“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” – Paulo Coelho The Alchemist
Coelho’s The Alchemist has long been a favorite book of mine, ever since my Highschool sophomore English teacher, Mrs. Rachel Gavin recommended it to me. The story covers a young man, (interestingly a former seminarian) on his discernment journey as he seeks to discover to where he is being called in the world. He has many adventures and the book recounts those travels he makes, those little “Parenthesis ( ) in eternity.”
I’ve been absent from my blog for a while now, as I was busy with school things again. Now that it is the summer I thought I’d use the time to post more, especially about my experiences here in La Antigua, Guatemala. Yes, dear Toto that’s right. I’m no longer in Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, or Kentucky anymore. In fact I’m quite a bit south in Central America spending my summer doing a Spanish immersion course at the “Probigua” school here in Antigua. I’ll give more details about the school as time goes on. For now, I’d like to focus on what my first 24 hours has been like, share some photos with you all and then go to bed, because my first day of class starts in the morning.
I arrived at the airport in Guatemala City at 12:08 pm. Somehow (and I don’t remember doing this) I must have turned my watch an hour back at some point. Who knows? I was on the wrong time until 2:13 pm until I asked my House Mom what the time was. LOL
Anywho, it took me almost 13 hours to go from Bowling Green, KY to Antigua. After arriving at the airport, I was met by Reginaldo, my driver sent from the school who took me on a little over an hour drive to Antigua. Curvy roads, crazy traffic, and no uses of turn signals, just honks of the horn led us out of town into the beautiful, and I mean BEAUTIFUL mountains. Then we went down down down, left paved roads and for a brief moment it seemed, civilization behind as the van began to bump, jerk, and pitch on the cobblestone streets of beautiful La Antigua.
As we drove along, I thought to myself: “gee, this place is bigger than I thought.” Bright colors, clay tile roofs, crumbling plaster, statues of saints, churches, ruins of churches, people, smiling people, laughing people, kissing people (apparently the park near my house is where the young teenagers go scuba diving or something. It’s a wonder after the length of their kisses that they don’t need to come up for air sooner. HAHA just kidding.) working people, poor people, people driving Jeeps, people driving Audis, Volvo’s, Volkswagens, Toyotas… the list goes on and on and on.
Once we arrived at my house, we stood out side the gate, me looking up at it, waving hello to the two women making tortillas in the store across the road, and my driver climbing in the van and beginning to pull away. “Wait!,” I exclaimed as he stopped inching forward. “Is someone coming to the gate?” I asked. “Sí, he’s coming.” “Reginaldo replied and sure enough the gate began to open. But it wasn’t a man. It was my Madre de la casa, my House Mom, Sñra. Flores! “Corey, Bienvenido a Antigua y mi casa!” she said.
And then it got real.
Reginaldo spoke english and didn’t practice spanish with me on the way down. Sñra. Flores only spoke to me in spanish. I only spoke to her in spanish. Did I just communicate for 15 minutes in spanish? I thought to myself as I sat my backpack down on my bed inside my room she had shown me to? Yes. Yes I had. Wow. Never in my life have I done that before.
Sñra. Flores made me a delicious lunch of rice, and chile de renos and pickled cucumbers. After getting a key from her, as well as the Wifi password, I texted my Mom, Vocation directors, priest friends, and others who were wondering about my safe travels to let them know that all was well and I was happy.
But was I really happy? The truth is, when Father Andy and Father Josh gave me a blessing before I got in the car with Preston to drive down to Nashville at 2 in the morning, my stomach was doing flips. Infact, until lunch, my stomach was doing flips. After lunch, they stopped but then they started again. Oh no. Not indigestion, not the cucumbers, what did I eat? Maybe she didn’t actually have purified water for me to drink? What if I get mugged? What if I die here?
Oh shut up Corey. You need Jesus.
You haven’t gone to Mass yet today and you need to pray. So I asked Sñra for directions (in Spanish) and I headed out to find my parish for the summer: La Merced.
La Merced is an absolutely beautiful parish, built in a spanish baroque style. I walked around the church, found the Beautiful Blessed Sacrament Chapel, plopped down and prayed. I asked Our Lady and our Lord to really help me this summer. I asked them to help me be at home. To quench my home-sickness, to help me to grow in faith and love. And to fill that parenthesis, that Paulo Coelho talked of with a summer of abundant blessings. And after praying my rosary, I kept falling asleep so I headed back to my casa for a little siesta.
