Culture of Life
Faith and Fervor in Argentina
Religious Orders From the Pope’s Homeland
BY Anna Abbott
Oct. 6-19, 2013 Issue | Posted 10/5/13 at 6:04 AM
Five centuries ago, Europe brought the Gospel to the Americas; today, the New World is evangelizing both the Old World and the New World.
Argentina, usually associated with the tango and Eva Peron, has now given the Catholic Church a pope, as well as some young and impassioned orders that spread the faith. Their fidelity and fervor has proved rewarding.
Miles Christi is based in Argentina, San Diego and Plymouth, Mich. Father Robert Juan Yannuzzi was inspired on Aug. 15, 1984, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, to start a priestly order.
In 1994, in the Diocese of La Plata, Argentina, Archbishop Carlos Galán made it a public clerical association of the faithful.
In 1999, Miles Christi was made a clerical religious order — the first Argentinian order to receive ecclesial approval.
The novitiate is in the House of Formation San José de Luján. They have 60 members around the world — 26 are priests; the rest are brothers and in formation.
Their apostolate is centered on the evangelization of the laity. Miles Christi offers days and evenings of recollection, youth activities, summer camps, formation groups and prayer breakfasts.
The main source of their spirituality is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.
Father John Ezratty is with Miles Christi in Michigan.
"When I was 16, I went on a retreat in Argentina," he recalled. "I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t I be a priest?’ I met Father Yannuzzi, who gave me spiritual direction. I felt a special call to consecrate my life and was ordained in 2002."
Father Ezratty detailed the mission of Miles Christi as focused on faith in everyday life: "We are focused on the sanctity of the laity, especially college students. People are lacking in spiritual direction, especially young people. They are growing in the spiritual life and need guidance. We try to be faithful to the Spiritual Exercises. We give conferences, spiritual exercises, spiritual direction and formation."
In Michigan, Miles Christi is currently building a Religious and Family Center. As Father Ezratty explained, "We’re going to have a nice chapel there. It will be a place where the family can come and be with the Lord. The family is the heart of the society; if father and mother strive for holiness, the children will be fervent."
Like the Jesuits, Miles Christi is a male order that focuses on priests being fathers to their flocks. "I am a priest 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I belong to Christ. My time belongs to Christ and the people of God," the priest said.
The Mass is, of course, important to the order. "For any priest, the Mass is the main core of the spiritual life. The Mass is everything; it gives strength to continue in mission. It is the main expression of the Church. In every liturgical act, we see heaven touching earth; it is the liturgy of the whole Church praising God," Father Ezratty said.
St. Joseph is the order’s patron, and Our Lady is vital, too. As Father Ezratty said, "We have a special devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, Cause of Our Joy. Our Blessed Mother offered her Son."
Miles Christi has faced challenges in Argentina and the United States due to societal trends like secularism and same-sex "marriage" initiatives, but they continue to preach the Church’s truth.
When Pope Francis was elected, Argentinian orders like Miles Christi received special attention. As Father Ezratty commented, "People called us. We have a holy pride to have an Argentinian be Supreme Pontiff. He belongs to the Church. We saw the universality of the Church; he was called from one of the extremes of the world. It’s very consoling."
What are the order’s plans for the future? According to Father Ezratty, "We are in the hands of God. We would love to be saints. We hope God would bless us with new vocations and sanctify us in the present moment. Let us strive for holiness, serve the people of God today, and do what we are supposed to do."
Miles Christi also has a center in the Sorrento Valley near San Diego. Father Martin Latiff and his fellow priests act as chaplains at Cathedral Catholic High School, St. Joseph Academy and the University of San Diego.
Father Latiff, who now works with high-school students, discerned his vocation in high school. A month after graduation, he entered Miles Christi, receiving formation in Argentina and the United States. He also received spiritual direction from the order’s founder. He was ordained in April 2005.
Regarding the new Argentinian Pope, Father Latiff commented, "It’s the first time we have a Holy Father from the Americas. The faith was brought to the Americas 500 years ago. The faith will be strengthened in the Americas; he represents the whole continent."
He said Pope Francis exemplifies the Jesuits’ founder’s spirituality: "St. Ignatius encourages detachment from temporal things: It’s having your feet on earth and sights on eternal life, growing in Jesus’ love. St. Ignatius is a great example of pursuing the greater things of God with humility. He had great faith and enthusiasm."
Other societies focused on helping the lay faithful are the St. John Society (SSJ) and the Society of Mary, societies of apostolic life. Father Pablo Dumas and Father Iván Pertiné founded the SSJ in the late 1990s; it was officially approved in 2001. They established the Society of Mary in 2007; it was approved in the Cruz del Eje Diocese in Argentina.
The Society of Mary complements the SSJ, with their joint mission being the New Evangelization.
The SSJ has 14 priests, along with 25 members in formation. There are 18 members of the Society of Mary worldwide. They are based in Pilar, Argentina, in Portland and Corvallis in Oregon, as well as in Rome. Both societies evangelize.
