and the other from New York) would be able to do anything to spark an interest in their apparently lapsed Catholicism. I suppose that my outlook was not helpful at first, because is it really about what I do? No, it is about how God uses me in a given situation. Although I had this in mind when I began the Short Experiment, in retrospect, after living in Blaenau Ffestiniog for a few weeks, this has been affirmed for me, that is, God’s providential use of my life in the here and now.
In hindsight, I believe that making the Spiritual Exercises has disposed me to God in a unique way. Before making the Spiritual Exercises I would not have been able to view my current experiment with extraordinary purpose. However, after that experience, I am able to put things into the perspective of the Principle and Foundation and the Call of the King. When the monotony builds up and I am not able to see any concrete results, I think about why I was created, and I was indeed created by God to praise, reverence, and serve Him. I then ask myself: How can I praise, reverence, and serve Him in the particular context in which I find myself? Then, the Call of the King comes to mind, and I am filled with consolation to be able to heed the Lord’s call of attempting to bring about His kingdom in North Wales to the best of my ability. I cannot think of any person whom I would like to serve other than Jesus Christ.
I was recently reflecting on the following quotation from Pope Francis’ address to ecclesial movements at the Pentecost vigil on May 18, 2013:
“We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea. No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh of Christ!”
This Short Experiment has been an experience of pushing me outside my comfort zone. So far, it has placed me in a space where my academic theological background meets pastoral practice. Although I have studied pastoral theology in an academic setting, it is a different ball game in the lived-experience of being here in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Each day, I am searching for the very flesh of Christ, and that search has been both challenging and inspiring for me. On the one hand, it has been difficult because there is a general lack of interest in prayer life and attending Mass, particularly by the youth in the community. On the other hand, it has been inspiring because I am able to try new initiatives with the people—leading prayer groups with a charismatic music flavor and using Ignatian-style mediations, knocking on people’s doors and having the opportunity to meet others where they are at in terms of their faith lives—with the hope of restoring an interest in faith and the Church.
I am grateful to all the people that showed me hospitality and welcomed me here in the village and surrounding area. I am also filled with gratitude as I learn about how to be a good pastor from Bishop Edwin Regan, with whom I have been afforded the opportunity to live during this experiment. In addition, I met the local Ukrainian Orthodox priest and we have been able to have an ecumenical relationship in hope of leading people to Jesus Christ. As my time here dwindles down, I am looking forward to the continued events planned to reignite the flame of faith in people’s lives. Holy Week is just around the corner…it’s surreal how time has flown by so quickly. Please keep us in your prayers. There will be more news to report in due time!