I was awakened to the sound of Sñra. Flores calling from downstairs: “Corey…. Corey….Corey….Corey….” And I in a half asleep state after recognizing that it wasn’t a dream answered: “I’m coming! Un momentito por favor!” There went my first english words. LOL. I had a lovely dinner (which I had forgotten about in my tired state) with Sñra Flores and her daughter Daniella. We had Guatemalan Tamales, different but just as tasty as the mexican tamales I have grown up with. I had a lovely time speaking in spanish to them, they spoke slowly so I could understand them and we found out more about one another. We canonized my Mom, for having trisos or triplets and I shared photos, laughed, had questions answered: “Que hora es la Misa a La Merced En la Mañana?” What time is the Mass at La Merced in the morning.
I then retired for the evening and fell quickly back asleep. Waking up around 4am to the sound of the local dogs barking, I went back to sleep for a couple hours and then got up and started my day. It was a beautiful morning. 70ish degrees, sun out, etc. I said good morning to the tortilla lady across the street, walked through the park (figured out part of it is where the dogs leave their business so I needed to cross the road) and went to La Merced for my first Mass in Antigua. It was the Feast of Pentecost! I prayed my office prior to Mass, was joined by a couple of kind couples in the pew and understood most of Fathers homily. He’s a very engaging preacher. And after 34 minutes, I’m glad he was so engaging. lol
After Mass, they had Presentations of around 12 babies. Father would pray, throw a bunch of holy water on them, they would cry, he would lift them up above the people (to my eye level lol) and then we would applaud. It was a bit different than in America, but this was the quick version from what I gathered. I prayed mid-morning prayer as it was now 10:24 or so and headed down the street in search of brunch. Father Gary had recommended me to try Luna de Miel. I am so glad I did. They make sweet and savory crepes as well as smoothies. A delicious, cheese, bean, and ham crepe with a watermelon/mint/OJ smoothie and aqua pura a bottle of water while sitting on a balcony overlooking part of the city was perfect. At 11am the bells of the church started to ring and the next Mass began. I loved listening to the bells all day long.
After Brunch, I went walking, exploring, getting my bearings on things. I had already found the school last night, so I wanted to venture out even more. I ended up first finding and taking the necessary picture in front of the Arch of Saint Catherine. Arco de Santa Catalina. Walked into some beautiful shops with kind shopkeepers who visited with me, inquired where I was from, where I went to school in town, how long I was visiting for, where I had been, and offered assistance in directing me to places I wanted to visit. They even promised prayers for me when they found out I was a seminarista. Like Paulo said: In each moment ” we have stopped to encounter each other, to love, and to share.” Part of the Spanish immersion involves sharing. And strangely my extroverted side was working overtime and I was making friends, meeting people, and speaking to them in spanish all within my first 24 hours. Wow!
I visited downtown in the Parque Central, found where I could go to the bank in the morning to obtain some more Guatemalan currency. (Thankfully both places I ate at accepted USD, but thanks to Robin Murphy, now an alumnus of Saint Meinrad, she had sent me with about $20 worth of Quetzales, so I used that for my meals today.
I visited a few more places, then headed back to the casa as it was starting to get rather warm. I purchased some bottled water for brushing my teeth on my way back, got back to my room and took a nice siesta. did some reading. Afterwards, it was time for dinner so I went in search of a new place. I had passed a few cool restaurants on my way earlier in the day, so I headed back to the parquet central to see what I could find. I ended up in a beautiful little Café Condessa or the Café Contessa, named after the beautiful old home belonging to a line of Counts and Countesses it was located in. I kept thinking back to one of my favorite films: “The Count of Monte Cristo” even though they speak french and I was speaking spanish. I was able to FaceTime my Mom there for a bit before the Wifi started to cut out more and then I switched to texting.
After a delicious meal, I headed to see the old Cathedral, pray EP, and work my way up some new streets back toward La Merced, so that I could pray my rosary and make a Holy Half Hour. I wanted to beat the rain. Luckily I did, made it home, and was able to type up this little blogpost about my time thus far.
Hopefully, as the summer goes on, I’ll be able to incorporate
more spanish into my posts (and translations) as well as photos and stories of my time here, the people I encounter, and the place which already I am coming to love very very much. This is truly a precious moment in my formation, in my life, and in my journey to become the man God has created me to be. Pray for me that my time might be fruitful, that I might be generous, and that I might be able to as I prayed this morning on the Feast of Pentecost, to speak in Spanish. The Apostles could be heard in many different languages, I for now, only ask to be heard and be able to use one.
Good night, Buen Noche desde Antigua! I’m praying for you. I hope you’ll say a prayer for me!
Top left: Shrine to Christ in the Sepulcher in the old Cathedral
Top Right: Mass times in the old cathedral: Quote: “There exists no sin, that God cannot forgive! None!” – Pope Francis
Lower left: Church ruins near my house
Lower right: the little inner courtyard going to my house and others.