Father Ignacio Llorente directs the St. John Society in the United States from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Portland, Ore.
In college, he considered the priesthood and was ordained in June 2009; he was installed at St. Patrick’s in August 2012. He was born in Spain, but lived most of his life in Argentina.
Instead of tackling hot-button issues, the SSJ teaches faith basics. As the priest explained, "We believe that, before catechesis, they need to get to know Jesus. It is about the life and message of Jesus, a personal encounter with Jesus. It’s a 10-week course, an introduction to who Jesus is, along with a talk, dinner and discussion. Ideally, it’s for the unchurched and non-Catholics. The key is that they experience the presence of God, to ignite in them the thirst for knowing the faith."
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman is the spiritual father of the SSJ. As Father Llorente said, "He shapes our way of thinking. He spoke to the laity and emphasized the role of the laity. His combat with religious relativism is very important nowadays. He believed in the importance of the existence of the truth and moral order."
Just as Miles Christi experienced added attention with the new Holy Father, the SSJ has seen the same interest. As Father Llorente commented, "It has been good for publicity. People think about us more. His emphasis is on ministering to the poor and living a life of simplicity."
Sister Teresa Harrell of the Society of Mary is currently living her call in Pilar, Argentina. She converted to Catholicism at the age of 26.
When she was a campus minister at the Oregon State University (OSU) Newman Center in Corvallis, the founders of the SSJ planted the thought of a vocation in her heart when they visited in November 2005.
Sister Teresa described herself as "very attached to my work at the Newman Center, to the young man I was seeing." But in March 2006, her relationship with the young man ended, and she went to adoration more often. In the Blessed Sacrament, she felt Jesus calling her to give him her desire to get married.
That August, she went with the SSJ on a mission to Mexico. "I spent the entire mission either smiling like someone head over heels in love or crying because the joy of his presence was so great, so pressing," she said of the mission. She entered the Society of Mary in January 2008 after a time of discernment and formation.
Sister Teresa explains that the Society of Mary is a complement to the SSJ: "We work with them in the mission, but we also have the freedom to be women, to bring all the ‘feminine genius,’ as John Paul II put it, into our work. Part of our role in evangelization is to help women to develop their vocation to be spouses and mothers, attentive to their role in society and in the Church, to help them discover and live their vocation."
"And that is a challenge in a world where the role of men and the role of women have been devalued," Sister Teresa added. "Part of the evangelization of women is to help them discover what it means to be a woman."
"Jesus is everything," she commented. "He is my love, my life, my hope, my counselor, my teacher, my Savior, my Redeemer, my healer, my joy, my spouse."
In evangelizing, she said, "I think the challenge is to connect people to the deepest longing for their hearts and to show them that only Jesus can fill that longing."
Pope Francis’ example reflects this, she said. "People are tuned in to what he is saying, what he is doing, and they are very attracted to the simplicity of his style. His testimony of his life as archbishop of Buenos Aires already called the attention [to his style] — how he lived in a simple apartment, paid his own bills, took public transportation, visited the very poor in the city’s slums … and we see the same in Rome. Obviously, here in Argentina, he is more watched, and his election as pope has called the attention of people who were very far away from the Church. Part is national pride, of course, but part is seeing someone who is very Christlike in his gestures, words and deeds and knowing that he is close to you, one of you."
Sister Bernadette Wilson, who was also raised Catholic, is with the Society of Mary at the OSU Newman Center, too. Her formation began in 2008, and she is still renewing her annual consecration.
As part of the Society of Mary, she said, "We do the New Evangelization. We share our experience of the faith, how beautiful it is to know Jesus and love him."
That faith is what the Pope expresses too, said Sister Bernadette, who has witnessed Argentinian pride in the Pope.
"It’s a great joy because he was very close to where our motherhouse is. We listen to him in his native language. We see his simplicity, strength and outreach to the poor," she said. "He is our brother on many levels."
Another sister, Sister Felicity Nguyen, was consecrated on June 1 at the OSU Newman Center, receiving her habit and her ring and taking on her new name. In 2005, she went to Argentina and experienced the order, which she joined the following year.
Sister Felicity was raised Catholic, attending Our Lady of La Vang Vietnamese parish in Portland. She chose "Felicity" the month prior to her consecration because it denotes her charism, her gift, her "deep joy to give to others," she explained. "People realize I’m different and are at peace with me."
Sister Felicity currently works with the OSU Newman Center, explaining, "We do outreach to students as a faith-based community, so they grow in their faith."
Such outreach is similar to the Holy Father’s. "When the Pope was elected, people asked if we know him. We got congratulations. We have a great love for him," she said. "One of the SSJ priests was confirmed by the Pope. I lived in Argentina for three years; I grew in the faith there. I walked where he had. It touched me greatly."
Sister Felicity summed up that the charism of all these orders revolves around love, saying how her experience "transformed my way of living. [Jesus] gives me the capability to love others."
Anna Abbott writes
from Napa, California.
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